Sunday, 16 February 2014

It's All About the Passion, Baby

If you've seen my Facebook author page or if you follow me on Twitter, you'll know that a few days ago, I finished the first draft of my MWIP (Mysterious Work in Progress).

Let me just repeat that: I FINISHED THE FIRST DRAFT! WOOHOO! It's currently 112k words and will need LOTS of editing...but at least that first draft is done. Joy!

The next step will be the frankly terrifying one of reading it through and seeing what kind of shape it's in. But not yet. Now, in that lovely state of post-first-draft and pre-editing, I'm thinking about why I write in the first place.
I love movies about people who have a passion for something. It doesn't really matter what. School of Rock: music. The Big Year: bird-watching (or 'birding' as it's apparently called). A League of Their Own: baseball. Stories about that incredible, single-minded drive when you're doing what you feel like you're meant to do. 

I just so totally get it.

In a way, it's strange that I ever had the will to become published. I'm not really the kind of person who keeps working and working at something until she succeeds -- which in my case with writing took years, if not decades. I'm actually kind of lazy, if you want the truth. And impatient. If I can't do/have/experience it NOW, I'm not interested.

Writing was always the exception.

One of my first memories is of writing a story when I was five. I was very serious about it. I included a few lines of made-up publisher and copyright information, because I knew published books had to have that and I was SO going to get this published. (If you're curious, the story was about a fox and a horse who were friends. My dim memory is that the horse was threatened with the glue factory. I'm hoping that the fox saved the day, but who knows; I was a dark child.)

Well, obviously that story wasn't published despite my five-year-old determination. But the intent was there -- and that has never left me.

More than that, writing has always felt like who I am. If I wasn't a writer, published or not, I don't know who I'd be anymore. And it wasn't until I reached a ridiculously late age -- probably my early twenties -- that I realised not everyone feels this way about something. Not everyone is obsessed.

So, yeah: movies about passion.

Have you seen The Big Year? Probably not; I don't think it did very well. I really loved it. It's a gentle, quirky film about 'birding' -- and about the price you sometimes pay for passion.

The Big Year is an annual US contest: who can spot the most species of birds in a single year? As a hobby, birding leaves me cold, yet I totally got the compulsion that would make the protagonists drop everything and grab a plane, just because a certain type of owl had been spotten halfway across the country. I know exactly what that kind of driving force feels like.

There's a cautionary tale here, too. Owen Wilson's character is determined to win the Big Year despite his faltering marriage. He lets his wife down in some very major ways, until at a key moment she asks him to put their marriage first for once, and not fly off to Arizona to chase the next bird.

He can't do it.

Birding is what and who he is. Winning is who he is. The final scene in the film shows him alone: still birding, but painfully aware of the price he's paid.

Sadly, I can identify with this aspect of passion as well. If it had been me, caught up in the midst of some writing obsession -- say, the final stages of editing, when the rest of the world ceases to exist -- my choice might well have been the same. I know my every instinct would have been shouting GO TO ARIZONA, even while gazing at someone I loved.

That's not admirable. It's not even healthy. And, in real life, I hope that if I'd been neglecting my marriage that I'd be able to put writing aside and heal things. But that all-or-nothing, cannot-stop element that was driving Wilson's character?

Yeah. I really get that.

Is this kind of passion worth it? I can't say; for me, it's too deeply ingrained to separate myself from it. I do know that writing brings me intense satisfaction, as does teaching it. I can't imagine not having the craft of stories in my life in some way.

And my suspicion is that worth it on a personal level or not, it's how things valued by society often
get done: the books, the art, the films, the bridge-building -- on and on. Learning to do difficult things well is so time-consuming that without passion to carry us through, we'd never get there.

Which is good, because for some of us there doesn't seem to be a choice: being geekily obsessed with whatever drives us is just who we are. For better or for worse. (Seriously, don't ever give me a glass of wine and start talking about writing. I will keep going for DAYS. Until your ears fall off, probably.)

I wish I could go back in time and tell that little girl writing the story that, you know what? It happened. You're a published author. Your copyright info is printed up by real publishers now, instead of being drawn on with a crayon.

I don't think she'd be surprised. She was so certain. But the me who actually got published -- the one who lived through all the intervening years -- still has to pinch herself every day. And, for me, it wouldn't have happened without that driving force that refused to let me stop. That same driving force will carry me through once I'm editing the new novel, having moments of both ecstasy and despair.

What about you? Have you got a passion? Tell me about it -- I'd love to hear!

1 comment:

  1. Maybe we only kid ourselves that critical and commercial success is what we want. Really the writer is like that birder - just doing it for the sake of doing it, with the dangling reward just a decoy to focus the mind.

    I am apt to get obsessed about all kinds of things; I tried to home in on writing as one of the less damaging and most inexpensive.