Creativity is, foundationally, a way in which we take up space, sometimes physically, but more often intellectually and spiritually. Maybe I’ve been reading too much of “Big Magic”, but I’m starting to buy this concept of creativity being a sort of natural resource we can tap into.
I think, to some degree, I’ve always believed that. Even when I wasn’t sure if writing was going to be a thing for me, (and there are days I’m still not), I knew that the act of writing, of putting together words in an order and combination that had never existed before, was a thing of substance, was a way to change the world in a unique manner.
But what I’m learning, what I learned this last week, is that act alone is enough, even if it never leads anywhere beyond itself.
I have a confession, and I wish there was a way to say this without sounding like I’m bragging, because I as much can’t believe it myself, but last week I wrote a novel. An entire, full-length novel, from start to finish, in about 8 days. I’ve written novels before. I’ve completed NaNoWriMo four times now, but even then my record was about 3 weeks. I have never written a novel this fast. And I have no idea how it happened.
Let me explain. I’ve had an idea for a story in my head since about December. I get these things all the time, and I’ve learned it’s just how my brain works. I see the world in story, so anything, and everything, can set me off. Usually, these ideas don’t go anywhere. They might be derivative; they might be too simplistic; I might just forget them and move on. But, occasionally, they stick, like a dandelion seed they’ll float in, land, and take root.
Next thing I know, they’re growing. I’ll start to think over the idea in my free time. Spooling out the concepts, writing characters, dialogue, endings, almost entirely in my head. Then the idea will start to really take off, and, next thing I know, I’m writing excerpts in my journal, doing research, and laying out a rough plot.
It’s fun, at this stage, because it doesn’t feel like work. The story has the sheen of new on it. It’s exciting and unknown and all those cliché things people say to describe this sort of thing. I would like to say how many of these stories blossom after that, but too often they lose their luster, I’ll get busy, or another idea will come along. Sometimes, I come back to the stories. Sometimes, I forget about them.
But I’ve had this idea in my head for a few months now, and I have resisted doing anything with it for the sole reason that I knew it would never lead anywhere. I liked the story and the characters but knew I could never sell it, so putting any energy into it seemed like a waste. Especially considering I’m waist-deep in unemployment and my time really should be spent solving that problem.
Of course, that didn’t stop me from thinking about it, playing around with the idea, even writing out some character biographies. Every time I did, though, I felt terribly guilty because, again, I knew I could never publish it.
But, for whatever reason, Wednesday before last I found myself at my computer with a blank Word document open, and I began writing. And I kept writing. And last Thursday I hit 50,000 words, the average length of a full novel. I can’t reiterate enough how surprising that is. I’ve never written that fast. I’ve never written that much in that short of time. None of my novels have ever come out so fast or so easily.
And it’s good, which is not an easy thing for me to say. It’s a first draft, but it’s compelling and the characters are well done and the plot is interesting. I actually really like it, and that makes me feel all kinds of weird. Because I can’t use it. It’s an original story with original characters, but it’s in a universe I didn’t create.
That’s right: Fan Fiction. I wrote an entire fan fiction novel.
I know, I hate myself.
And there are so many reasons why I should be mad at me
First of all, I’m unemployed. I should be filling out tons of applications, or working on my resume, or, at the very least, obsessing over why no one will call me back. I’m a writer, yes, but there are lots of my own, original stories I could be working on. If I had wanted to knock out a whole, first draft in a week, why didn’t I do it on something I could eventually publish? Why not spend time editing a book that I could actually send out?
And it doesn’t help that this was the easiest, possibly best, first draft I’ve ever written, and it came so effortlessly. Where was this energy in November, I wonder? Where was this energy in the last 6 months? How many stories could I have finished in all this time? What is wrong with me?!?
And on top of that, the very day I finish this thing, I’m talking to a friend who is struggling to finish a first draft on a deeply personal book, (because, you know, she’s an actual writer, with an actual contract, working on something totally her own that will be read by real people who will really benefit from it), and I’m telling her that 4000 words a day is an amazing accomplishment, because it is and I mean it, but I feel like a terrible person, because she’s bleeding for every single word, and I just blew 50,000 on something I CANNOT SELL.
But, it happened, and now I have to come to terms with it, and I’ve learned some things.
1. I really enjoyed it. There’s something about a good story, whether you’re writing it or reading it, that just makes you want to keep going, that makes it hard to put it down. You can actually draw energy from it, even while you are putting energy into it.
2. It’s good. Again, I wish I didn’t feel like I was bragging, because that’s not an easy thing for me to say about my own work. But it is good. The plot works in a way I couldn’t have predicted. The characters are real and relatable and it’s a book, had I not written it, I would actually want to read.
3. It doesn’t matter that I can’t use it. This is hard for me, because I want my work to mean something. I want people to read it. I want it to matter on some greater level. But I’m learning it doesn’t have to. The story exists. It might never be read by anyone other than me, but it still exists, and I made it. And the process has made me realize a few things, namely that I’m capable, that I can write a novel, which I already new, but every novel is different, every book is a new experience that, no matter how many you’ve written before, you’re never quite prepared for.
I did it and it’s good and it felt good. I’m trying to let that be enough, and there’s a life lesson in that. It’s so easy, when you don’t have a job/income/cash flow/purpose, to feel like anything that isn’t correcting your lack is wasted effort. Moreover, anything that doesn’t have a direct tie to that end is not worth your time. But that’s not true. Because creativity is an act of defiance against all the realist notions that tell us we can’t do work for its own sake.
I’m letting myself like what I’ve done, even if I’m the only one who reads it. And who knows? But I’m learning to take pride in the story for its own sake, even though it’s basically fan fiction. That’s not a bad thing.
Which is good, because I already have an idea for a sequel.