Killing Another Sacred Cow… Having Fun Makes Your Writing Bad
Having Fun Equals Writing Poorly…
Wow, I flat hadn’t seen that one before until a couple of really insulting comments on my blog I did about Mariah Carey having fun.
Then it dawned on me that I bet a lot of writers think that if something is fun to do, it can’t have value, that it can’t be any good.
Check in with yourself to see if you are one of those folks. Then ask yourself where you learned that myth.
I know the myth about you must “struggle for your art” and that happy BS. But I had never flipped that slimy rock over and looked at the other side, to be honest.
At least until today.
I have observed for decades now that writers who really enjoy telling stories last longer in this business. All of us long-term writers love telling stories. But again, I hadn’t realized that most of us (with the exception of me) never talk about it being great fun.
Nope, to help our book sales, we talk about how much we “worked” on a book and struggled to get it into the world so that the readers could feel special reading the thing. I understand that. Part of marketing we all live with.
So by me being so out-front here about having fun with writing, clearly a lot of writers must think I just slap-dash off my books, laughing and grinning all the time and those books must be trash because I had fun writing them and just couldn’t stop laughing or other such silliness.
And yet never once have any of the writers who believe that thought of buying one of my books. Why would they if they automatically think they are bad?
Of course, they might follow my blog here because at times I say something that will make sense. But that having fun stuff, that can’t be right, even though Mariah Carey is trying to teach young artists the same thing.
Nope, the thinking is that Dean has fun, his books must suck. And over 23 million people buying his books must all be stupid. Or some such thinking that has no logic.
Now, honestly, I don’t care in the slightest if any of you buy my books or not. I’m not here doing this blog to sell any books. Or anything for that matter. I have enough readers out there. But I do like to help writers who are chasing their dreams. And that is what this blog and all the workshops are about.
But if you really think that by my enjoying writing makes my books bad, makes them slight, makes them “happy trees” as the insulting comments said, then you have an issue that will quickly kill your writing.
Telling a story is a skill, and there are a billion things to learn to do it well, and at times it can be very, very challenging.
But at the core it is still just telling a story and that is fun.
And if you make it fun, maybe your readers will enjoy reading it as well.
People are armchair quarterbacks in everything.
I’m a licensed attorney, though I don’t practice much anymore, and people constantly ask me for legal advice. After the proper disclaimers, I explain some general things that could help them with their question. You wouldn’t believe how often, and how quickly, they reply, “No, that can’t be right because I read somewhere…” or “Well, another lawyer I spoke with once told me…” Okay, then why did you bother asking me? You’re an insurance salesman, so you must know more about law than I do. At this point, I’ve stopped telling people I’m a lawyer.
The same thing plagues the indie writing community. Right now, most of the hot voices are saying the opposite of what you say. They say, write to market, outline, use amateur beta readers, don’t have fun because there’s no money in fun etc etc.
Because of this, some of these armchair quarterbacks look at a guy like you who’s been in the profession for as long as I’ve been alive and has sold a ton of books, and they say, “No, he can’t be right because this YouTube guru who published a successful trilogy in Kindle Unlimited, and has been publishing for only 3 years, said the opposite.”
Dean, all you can do is keep speaking the truth and some of us will follow while others waste their time crafting “story beats” and determining “the best SEO keywords” and spending 90% of their time crafting emails for their mailing list.
I get the same vibe from the writing community on twitter a lot of times, plus there’s a feeling that if there’s only one way to write and you’re doing it wrong if you deviate from that pattern. Don’t forget the other steps: write the first draft super sloppy, don’t edit as you write because reasons, let the novel sit for months before you rewrite it a bunch of times. Also, it takes years to write a single book, so take it slow for better quality. They accuse writers that dare to release more than 1-2 novels a year to be “pump and dumpers” or other terms that imply that they don’t care about quality.
BTW, I found that a lot of unpublished beta readers either want to reshape your story to fit what they want or to make it sound more *writerly* or have no clue what they are talking about. Or both. Many of them still have an illusion of a *perfect* novel and that it has to be written a certain way. That’s why I made sure my first readers were published as there was a better chance that perfection quirk wasn’t showing up.
Thank you Dean for it being okay to say that writing is fun and that it actually makes it better, not worse.
Lol Phillip. I’ve seen exactly what you’ve seen. I’m also a recovering attorney and I don’t even give disclaimers anymore because I know people aren’t listening anyway. Hahah.
Hmmmm … I wonder whether there actually is something like “writing bad”.
In my early days of fiction writing my group sometimes struggled with the inner editors sitting on our shoulders. To get rid of them , we came up with the idea to write “as bad as possible” , so he couldn’t frighten anybody with complaints of bad writing. And, o miracle, we weren’t even able to write really bad, though we did “our best” and try.
It’s not just the indie community. Some of my family members have been waiting for 5 or 7 years for me to grow up and “do some serious writing,” or “write something serious,” presumably something literary. Or something in their favorite genre. Actually, they have a hard time defining what they mean by that. Just something “other than this,” and it’s not just the gay romance feel-good stuff I write, it refers to suspense or urban fantasy as well. I stopped telling people what I write, it’s a waste of time. I’d rather trade macaron recipes with them and negotiate who will cook and clean what at Thanksgiving. Writing I leave just for me.
Thank you for all you do. I rather enjoy reading about your advice. You have a career I aspire to, so yeah, you know what you are talking about. Sorry you got crap for speaking the truth. You’re a great writer. You call things as they are, which is what I think most of us enjoy about your posts.
Dean, I think you’re taking on a straw man with this one, and reading things into that guy’s comment that he didn’t intend.
And maybe doing it more generally as well. I won’t claim to know what everyone everywhere is saying about it, but I’m pretty sure I’ve heard far more along the lines of “If you’re boring yourself you’ll probably bore the reader so strive to entertain yourself” than writers scoffing at the notion of having fun with the writing.
Of course, that brings out another issue – we are completely unable to judge our own work, so if we think it’s boring it’s very likely that part is awesome. But that’s a separate matter from this post’s topic.
MHO, and worth about what you paid for it. 🙂
I…think they meant it as a compliment?
I saw the comments before this post, and I don’t know those commenters at all—but to me the tone sounded playful and even complimentary. (All I can say is that as a lover of Bob Ross—and his embodiment of the idea that art is not the sole domain of a nebulous “artist” class, but something that anyone who is willing to practice excessively can excel at—it would have been a compliment coming from me…)
Good lord, that reminds me so much of a thread on the German amateur writer board I used to frequent (it‘s supposed to be a general fantasy writer‘s board, but all the people who actually manage to publish leave because the board doesn‘t help them in any way). The thread was literally called „Writing should be fun? No!“ and everybody who came in and tried to disprove that opinion and claim that writing IS fun, and why the fuck would you spend so much time doing something that isn‘t fun, was literally chased out by the OP and their posse…
Aspirants are strange and frightening beings…
One of the biggest problems I’ve seen (besides it not being true) with this idea that having fun means your writing isn’t good, is that obviously means that being miserable makes it good. Which plays into that whole mythos of the tortured artist.
The stupid idea that mental illness and addiction actually helps creativity. And that idea is literally deadly.
People, get treatment. Happiness won’t hurt your art. From what I’ve seen the only productive writers, artists, musicians etc are ones who are in a good place and enjoying their lives and their work.
I stick to fantasy almost religiously. I admit, I haven’t read any of your fiction books (that I know of!) Not because I think they’re trash. I love Writing Into The Dark, though. I’ve read it about six times, I think mainly because I know the myths have their claws in me, but I feel I’ve been shedding them over time, and Writing Into The Dark has helped me tremendously. I’ve actually watched writers go from good to unable to produce because of getting bogged down in all the myths and rules.
Maybe you should do a little extra promotion on your stuff. I know this blog isn’t about selling your fiction, so that might be a bit off topic. Anyway, do you have any stand alone novels you can recommend? I would love to buy one, Dean!
Don’t let silly comments get you down. There’s always detractors. Who knows what their motives are. Why they come here though impresses me. Something about you gets under their skin. Maybe they’re entrenched in the myths, or maybe something else is at play.
The Thunder Mountain books are good! And he has a bunch of them now, so you can worm your way through them like a worm. 😀
Thunder Mountain books are indeed good, but they’re time-travel / Western.
If you’re more of a fantasy reader, I guess the Poker Boy universe would be better suited for you. Poker Boy stories are mainly short stories, but I think there’s also at least one novel. Or there’s the Ghost of a Chance series of novels which is set in the same universe as Poker Boy, and are all novel length.
In any case, all of Dean’s novels stand alone, so you can’t go wrong if you simply pick any one according to a blurb you like.
“Happy trees” is a weird insult, unless I’m missing something. I love the idea of you laughing as you type madly on your happy tree books. Me, I’m rarely happier than when I’m writing a story.