Thursday, June 16, 2011

Guest Blogger: Writing For Fun, Profit and Other Reasons

This guest blog is from Chaz Wood

For all the fellow writers out there,  let me begin this article with a very simple question: why do you write? For fun, and to exercise your creative faculties? For money? Or because you simply have to, irrespective of success (or otherwise)?

For me, the answer is all of the above.

 In my day job, I send out around 100  bespoke tech support emails per week to customers of the UK's biggest supplier of high-speed business Internet. That qualifies me as someone who writes for a living, and as what we send out is classed as business correspondence, our standards of grammar and literacy have to be impeccable. Which means also, I suppose, that I am a fairly proficient writer, after four and a half years in this post, and can usually spot a typo at a hundred paces.

 In my spare time, I also work as a commercial illustrator, and as a writer and creator of comics, graphic novels and prose fiction. These personal  stories are pieces I'm driven to write, generally with a passion which can remain unextinguished for years, my mental eternal flame. Once a character or a concept takes hold within my consciousness, it will linger there until it finds its home in a work which is worthy of it, the creation and development of which can take a decade or more. For all the time and energy that I've poured into writing in the past 30 years or so, it's only within the last 5 years that I made any serious attempt to produce pieces that may be 'commercial' enough to  attract attention, and only in the last 12-18 months have I actually made any money at all out of these efforts.

But something is always better than nothing, and even if my books gained the worst reviews ever and got burned in the street  by disgusted bastions of taste and quality, I know that I would keep on writing simply because it's in my nature to do so. Some of us are just born to create, and find pleasure and excitement in the creation of stories and the characters who populate them, irrespective of success, fame or approval. Obviously, monetary reward is the highest form of flattery for any writer – signifying that total strangers enjoy your work so much, they're willing to part with hard-earned cash to experience your words – but at what cost to that natural sense of raw creativity and adventure mentioned previously? I always find the aspect of creating the most fulfilling and rewarding part. The nuts and bolts of telling is mere donkey work, stringing words together on a page to give form to those ideas and thoughts, and this is why I tend to develop my plotlines in a very ad hoc manner, allowing characters to choose their own paths, and build up the layers of story and background as we all explore the tale together. Nothing to me could be more boring than laboriously writing out a treatment or synopsis down to the tiniest detail beforehand, and then proceeding to turn that into a piece of prose. That's painting by numbers, and the individual, independent characters of mine would never stand for that – I'd have a revolution on my hands before the end of the first chapter.

 In a way, I can understand why professional novelists choose to kill off  or retire major recurring characters, usually to the disgust and outrage of their fans. Almost always, the choice is an unhappy one for the writer, no matter the outcome – they either find themselves saying 'farewell' to a beloved character for ever, or, as Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie found out, public opinion simply demands that the hero return, no matter the convolutions of logic or chronology that are required to do so. Being at the mercy of an over-enthusiastic public is a double-edged sword – the writer wants free from this character or series in order to rediscover the creativity and freshness of a new creation, but finds themselves trapped in the perpetual cycle of their own success, churning out book after book with the same people doing the same things. I find this concept rather frightening, as a writer of several series, and creator of recurring characters.

For as much as I love Professor Tomas de Carranza, Dr. Khalamanga and Father Rattus – the principal cast of my Trinity Chronicles series – I'm not sure I could bear to spend the rest of my writing life describing their labyrinthine and religious-themed adventures. Chance might be a fine thing, that they ever become that successful, but I have only ever planned three books featuring them, because that feels like the extent of my patience and tolerance for that little group. The idea of being required to keep writing about a character who has long since passed the stage of being interesting and fresh amounts to some kind of literary purgatory, a mere creative writing exercise which never ends for as long as there are bills to be paid, and royalty cheques and advances continue to pay those bills.

However, I don't necessarily view commercial writing as a compromise, nor does it necessarily have to derive from a personal choice such as: “Do you want to enjoy what you do, or do you want to be rich and famous?” Very few writers make it, but we all aim to do so, but no matter the level of success I hope we all, at heart, still love what we do. If you create simply because you have to, and still love it, then I see that satisfaction as reward in itself.

 Writer and illustrator  Chaz Wood runs () Fenriswulf Books, publishers of dark and quirky fiction, graphic novels, and more.

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