Spring Cleaning

The past weekend was a (late) Spring cleaning weekend. Not the normal kind of Spring cleaning where you go about in a frenzy emptying cupboards, airing out blankets, and that sort of thing–I went through all the files on my computer’s hard drive to see what could go.

I cracked open the dusty innards of folders that hadn’t seen the light of day for years. There were random notes and reminders I’d left myself–those were deleted with gleeful abandon. No, I don’t need the transaction number for a book I bought four years ago. Nor do I need the note about the Chemistry formula for a high school test.

Then there were the borderline items. The monthly budget I pulled together a few years back that’s terribly out-of-date now, but it’s a useful template to have around. Or the hotel receipt for a holiday I had last year–sure, it’s useless now, but not a bad memento of the trip.

It was during this cleaning frenzy that I came across an old folder I’d all but forgotten about. It seems my memory is quite short, since it was only back in 2011 that I created two different online role-plays (RPs) with a friend. Everything was there, copied from our emails–the story itself, our meta discussions about where to go with it, and notes about our blatant ret-cons (changing previously established facts to suit the story). Needless to say, I stopped everything to read through every last word.

We both had a variety of characters, each of them our own original creations. They were flawed, broken characters that came together in a beautiful muddle of cross-purposes and ulterior motives. With another person to bounce ideas off, there were witty exchanges more than occasionally. We even had our own worlds to play in (though I’ll admit, I left most of the world-building to my friend).

If you’ve read some of my previous posts here, you might have realised that I’m working towards becoming a published author. It’s been a difficult four or so years, and I’m still desperately clawing my way toward my goal.

A few of my RP characters would eventually come to feature prominently in my first novel, namely as the protagonist and antagonist. But as I read through the meta conversations, I realised there was a sense of carefree joyousness throughout the RP. What would be fun to explore? Who do we want to jump to next? What are some interesting situations we can put these guys in?

It wasn’t about whether this intro would be a better hook for readers, or whether that scene had enough relevance to the main plotline to be included. It wasn’t about getting the prose just so, watching for passive voice and deleting every adverb. It wasn’t even about getting to the end.

It was about writing what we wanted to write and changing facts on the fly as required; about writing just well enough to convey our character’s actions and reactions in each scene with some experimentation in style to boot; about simply enjoying our characters and their journey as we meandered our way toward a vaguely conceived end.

In short, it was about writing in its purest form.

Re-reading them made me realise how far I’d drifted from that ideal. In the last year or so, writing has been about editing. It’s been about refining plot and prose, or researching and updating culture and locations, or ensuring the rising and falling action is properly paced. I pore over every sentence and wonder if it can be more succinct. With my second novel, I’m having fits over how to write a scene that’s both relevant to the plot and has enough snark and wit to keep an amused grin firmly fixed on my reader’s face. I’ve spent hours staring at my screen, trying not to bash my head on my desk as I try to figure out what’s missing, and why.

Perhaps what was missing was that sense of joy. The wide-eyed wonder of discovery in a gigantic imaginary sandpit. Though writing has never ceased to be my passion, it had ceased to be a matter of play and become a matter of sheer hard work, determination and dedication. Which is all very well and good, until you forget what made you fall in love with it in the first place.

I want to create again for the sake of creating, the world’s opinions be damned. So what if she’s too angsty, or he’s too childish? Who cares if I used “then” in two consecutive sentences, or litter the text with “suddenly”s or people who whisper quietly? My characters are having fun, breaking the fourth wall on occasion, and stumbling their way through whatever random obstacles I choose to throw their way. (A drabble I wrote with my medieval-world characters thrown into a Black Friday sale through an acknowledged improbable plot contrivance was particularly fun.)

I think it’s time for another Spring cleaning. But this time, I’ll clean out (albeit temporarily) all those rules and expectations that natter ceaselessly in a corner of my mind, and simply write.

Just the thought of it is enough to get me truly excited again.

Leanne Yong is an aspiring Aussie author who is working on her second young adult novel, when she’s not trying to do everything herself. Check out her blog at Clouded Memories for more information and a journal chronicling her latest foray into novel writing.


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