I’ve always heard, when you don’t know what to write, just write something. But this ideal goes against my very nature. See, I’m the type of person that needs to see results for the things I do. If I am going to put hours, days, months into a writing project, I want it to be something I can submit when I’m done. If I’m going to paint something, it’s going to be something I’m going to sell or use as a sample for one of the painting classes I teach.
In other words, I’m into functional art. It needs to have a purpose. I’ve never been the type of person who sits down to do something just for fun. My husband, however understands well the art of leisure. He is a gamer. I’ve never seen the purpose in it. Hours of effort and emotion poured into something that didn’t result in a product. Or so I thought. Sometimes the product of effort is not tangible, yet it’s just as valuable.
My husband and brother-n-laws started playing #Fortnite recently. If you don’t know what that is, it’s a video game where you and your partners– who are communicating remotely via headset– are dropped out of the sky from a floating party bus onto an island where an encroaching storm is constantly making your boarders smaller and bringing you closer to your enemies, which are also live players. The purpose is to be the last on the island to survive. My husband and his brothers coaxed me and their wives to play “just once,” and I caved.
It turns out, we didn’t suck! In fact, I had a great time, and it resulted in some quality time with my sis-n-laws that I drew from during the week. The plot arc in the game was inspiring as well. There was an actual product to doing something that wasn’t “productive.” It wasn’t something I could put my hands on. It wasn’t a word count. But there was something to show for it.
I started playing this game right around the time I was finishing up a manuscript that I sent my agent. It was the second new MS I’d sent her since going on submission, and it wasn’t great. Immediately, after realizing this, I had that rush of rage that accompanies “wasting my time,” and I started to get really down about it. But then I took a few days, thought about some things that she suggested, and along came a new idea. One of those ideas that effortlessly flows from your fingers. And guess what. Elements from the two other manuscripts started inspiring characters. Experiences in those other manuscripts became tools in my tool belt and the story felt so much more authentic. It was like I was trying for the past several months to take a screw out with a butter knife and someone had just handed me a Phillips screwdriver. Those hours, those days, those weeks were not a waste. There is a product for time spent working on our craft without the direct result of a finished piece of work. There is a benefit for doing things just for the sake of enjoying them. Though, if I’m honest, just saying those words still makes something inside me cringe; I’m going to try to make myself believe them more often.