Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Recently I’ve been re-reading my blog posts, and the one thing that stands out for me is how often I use the phrase “Have fun.” “Just have fun.” Which made me wonder, what exactly do I mean by “fun”?
Obviously fun doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. For some people it’s taking as many rollercoaster rides as possible in one lifetime while raising tarantulas in the living room. For others it’s spending years and years painting, and repainting, one perfect and extraordinarily life-like bouquet of tiger lilies—an activity that would have me tearing out my hair and run screaming for the hills. Just like trash and treasure, fun is all in the eye of the beholder, or in the actions of the doer. Whatever it is for each of us, though, I think it’s a very important part of the creative process. Because if you’re not having fun, you might also be:
  • Avoiding the work.
  • Agonizing about avoiding the work.
  • Resisting any opportunities to show or submit the work.
  • Apologizing for the work when you do show it.
  • Unfavorably comparing your work to others—others you are convinced are immeasurably more brilliant, talented, and capable of having much more fun than you. Which is just plain silly.
So how do you bring more fun to the table when you sit down to work on your latest creative project? I’m sure there’s a fascinating range of answers, from putting on theme music, to drawing cats in pajamas in your manuscript margins, but to me “having fun” means the following:
  • Not taking myself so seriously. Note I didn’t say “not taking the work seriously.” But whenever I think there is some absurd “writerly standard” I must live up to, one that for instance involves never smiling when I talk about my writing because I am a “serious writer,” or one where I have to consider myself as a “person of literature” if I’m allowed to even call myself a writer, I know I’m in trouble.
  • Risk taking. Asking the “what if” questions and then following through. “What if I paint black gesso all over this board? What if I rewrite a fairy tale? What if my character goes to prison and my entire plot changes—for the better?” Yes, why not? Fun to me is all about surprise—making each step of the journey the equivalent of opening an unexpected birthday present and finding the perfect gift—or joke—inside.
  • Art supplies in all the wrong places. I write with plum fountain pen ink, paste stickers on absolutely everything, and doodle in glamorous journals. So what if manuscript submissions have to be on pristine white bond paper, double-spaced and printed in a sharp black font? That doesn’t mean I can’t write them in mud and lemon juice if that makes me happy during the first draft stage. I can even add cats in pajamas if I want—so there.
  • Writing or creating what you love. It seems that in every creative person’s life there comes the golden opportunity to work on something you hate—either for money, a much-needed byline, or a chance to get your foot in the door. And it’s awful! Even with the-very-good-reason to take on the job, it’s something I recommend you only do once, or twice at most. That’s why it’s so important to write what you love to read, or to create the kind of art you’d want to see in your own home or favorite gallery. Anything else isn’t fun—it’s torture.
  • Putting the thing to sleep. Not every idea is a great idea. Sometimes they’re not even passably good and the day you’re willing to say, “Hey, let it go,” can actually be one of the happiest (and most fun) days of your life. Abandoning a project that doesn’t pan out or doesn't make you happy isn’t the end of the world. The time you spent on it is no different from time spent taking a writing or art class, or completing the exercises at the end of a how-to book. The important thing about all of these activities is you’ve practiced your craft, you learned from the experience, and you discovered what you do think is fun. So move on already. Life is too short to spend it polishing and rewriting and suffering through what you know isn’t your only idea. I bet you’ve got an entire filing cabinet of much better ones—ones that are downright serious fun.
Tip of the Day: What current work-in-progress is keeping you from having fun? Why? What can you do to make it more enjoyable? Do you need to put it away for awhile and start something new that’s a lot more interesting—and fun?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You're right. The catch is that sometimes we have to endure some work that isn't fun to break through into the part that's magnificently fun. But I agree, it's a sign you may be heading up the wrong trail if you find yourself making excuses not to work. Tom Wolfe said something to the effect that all writer's block is either the fear that you're not good enough to complete the project at hand or fear the project at hand isn't worth completing.