Friday, September 19, 2014

Untyped, Not Unwritten

When I was younger, I was basically writing stories all the time. I didn't write them down on paper, but I wrote them in my mind. As I explained in my first post on being a kid again, I used my imagination as a medium. The funny thing is that when it actually came time to write stories down on paper, like for homework, my stories weren't all that exciting. I mean, some of them were. I remember especially enjoying creative writing in 4th and 5th grade, because we got to write a lot of stories and free compositions with very little structure, but even then, these stories just did not compare at all to the ones I wrote in my head. I also didn't have the same connection to them. The stories I wrote in my imagination, I daydreamed about almost all the time. They were entire worlds that I had created in my own mind, that I could go to whenever I was uninterested in living in the real world. Nothing I wrote down on paper was like that, with one exception. There was one fantasy short story I wrote in 5th grade that was the basis of a full-length fantasy screenplay that I imagined for year. The final draft that I handed in for class ended up being the rough draft of a much bigger story. But as far as I remember, that is the only exception.

For a while, I just assumed that I didn't put much effort into my school stories because I didn't care about school, and that was why they were never as good as my personal stories. But then when I got to middle school, I started entering the short story contests in my favorite magazine. I entered the contests entirely on my own - no one else ever pushed me to do it. And the contests themselves were pretty much a free-for-all.  They'd give a length limit and tell you what season to set the story in based on what time of year the winning story would be published, but the writing prompt was usually just one sentence that had to included somewhere in the story. The possibilities were endless. I had a lot of fun writing stories for these contests, even though I didn't win. I didn't have a huge stake in winning the contests - I mainly just thought they were fun. But even with all that said, knowing that this was a fun, free-for-all activity that I did entirely by my own free will, I can honestly say these stories did not take over my life the way other stories had. They did not form entire worlds in my head where I could hang out all the time. I had fun writing them, but I was never attached to them like the stories I only imagined.

In middle school, I also started writing out some short stories, comic strips, and part of a memoir that I had planned to share with family and friends. These stories occupied much more of my brain than the stories I wrote for the contests, but nowhere near as much as the stories I only imagined did. It's like, actually producing something with the intention of showing it to people dramatically reduces how much I daydream and live in the world of the story, and producing it with the intention of getting published puts an even greater wall between me and the story than when I only planned to share it with family and friends. Even though I wrote all of these stories entirely by my own free will.

My brain really took a toll after college fiction writing class. It wasn't anything that the class did to me specifically - it was that writing stories for class got me into this mindset of producing things, of feeling like I was ready to start my career as a professional writer and go from imagining to producing. In theory, this should have a been a good thing for me. I want to produce things and get published. But once I started only working on stories with the intention of showing them to people, my brain no longer had all these safe fantasy worlds where I could go and live. Those stories never made their way into my brain like the stories I never wrote down had. The last time I had an imaginary story that took over my brain was not when I was really young - it was actually the summer before my junior year of college; the summer before fiction writing class.

I worked on my novel for a year and a half, and I can honestly say that it did nothing to protect me. It did nothing to provide a fun, safe world I could retreat to inside my head. It did not have the power that my unwritten stories had. When I used to enter the worlds of my unwritten stories, I would see playgrounds with all kinds of fun activities to do. But when I entered the world of my novel, I only saw work that needed to be done. The lawn needed mowing, the flowers needed watering, the house needed a new coat of paint. I never felt like I could just go hang out there.

This is something that I need to fix. I want to get my books published, but I also want to live like a kid and have my stories take over my mind like they did when I didn't write them down. I want my stories to be constantly running through my mind, to the point that I can't concentrate on anything in the real world, to the point that I don't even live in the real world full-time.

There was one time in fiction writing class, I had spent my entire winter break replaying a story in my mind, and by the time I sat down to write it, I was really just typing, because I already had a first draft of the story in my head. And that's what I need to do now. The stories in my past were never unwritten, they were simply untyped. And there is no reason why the simple act of typing should prevent stories from taking over my brain. My focus right now, in addition to being a kid again, is to try to imagine my stories the old fashioned way, the way that will make them take over my life, and also type them out. It's something I'll have to play and experiment with, but it's what I need to do. I'm not going to have my fun places feel like work and I'm not going to live in the real world.

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