By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy
A few years after I published my third novel (Darkfall), I'd fallen into a dark time in my writing. I'd been working a one of those books that did not want to work the way I felt it could, and I'd come to dread sitting down at the keyboard every day. Writing was no longer fun.
With sad relief, I'd set the manuscript aside and worked on a non-fiction project I'd been wanting to do (my very first writing book, Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure). I fully intended to return to fiction afterward, expecting my dread of the novel to have passed by then.
I'll be honest--it was terrifying. I'd written my entire life, and I couldn't imagine not crafting another novel again. But every time I tried to write, all the old stresses and fears came back and I avoided the keyboard. It wasn't that I couldn't write, I just didn't want to write.
I'd lost my mojo.
I'll spare you all the soul-searching and frustrations I went through during that time, and skip right to the part that helped me get over it.
I wrote a book "just for fun."
It was an idea my husband had come up with years before, but a book that was in a different market and genre (adult urban fantasy) than what I usually wrote in (teen fantasy). I'd started it once or twice as a young adult novel, but it had always fizzled out after a few chapters. This time though, I'd looked at it objectively and chose the best route for it, even if that path led through unfamiliar territory. It didn't matter if I'd never written an urban fantasy before--if it was "just for fun" who cared if it was terrible?
As luck would have it, this decision happened right before NaNo (National Novel Writing Month), so I figured, "What the heck? Let's do this as a NaNo novel and see how much I can get done."
Thirty days later I had over 60,000 words written and most of the first draft of a novel.
Aligning with NaNo was a lucky break for me, but it wasn't the reason I'd written so much. It was my decision to write the book for fun and not worry if it ever got published. I wasn't going to show it to my critique partners, I wasn't going to send it to my agent. It was for me and me alone, even though I was writing it for my husband (he didn't get to read until much, much later, and that's a bit of a funny story itself).
Here are three reasons writing for fun gave me back my writing mojo:
- It reminded me why I loved to write in the first place.
Before I was published, writing was fun. I had dreams, but no deadlines. I had excitement, but no expectations for the next novel. I had no pressure but what I put upon myself. Writing a novel I didn't plan to show a soul freed me to do whatever I wanted. I made cheesy pop culture references. I swore (something I didn't do in my teen novels). I wrote in-jokes and silly exchanges no one but my husband would ever get.
But most of all, I laughed the whole time I was writing it. I enjoyed myself and ignored all the things that I'd have stressed over had this been a "real" novel.
- It let me stretch creatively.
I'd read urban fantasy all my life, but I'd never tried to write it. Writing in the "real world" had always been intimidating, because there were actual rules and laws and making everything up was just so much easier. But mixing the real and the unreal was a challenge I had fun with. It allowed me to explore themes and characters unavailable to me as a kidlit author. It also let me pursue a stronger mystery story arc than I'd ever done before, so it was like having two new genres in one. And I loved it.
- It reset my writing focus.
The more I wrote, the more I realized (and accepted), that a writing slump was just my brain's way of telling me I'd needed a break. I hadn't "used up" my only good idea or all my talent. I'd gotten caught up in the end game and forgotten that first draft was about discovering the story, not publishing the book. As soon as I'd shifted back to writing for the joy of the story, writing became fun again.
If your dream is to publish, it's easy to get sidetracked by the need to be productive and lose sight of the need to create, or the need to have fun. So here are three reasons YOU should write a book just for fun:
- It's good to shake up the creative engine once in a while.
Every book taps into your creativity, but always doing the same thing can get stale after a while. It's easy to inadvertently repeat yourself or fall into familiar patterns, and even when those patterns are good, they're still the same old same old. Shaking up your writing is like dying your hair a new color, or buying those funky shoes, or playing a sport you've always wanted to try. It changes your perspective and gives you new insights.
- It lets you try something new without consequence.
A just-for-fun book lets you try new genres and styles without risking your brand. Your romance series won't be affected by that political thriller that's been nagging at you to write. Your middle grade contemporary won't have to worry about that erotica novella that's keeping you up at night. If a different genre doesn't work, no one has to know but you. And if it does work, you get to decide how to proceed. Maybe that just-for-fun book is a great way to launch a pseudonym and test a new market.
- You never know where a just-for-fun book might lead.
I hear story after story from writers who tried something new, or took a chance, or had an idea they couldn't shake that was so not what they normally write, that turned into their best-selling novel or the novel that got them an agent or publishing deal, or the book that made them realize they ought to be writing X instead of Y and they've never been happier.
My own just-for-fun novel grew into my recent release, Blood Ties. It's proof that you never know where an idea might take you. This book went from a funky "what if?" idea to a way to get over my writing slump, and now I have multiple books planned for a series I never dreamed I'd write. It has taken me and my career in a new and exciting direction, and I'm a stronger author now because of it.
We put a lot of energy into our writing and our careers, and once in a while it's a good idea to take a vacation from the norm. Even a just-for-fun short story or novella can have positive benefits. It's not the size of the story that matters, but how much fun we have writing it.
Just like Mom used to say: "Try it, you might like it."
Do you have a just-for-fun idea? Have you ever written a book with no expectations of publishing it? What were the results?
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Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy. When she's not writing fiction, she runs the popular writing site Fiction University, and has written multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, and the Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series.
About Blood Ties
On the run from beings that can’t possibly exist…
Grace Harper has spent her life on the run, ever since her mother’s unnatural death at the hands of creatures that shouldn’t be real. It’s hard to believe in vampires, but the things chasing her fit every legend she’s ever heard. She dubs them “Pretty Boys,” though their beautiful faces hide ugly appetites.
For twenty years, she and her father have stayed ahead of them, but for the last five years, their lives have been quiet. Grace has found a home, a life, and people she could even care about. She thinks the nightmare is finally over, but then a man shows up asking questions about a missing woman who’s somehow connected to her and her mother. He might also have answers about her mother’s death, if she’s willing to take a risk.
Before she can decide, she’s attacked by a Pretty Boy and barely escapes. If the Pretty Boys have found her, it’s time to run. Reluctantly, she prepares to abandon her life, possible answers, and the only friend she’s ever had.
Until they take her father.
Fleeing is no longer an option. To find him, she must face ancient secrets, creatures from legend, and an unbelievable truth that will shatter her world. But to save him, Grace has to do the hardest thing of all: stop running and start fighting.