Thursday, July 26, 2012

Don't Kill the Girl

“Protecting the Girl” is the title of an article by Claudia Welch in the current issue of RWR (ROMANCE WRITERS REPORT, the magazine of the Romance Writers of America).

She begins with the story of a boy who loved to swim. He spent all the time he could in the water. As he grew up, he found more ways to focus on what he loved. He joined a swim team and took lessons. Later, he swam competitively in high school and college. Somehow, along the way, as he devoted more and more of his life to swimming, it became work rather than a joy. He forgot how to have fun at it and eventually quit. Welch’s parable has a happy ending, though: Later in life, when the boy, now a man, got a dog who loved the water, the man rediscovered that swimming could be fun. He found his joy again.

Applying this analogy to an author’s life, Welch compares the boy who loved to swim with the girl (since this article is directed to an overwhelmingly female membership) who spent hours pouring out words onto the page. That girl loved to write more than anything else. As the girl grows up, she discovers a way to get paid for doing what she loves. She becomes a professional writer. Now she has an external goal—to get published. After publication, she has a new goal, to be published “well,” to receive favorable reviews, multi-book contracts, and high royalties. She studies craft and marketing. What she once did for the sheer joy of it has become a job.

Welch urges us to protect the girl who wrote for fun, joy, the “sense of play and freedom.” If we’re not careful, “we can kill that girl” by getting trapped in behavior patterns that kill our motivation. Every writer is different and has different motivations for writing. We should pursue elements that feed our own motivation and avoid those that drain it. For instance, if what a writer wants most ardently is to be read, contests and reviews probably energize her. If her main fulfillment comes from success (however she defines it), she will probably feel drained by every contest loss and unfavorable review, so she should focus on other areas.

This article really resonated with me. I have vivid memories of pounding away, at the age of thirteen, on my aunt’s old typewriter, pouring out stories. I didn’t know they were fatally flawed in craft terms. I didn’t know any of the terminology and techniques associated with professional writing. I just wanted to get my fantasies on paper. Now, it’s certainly a good thing that I’ve learned all that stuff. My writing has definitely improved (I hope so, after fifty years!), and I’ve enjoyed becoming a published author. But like the centipede trying to decide which leg to move, I have to stop and think and agonize over the process. That spontaneous outpouring no longer happens. Where has the “girl” gone?

My idol, C. S. Lewis, wrote about the same phenomenon in terms of Enchantment, Disenchantment, and Re-enchantment. Enchantment happens when we first discover an activity that excites and delights us. (The example in Lewis's essay is riding a bicycle.) Disenchantment, the next stage, occurs if we pursue the activity long enough to discover its routine, chore-like dimensions. If we're blessed, we transcend the second stage to arrive at Re-enchantment—not a return to the "first, fine, careless rapture," but a deeper joy. As writers, how can we attain Re-enchantment in our vocation?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for blogging on this - I too read the article today in RWR - and while most articles do not speak to me these days in RWR, that one completely spoke to where I have been stuck for seven years. My 1st and 2nd books were cluelessly written, never having written any fiction before, but I loved them and I got them published easily with a small press. From then on I switched my focus unconsciously to 'writing for success, writing to be better, writing for acknowledgment, etc.' and I lost the joy. By my 3rd book, 4th and now 5th I am working on, while they have gotten published with small presses, I am disenchanted since the 2nd book and have almost perfunctorily written them. I am now searching for the enchantment - so far I do not see where it is and I am guessing it is NOT in 'doing' something different which is more 'trying' but rather in finding a practice of writing when I have joy in the writing.