Archive for April 5, 2023

writing life

Compulsive Storytelling

There’s been a lot of talk in the writing and fantasy world about a recent article on a popular author. The article was bad enough that I won’t dignify it by linking to it, but an interesting thing that came out of it was that the writer believed the author has graphomania. He’s utterly compelled to write and would happily spend every hour of the day writing if he could. His idea of a vacation is having fewer things to take away from his time to write rather than taking a break from writing.

I definitely don’t have that, but I seem to have a sort of compulsive storytelling thing going on. I’m constantly coming up with and thinking about stories. My mind is always spinning with some kind of story idea, whether it’s the book I’m currently working on or something new. When I watch a movie or TV show or read a book, I find myself dreaming up story ideas inspired by it. I come up with spinoffs of my own ideas. Even if I had graphomania and wrote non-stop, I could never write all the ideas I come up with. This is why I laugh at the people who do the “I have a great idea for a book, I’ll tell you, you write it, and we’ll split the profits” routine with me. I already have more ideas than I know what to do with. Writing is the hard part.

But I’m not at all compelled to write them down. I mostly do that because writing stories down and sharing them is the way I make a living. Having stories constantly spinning in my head pretty much makes me unemployable at anything else. My mind is always elsewhere, and it takes me a lot of effort to focus on what I’m supposed to be doing.

Not all the ideas are worth writing down, and not all of them develop into books. Some are just mental amusements. Sometimes an idea develops for a long time and manages to become a book. Sometimes two ideas might collide and be enough to become a book. There are some ideas I’m more compelled to write than others, the ones I have to get out of my head or that I want to see in book form. Other ideas fizzle out and get forgotten. For instance, I had a story/characters in my brain for nearly twenty years, finally wrote it, couldn’t sell it, and have more or less forgotten it. Getting it written stopped it from playing out in my head anymore. Every so often, an old, forgotten idea will pop back up and demand attention. That’s what I’m working on now. I came up with the idea about 30 years ago, started working on it, then it fizzled. I wrote it ten years later, and it didn’t work. Then it popped up again and became something entirely different based on that setting/situation and characters.

I currently have stories for about five fictional universes at work in my brain. Just this week, I’m still figuring out the rest of the book I’m writing. I started thinking about a book I wrote a few years ago that didn’t quite work and that I’m thinking of revisiting for a different market. I figured out the book I’d want to write if I got a chance to pitch a book to the Star Wars universe. I’ve been pondering the book I started writing last year that didn’t quite work and have figured out what the problem was. I’ve also come up with several new characters and idea fragments in search of a home.

Maybe I need to develop graphomania so I can write all these stories, but there’s a huge gap between a mental story and a viable book, and figuring out what it takes to turn that mental story into a book can be incredibly difficult. Finding the words to convey the story is also hard work. I get exhausted from just spending a couple of hours a day actually writing. The rest of the day is spent thinking about what I’m writing and figuring out how the next scene should go.

If I didn’t have to make a living, I don’t know how much I’d end up writing. Like, if I won one of those billion-dollar lottery jackpots and no longer needed to earn money from writing, I might just spend my days doing stuff like gardening or hiking, with my brain happily dreaming up stories but without having to do the hard work of turning them into books. Or I might need to write some of them down just to clear out my head.