I’ve often discussed the concept of your legacy – your body of work – and the importance of ensuring that everything in your legacy is worthy of being there. In one article, I threw around a few ways to tell if the book you’re writing is the book for you, and talked about the importance of having an aim, and streamlining all your work towards that.
Today, I’m going to talk about the opposite: the importance of having fun. But before I do that, I wanted to clarify something. Having a legacy, having a body of work, and being aware that any book you write could be a reader’s first introduction to you, does not mean that you must be restricted to one genre. It just means that, like any other aspect of your writing career, the concept must be duplicated. When you try to build a career across multiple genres, what you’re actually doing is building multiple careers. I tried to track down some articles on this topic that I’ve read written by both prominent authors and by agents, but alack, they all elude me at this moment. So you’ll just have to trust me on that one.
You can create a legacy across multiple genres. But what you’re doing is creating a family of legacies, held together by their relationship to you – not a single, unified body of work.
If the entire point of writing is to create your body of work, and if, as I suggested last time, any work you do that won’t directly contribute to said body of work is a waste of time, then why am I now suggesting that it’s necessary to do so?
Because sometimes, wasting time is necessary.
Writing is both a creative and a rational process: the first draft is usually where the right brain (the creative brain, a la your muse) has the most say, and the final edit belongs to your left brain (inner editor, anyone?). Creating a working relationship between both halves of your brain is vital if you want to survive the writing process (and another reason why I adore the Think Sideways course, with its strong emphasis on creating this connection), and a working relationship has to be about give and take, and compromise.
In the first draft, you have to teach your left brain to compromise. The words will be rough, the ideas half-formed, and plot holes will abound to a greater or lesser extent. This irritates your left brain to no end, and can escalate to the death-grip of perfectionism that results in Isuckitis – that terrible feeling you get when you just ‘know’ that you can’t write, that everything you write is terrible, and so on, and so forth. This process is, sadly, pretty much part and parcel with writing: the book you’re writing can be the best book in the world, and you know what? Inevitably, you will still hate it. At some point. For some reason. You will.
It even happens to the pros, and it’s for that reason that the gist of Neil Gaiman’s pep talk for NaNoWriMo in 2007 is forever etched upon my heart. Even the pros melt down. Even the pros hate their work. It’s okay. It’s normal. You’ll get through it.
Which is precisely why play is important: if Isuckitis is brought on by drifting too far into your left brain and allowing perfectionism to take charge, then it must be cured by restoring the balance between your brain halves. Which means you need to do some serious right-brain work.
Just so you know, those two words – ‘right-brain’ and ‘work’ – don’t actually go together. Your left brain works. Your right brain plays.
So what is play?
Play is letting your non-verbal, creative, irrational, impulsive right brain take control for a while. It’s sitting down and creating something for the sheer joy of creating, without deadlines or requirements or self-styled impositions that it Must Be Good. Play is having fun. It’s letting the muse out of the bag and letting stretch its legs, writing purely and simply Because You Can.
So play is important, because it rebalances you – and it connects your brain halves back together. For those few non-writers who read this blog, let me assure you that this concept applies equally to anything you do in life. I firmly believe that humans are supposed to be both-brained; that is, we’re designed to have a balance of both parts of ourselves: some rationality, some forethought and planning, and some impulse, creativity, and carefreeness.
Our society places a lot of emphasis on the left brain. But it’s our job as writers to utilise both, and perhaps even remind people that balance is a good thing after all. So go. Play for a while, and reconnect with yourself.