How does ANYONE do this?


Apparently the key to good, imaginative writing is to relax and have fun. That’s one of many conclusions drawn by YA novelist Carol Plum-Ucci inĀ an essay she wrote for a Smart Pop Books anthology about Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle series. The essay’s called “Q: How Does a Fifteen-Year-Old Do This?” (which you can purchase for $0.99 US through that link). Plum-Ucci discusses how a writer’s imagination works in a general sense, with a focus on Paolini’s specific work in his boy-and-his-dragon novels. I guess a lot of people tend to wonder how a mere teenager was able to write such an amazing and imaginative novel.

Hold on. Before I go any further, let me clarify that a) I’ve read his first book, Eragon, and I didn’t think it was THAT great, and b) I was insanely jealous of him when it came out, having been an aspiring novelist (key word: aspiring) since I was 12. (He, along with Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, were my nemeses when I was a teenager, unbeknownst to them.) End side note.

So, Plum-Ucci takes a psychoanalytic look at how writer’s write, and ultimately comes to two conclusions. I’m sure I’ve heard similar theories about writing elsewhere, but the fact that it was about a fifteen-year-old writer that I once abhorred caught my attention.

The first conclusion she draws is that the dream centre, or the part of the brain that’s associated with ‘play time’, is largely associated with a writer’s creative process. That’s where character archetypes come from, as well as common symbols that tend to crop up throughout literature. These are the things readers relate to, because they’re common to all of us.

The second conclusion was this: in order to be a popular and therefore successful (I suppose) author, a writer must develop a writer-reader relationship by creating something that they enjoyed writing, so that the reader may enjoy reading it. Basically, you should trust your gut instinct about what’s interesting, what’s not and what works in your novel. If you spend all day analyzing what the “average reader” wants in a book, you’re bound to fail. Successful writers offer something that they would read themselves.

She also mentioned that writers who spent years studying writing were less likely to access that inner child; she said she knew hundreds of unpublished writers who spent years (in some cases, decades) studying the craft to no avail.

As I continue to spend my nights trying to capture something worthwhile on paper, I find myself trying unsuccessfully to turn on the ‘play centre’ of my brain. Once upon a time, I wrote a really crappy horror novel at the age of 12-going-on-13 as a result of consuming too many Christopher Pike and R. L. Stine novels. I recall spending hundreds of precious after-school/weekend hours at my computer writing simply for the sheer joy of it. I was having fun. It was probably because I had no internal editor telling me that what I was writing sucked. *sigh* Those were indeed the good ole’ days. I sent the manuscript to one publisher and after receiving a very nice rejection letter that explained that they don’t publish fiction, I never sent it anywhere else. Since then, I don’t think I’ve sincerely enjoyed writing creatively. Maybe that’s why I have so many unfinished novels in a very sad folder on my computer.

So, here is a follow-up question to Plum-Ucci’s essay. What if there’s a barrier between my typing fingers and my dream centre? What if my brain wants to spend more time thinking about what will sell than what would be fun to write? How do I let my imagination run wild?

Perhaps a better question is: if I’m not having fun, why am I doing this?