Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Three Letter Word Starting with F.

by Scott Adlerberg

A couple nights ago, at a Noir at the Bar in Manhattan, I had a talk after the readings with a crime writer who's written many books, had a strong career, won an Edgar Award for Best Novel (among other awards she's won), and without question has a high reputation.  I asked her what she's currently working on and she told me, a project that sounds fascinating.  Then she asked what's up with me.  I told her I have a new book coming out soon, on February 1st, and that there's a launch party planned at the Mysterious Bookshop in Manhattan. 
"Excited?" she asked.
"Yeah," I said. "Very."
"Excited, a little nervous..."

An experienced hand at the book launch thing like her - nothing I had to explain, obviously. 
We kept talking and at some point I told her about my current book, which I'm about halfway through.  I told her the overall premise.  It made her laugh and she said, smiling, "That sounds great." I laughed also, and then she asked a question that came out of left field and completely surprised me, though I had no difficulty answering it.  
She asked, "Are you having fun with it?"
Just to be clear: when I told her what the current book is about and where I am with it, and though she seemed to genuinely like the premise, she did not ask me about any of the following:
1)  Do I have an agent for the book? 
2)  Do I have a contract with a publisher for it?
3)  Do I have any sort of deal with any publisher?
4) How many words I have done in it so far and what I anticipate my final word count will be?
5) Why I write? I mean, as an existential question.

She simply asked, koan like, am I having fun with it? 

It just amazes me how rarely I hear this word, "fun", used by writers in relation to writing.  "Pleasure" and "enjoyment" are two other words that pop out rarely.  I'm not trying to be naive. Everyone wants to make as much money as possible from what they write, and of course some stories you write are stories filled with ugliness and pain that you have to get done to purge your system of them.  You write certain things as a kind of self-exorcism.  These are not stories, books, essays, whatever that are  "fun" to write in the usual sense we mean by fun.

Still, yes, please call me naive.  I still find there's almost nothing that gives me greater excitement than getting that tingle you feel when you hit upon the kernel of a good story idea.  It's like having a thrilling dream.  You have that kernel of an idea in your mind and then you start to develop it, tease it out, play around with it in your thoughts.  The fun that comes with this process - can it be denied?  Then you have to start writing. Okay.  Now the fun involves sweat, anger, near despair,  the acknowledgement of your limitations.  The fun includes realizing you will have to let go of the work at some point, even if it's not perfect. (Of course it's not perfect.  This is writing and you wrote it).  Fair enough.  I'll grant all of these. But the writing process itself, that developing a story from scratch, making something from nothing,  reworking, layering, polishing, living with a story for months and months, waking up every day thinking about it, trying to create a narrative that's a vivid and continuous dream, making yourself laugh as you write, pleasing yourself because every so often you're capable of a halfway decent phrase - I don't know what else to call all this but fun and I'm always happy when I encounter a fellow writer who has no shame expressing the basic concept.  As I see it, when you're working on a story and wrestling with it, playing with it... agents, publishers, contract deals, incessant word counting, the ultimate meaning of why we as a species write - who the fuck cares?  You're enjoying yourself, you're dreaming while awake, you're trying to write the best story you can. For most of the time you're actually writing, does anything else truly matter?

So thanks, experienced pro, for asking me the perfect question when we talked about writing the other night.


Dana King said...

Outstanding. Let's face it: not many of us are ever going to make a decent living writing fiction. Very few (practically none) are going to get rich. If we're not having fun, why bother?

scott adlerberg said...


scott adlerberg said...

Thanks, Eryk.