When I was quite young, still in the elementary school years, I used to write like mad. I had notebooks and notebooks full of stories and I was rarely ever without pen and paper. But as I grew and other things began to be important to me, my writing dwindled down to nothing. By the time I hit high school I was barely even writing at all.
Then my best friend and I began a strange collaboration. It started because of a particular English teacher who I loathed. My best friend and I used to jokingly plot crazy ways to be rid of this particular teacher (it’s not as creepy as it sounds, I swear, and besides, she deserved it), and somehow or other it became a super-short little story. I honestly can’t remember which one of us wrote the first chapter, but I remember that it was only about a page long, featured ridiculously overblown explosions, and ended with my boyfriend and I being pursued by the police. It was an incredibly goofy, over-the-top little piece of flash fiction that would have made little to no sense when taken out of context, but it started something.
You see, at the time that this strange little story first came to light, my friend and I shared a keyboarding class. For you youngsters, that was a classroom full of typewriters – not computers, mind you, but honest-to-goodness typewriters – where a teacher would run us through exercises to learn how to type properly (you know, with your fingers on the right keys and without looking at your hands). Since my friend and I were already rather good at typing, we would often finish our assigned tasks quickly, and thus we took to spending the remainder of our classes adding to our little story. She would type up a page-long “chapter”, and then I would type one. Back and forth, back and forth.
The thing is, there was absolutely nothing sensible about this story we were collaborating on. The cast quickly ballooned to include my best friend and her beau, two other friends and a boy one of them had a crush on, and a random goofy guy from my best friend’s science class (who, funny story, wound up becoming my husband). This motley crew of eight went on lunatic adventures to stay ahead of the police, and that adventure got more and more bewildering as it went on. Among some of the more outlandish plot points were an armada of flying enemy pizza-minis who were destroyed by being sprayed with donair sauce, alien cows who could disguise themselves to look like humans, and the use of such devices as a SRMLD (Stark Raving Mad Lunatic Detector. Since one of the first pages of the story involved one of the characters accidentally blowing up the planet, we called it “The Day the Earth Blew Up”, and filled the thing with so many terrible in-jokes that reading it now makes me twitch a little.
And here’s the point of this little trip down memory lane…Our story was utterly foolish. It had numerous spelling and grammatical errors. It had no discernible plot, and certainly no semblance of act structure. It was complete and utter nonsense that would mean absolutely zip to anyone other than myself and my friend. It was nothing that could ever be shared with the world in any way. And it was fun. It was ridiculously fun and it started me writing again.
There’s a moral here, and that moral is that writing doesn’t always have to have a purpose. It doesn’t have to mean anything. It doesn’t have to be publishable, or even readable. You can have goals and deadlines and lots of writerly responsibilities, but you can have fun too. You can write silly, meaningless nonsense every now and then. You can write whatever foolishness pops into your head just because it’s in there and you’d like to get it out. I think that’s something that a lot of writers forget. They focus all of their time and energy into writing words that can be sold, or used for marketing or promotional purposes, and they forget why they got into writing in the first place.
Writing can absolutely be your career, but it is also something that writers do because we enjoy it, because we love it, and it’s important to remember that. After all, we all know what “all work and no play” did to a famous fictional writer.