Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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February 19, 2018

The Benefits of Writing a Novel "Just for Fun"

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.

It hadn't.

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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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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About Janice

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.

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About Blood Ties

On the run from beings that can’t possibly exist…

Blood Ties, Janice HardyGrace 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.

35 comments on “The Benefits of Writing a Novel "Just for Fun"”

  1. Sigh. I'd so love to do this. But it's an author's dilemma - deadlines for NY pubbed books (which is all you ever wanted), and yet, you're dying to write that 'one off' book. All you can dream of, is those days, before you sold, when you had all the time in the world to play...

    Yeah, neurotic.

    1. Deadlines would make it harder to do this. But maybe there's a little time somewhere for it 🙂

  2. I've been in burn-out mode since I finished my last contract in 2013! Every time I sit down to write "just for fun," I spiral right back into the stress that came from having to "write perfectly" because I was on a tight deadline. This is my year of re-learning that writing *can* be fun and it's something I need to do for myself and no one else.

    Thanks for this reminder!

    1. Ooo that's rough. I hope you hit your goal this year. Maybe try doing everything different than your normal process? Pants if you normally outline, outline if you normally pants. Maybe approaching it from the outside will be enough to shift your perspective and avoid the stress.

  3. As someone who switched to indie publishing, I don't have Laura's problem, and I try to keep the 'fun' in all my books. For my last release, it was writing the story from a secondary character's POV, which turned my normal police procedural into a cozy, something "same but different" for me.

    1. That's one of the benefits of indie,and one I hear a lot of writers bring up. Nice that it gave you a slightly different market to try without veering too far off your brand.

  4. I likewise have a traditional contract, yet, I have this book in mind that has tapped at me for 3-4 years. A little off what I normally write. Once I'm done with my contract (deadline August), I might have to NaNoWriMo this baby like you did! Thanks for the motivation.

    1. NaNo is such a great time to try this. It's confined to one month, it has a fun goal, and it has a lot of support. Best of luck with it!

  5. I've written humor for most of my "writing life" and have decided to explore the dark side and write about a female serial killer...just for fun. Entirely different challenge, trying to come up with a fresh perspective, but having a blast exploring the genre and using the old brain to plot, plan and....execute:) Also like the fact that there is no pressure to hurry up and get it done (other than from friends anxious to read it), so one can actually enjoy the writing experience along the way.
    Thanks for all your helpful tips at Fiction U. Invaluable...especially in tackling a new genre.

  6. I love when you say it was about "discovering the story, not publishing the book." Such a great reminder. I found the same thing happening with my WIP, but I was able to get going on it again with a similar shift in attitude and a disregard for any sort of self-imposed timeline/deadline. For me, I'm still discovering the story in the 3rd draft (slow writer, yes!) so it really helps to limit the focus to writing for fun, only. Great post!

    1. Slow is fine if that's your process 🙂 That's great that you were able to catch yourself before you got caught up in the publishing side of it.

  7. I wrote one novel for myself, no thought of what would sell, let myself play with lots of characters...and that is the book that is getting published! (The Vines We Planted, Wido.) I'm so glad I let myself write "for fun". I am trying it again -- I have a novel that is 90% done but I am dreading the writing. So I put it down for now, and wrote a full length play. I have to mix it up, or I will not see my best writing. Thanks for the post!

    1. Grats! See? Anything can happen. Interesting that you switched formats like that. That would tap into a different part of the creative brain.

  8. Oh my gosh! I can so relate to this. A few days ago I decided to set my WIP (on the front burner for longer than I care to admit) aside. I was so over the rewrites, rehashing, replotting and revising of that old story and still coming away dissatisfied with some major elements. Another story has taken hold of my imagination and I started working on an outline. I'm having fun again! Thanks for this timely post. I felt so guilty about my decision, like I was just chasing the next story perhaps down the same rabbit hole. This time I give myself permission to just let go and enjoy the creative process.

    1. Don't feel guilty! For all you know, the reason the other project is giving your a headache is that you need to write this new one to learn or figure out the one thing that will help the first project. Or maybe all you needed was a mental break to let the creative juices refill. If that's what you want to do, run with it and enjoy.

  9. Great advice here! I have this one story idea that I keep telling myself, "Someday..." It's one of those that likely would never sell, though I might self-publish. It's just that story I would absolutely write for the fun of it. Maybe I don't need to wait — maybe I could start dabbling now when I get the chance. Thanks, Janice!

  10. Janice, I just approved several comments that were hiding in the pending folder, so you might want to take it once from the top.

    Laura and I talk a lot about that golden time before contracts and deadlines. I realize what a gift this time is and try to explore it to the fullest. 🙂

    1. Thanks, I just noticed that myself. Deadlines really do put a lot of pressure on a writer. That's probably why the second book is so hard for pretty much everyone to write.

  11. Janice, I've followed your blog for a year now, and never once did I detect the struggle you described. This speaks volumes (sorry, I can't resist a pun) of your professionalism and mentoring. People who give to others often forget to give back to themselves, and I'm happy to hear you make it through the muck.

    As someone who intends to published in the future, it helps to know that "making it" presents another set of obstacles. And I've lived long enough to know that the minute I think something won't happen to me, it probably will

    1. Thanks! The tough times were about five years ago, but I do try to hold the blog together when things are crazy in my life.

      Like all professions, every stage has good times and bad. Some are things almost everyone goes through, others are rare. The pressure of deadlines and contacts is one most folks experience at some point, but it's nice to know most of us make it through okay.

      I can never resist a pun either, so it's all good there.

  12. Thanks so much for this Janice!
    I've been in a sort of "frozen" state for the last six months or so...sent out so many short stories and got so many rejections that I just couldn't even really type or move forward.... And after recently finishing up my MFA too, it stung...

    Need to break out of the deep freeze, and get back on the novel. But a fresh new idea would probably work well. Think I'm getting one now as we speak!

    Writing on!

    1. Awesome! That sounds like you had a ton on your plate, so it's no wonder you needed a break. Write on, have a good time, and just enjoy the experience. It'll come back.

  13. There must be something in the air, Janice! Last year I wrote and published a book just for fun, something outside my usual oeuvre - a lighthearted travel diary called Not Quite Lost. In some ways, it was like using my craft for pleasure - and the book that came out of it grew into a proper thing that got reviews in literary mags and features on BBC Radio. Hooray for the in-between book! And now I'm back to my proper novel, mojo in full fettle.

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