at sea

Why don't I write?

For years I've struggled with writing fiction--not on the level of constructing sentences, or even with what's called "writer's block", where you just can't figure out what to write next. That happens from time to time, but never to the point of it being a problem. Almost all of my stories have endings planned, and I know roughly the paths to get to those endings. It might take several drafts to get those paths cleared out enough for me to follow them, but they're there. And I've always loved crafting sentences, the art of fine-tuning word-selection for nuances or cadence. That part is usually highly enjoyable; the process itself of writing is absolutely not the problem.

The issue is that at some point I stopped writing for me and started writing for other people. Granted, this has sometimes led to me completing stories that would have languished otherwise--at least in part. When I was still in college and then fairly recently out, I had the habit of writing, and I had a highly enthusiastic fandom where a fair number of people were interested in and talkative about what I was writing. And it was fabulous. For a while.

But then I started losing interest in that fandom, both because I fell out of love with the show itself and because fandom's tastes increasingly diverged from mine. Aside from a handful of writers, who also began drifting away, fandom became obsessed with a single non-canonical relationship, to the point where it seemed no one cared about any other characters or potential relationships--and because those were the things I was writing, my stories received less and less of a response, to the point where two comments seemed like overwhelming bounty. And eventually I looked at all these half-finished stories I had sitting around and wondered why bother? If no one else cares about them, why should I?

Aside from a few blips where people have asked me to write particular things--and which they then haven't always responded to, let alone other people--that's the state I've been in for years now. Not being able to make myself care about writing because it seems no one else does either--it's really an awful lot like being in the Doldrums from The Phantom Tollbooth. I hate it. And I hate myself because of it. Every Sunday morning when I survey the past week, I have this sense of failure because I didn't write anything. And I know that I almost certainly won't write anything in the week ahead, because that's how it's been going now for years, so I start the week with a preemptive sense of futility.

This isn't a plea for more comments--that would be nice, but it wouldn't change the fundamental issue, which is: if I don't think what I'm writing is interesting enough to finish, why should anyone else? If I don't care enough about these characters to spend extended amounts of time with them, why should I expect any reader to, let alone comment about doing so? If I don't love the little worlds that I'm trying to make, why bother making them?

And if I love them, what does it matter whether anyone else does?
It's not fiction, but I write a lot of physical letters with people these days, if you're interested in a penpal. (I am also very prompt at responding, usually moreso with letters than with email because of limited computer access)

Edited at 2016-03-07 02:07 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the offer, but I'm really, really bad at the penpal thing. I have at least 5 letters from people I've been meaning to respond to for months and months. It's kind of sad. But I do appreciate the thought!
Totally understandable! I think I'm pretty unusual in finding physical letters easier to respond to and if my computer situation changed (at work I have little computer time and can only access LJ, at home my tablet is so ancient and awful being on the internet is obnoxious, and accessing FB and Gmail through my dumbphone is annoying enough I don't spend a lot of time on it) I probably wouldn't jump at writing letters as much as I do now.
...actually, I kind of envy you. I try to put up roadblocks for myself, so I have to be more intentional and deliberate about when/why I spend time online, but it's a bit like being an alcoholic with a leaky and unending keg of beer in every single room of the house. And I don't say that as a joke.

When my laptop finally dies, I'm not sure if I'll replace it. If I can just figure out the logistics of existing on borrowed/work computers....

Perhaps you'll get a penpal at that point. :P
You have to write for you. I know many writers who have that attitude and it works for them. They don't care what you want to see written, they write for themselves and it seems to work for them. You are the only one you need to please if your writing for pleasure.
Really interesting post!

I keep asking myself "Why do I write fanfic?" at pretty regular intervals, and I think the idealistic "You have to write for yourself" just doesn't provide a satisfying answer. I've been writing all my life, so yes, I know it's something I do for myself, but why did I turn to writing fanfic and don't really want to go back to original fic anywhere in the near future? Because writing fanfic means being part of a community. The communication aspect matters. It's about learning how to write better. It's about sharing love for something. That's really valuable to me and not something I can get in any other form of writing.

But what happens when communication doesn't happen? Then like you, I begin wondering: Why do I bother? What helps me is to determine regularly (ideally for every single fic): Who am I writing for apart from me? Who do I want to communicate with? I'm never going to be a particularly popular writer. So I try to focus on: Who do I want to read my fic? Rather than: Who isn't reading my fic? And usually I then discover that what essentially matters and keeps me satisfied to me is the feedback from three or four people. But it's something I have to remind myself of again and again.
It really does seem to be a pretty delicate balance--and one where I allowed myself to get pulled entirely in one direction. This post is kind of my attempt to make mental strides back in the other direction, to where I'm not relying on others' validation of what I'm doing. To remember that when I started producing fanfic, it was because there were stories I wanted to read and no one else was writing them.

And that's still true, so there's still definitely reason for me to write.
when I started producing fanfic, it was because there were stories I wanted to read and no one else was writing them.
Same here. :)
I remember going through this during my SGA days and yes, it is horrible. I even remember the evolution of it; how I would see these beautifully written fic with all these comments and certain popular members among the fandom commenting, that getting similar attention became my goal. Like you, I had to remind myself that such things don't matter. What matters is enjoying what I write. Except that as much as we like to say we write for ourselves, the truth is the point of stories is for them to be read, and it's hard not to feel like a failure when what you write isn't being read all that much.

What eventually helped get me out of that mindset was three things. One, going into new fandoms until I eventually hit a fandom where well-written gen was so rare that getting a ton of readers was a guarantee. Plus it broadened my writing horizons, getting me out of what I was used to writing and so writing other things, which helped to remind me how much I enjoy creating stories. Two, getting bored with writing fanfic and getting back into original fic. And three, the mindset that there will always be someone out there who will enjoy what I write, and as long as that person enjoys it, even if it's just one person, then I can say it's a job well done.

I think it's that last point that I'd forgotten: AO3 has helped with it a bit, because I'm seeing a slow but steady trickle of kudos on even my oldest stories. And it would be nice to get some comments, but at least I can see that people are still reading and appreciating what I've written.
I'm sorry to hear that writing has been so unrewarding for you you lately. I still love your stories! Especially Corbel & Squinch. I'm not into SGA myself anymore. I think that trying new fandoms is a good idea. Sorry I haven't replied to some of your non-fic posts. I'm not Christian so they don't resonate for me.

Are you writing under bratfarrar at AO3?
I'm actually getting my groove back a bit--falling deeply in love with a new show helps a bit, I think. The writers there are doing some really nifty things and it makes me want to do nifty things too. And I've finally developed enough of a perspective to go back to some of the half- (or nearly-) finished stories from my more productive years and say, "hey, I actually want to be able to read the ending to this."

As for my non-fic posts, those tend to function either as a way for me to think something out in text, or a spiritual exercise--so I never really expect anyone to reply to either. (Heck, I'm totally cool with it if people use the tag-filtering option on their flist so they never even see those posts.)
Aargh, sympathies.

I don't know if this will help, but for me, it's sort of a combination of both. That is, I do write for myself first and foremost. I write stuff I want to read. But I don't seem to get very far if I don't have a concrete plan for what to do with it afterwards, whether it's "post this on AO3" or "fill an h/c bingo square" or "submit this short story to this specific magazine" or "self-publish this novella on Amazon". If I'm just writing for the pure love of it, I sometimes finish things, but more often I faff around and end up with a million starts to unfinished projects, both fannish and original. It's not readers I need, exactly, so much as I need that eventual goal in order to finish, and just having it on my hard drive or in a notebook or whatever doesn't seem to be enough.

I wonder if it would be helpful at all to combine the two -- not just trying to get back to writing for fun (because, yes!) but also having something like a bingo card of prompts to complete, or a regular posting schedule, to give yourself an incentive to complete things on time.

Of course, that kind of thing can backfire and just turn into another source of guilt; I've had that happen too ...

Anyway, good luck; I'm currently in a writing upswing but I know how rough and frustrating it is to go through those dry periods.
Thank you for the suggestions! I've actually tried all of them at some point or another and ... they just don't work, at least for any sort of extended time, probably because they don't get at what I just realized is the problem: a set of unrecognized expectations for myself that doesn't match at all what I'm actually good at doing. The thing is, I write in miniature. I like the process of doing it, and judging from the (slow but steady) feedback I get, I'm more than passable at it. But for years I've been trying to make myself into a writer of epics (because short stuff "doesn't really count") and that's an engine that just won't turn over.

And realizing that last night felt like having a millstone removed from my back.