I’ve written here before that we should remind ourselves that writing fiction—especially genre fiction—should be fun, that we should get in touch with a sense of play—and in recent weeks this has come back to me for a few different reasons.

Over the course of the past year I’ve been focusing more than I have in far too many years on my physical health, which hasn’t been terrible—I’m not dying of anything—but has not been good either. Having just recovered from an out patient surgery I thought I would bounce back from within a few days but that knocked me back for more like a couple weeks, and finally back to feeling as good as I’ve been feeling since dealing with the other stuff last year, it’s time for me to move on to some of the mental health issues, including what I guess I have to describe now as a period of (fiction) writer’s block that’s gone well into the “years” column. How many since I actually wrote a novel (published or not)? About… yeah, ten years.

Though I have gone back to some of my “literary” impulses and published a handful of poems and short stories, the novel work-in-progress has not progressed due to a lack of work. Now, with physical health well in hand, the next step is mental health, and I always feel better—I always have, anyway—when I’m writing, so the same way I got my physical health together since last April, mostly by dramatically changing my diet, I’m now determined to get my mental health together by writing, starting now, and with the goal of seeing as much mental progress in the next year as I’ve seen physical progress in the past year.

You may have noticed me working through some of this in recent posts, like the one about, y’know, starting to write by just, y’know, starting to write. This week, allow me to remind myself, out loud, that I like writing. Creating stories is fun. The genres I write in (the next will blend fantasy and horror) are fun.

I will continue writing poetry and “literary” short stories, because I love those, too, but when I was a kid I didn’t dream of being the next Dostoevsky. I dreamed of being the next Edgar Rice Burroughs. Then got a little older and thought maybe I could be the next Harlan Ellison, who said himself in a 1979 The Comics Journal interview:

The words along the way, Hemingway, and Mark Twain, Conrad, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Cervantes, all the right authors—but, and this is something that I said to  Time Magazine, I said, “You know, I will tell you that my germinal and seminal influences were Conrad and Dickens and Poe and Blackwood”—which they definitely were, I’m not lying about it—“but the truth of the matter is, the things that influenced me the most were comic books, pulp magazines, old-time movies, and old-time radio.” Those were the four boundaries of my world when I was a little boy and I had nothing else.

My inner child loves monsters and this fantasy-horror novel will have monsters. My inner disturbed punk rock post-adolescent loves dark antiheroes, so it will have that, too. My current middle aged semi-intellectual loves novels with something to say, so it will have something to say. But can all three of these things coexist in a single novel? Sara Gran told Crime Reads:

This is part of why YA is so popular, I think readers have really been missing adventure novels, by which I mean novels with some propulsiveness to them. You don’t have to lose anything in your story in order to bring these elements in. Just like with literary fiction–you don’t have to lose any of the beautiful language when you also focus on the plot.

Reading that again here, honestly, really excites me. I feel like I have to write this book now. I’m committed to having fun writing a dark, scary fantasy novel because I have fun writing in general and I have fun reading dark, scary fantasy novels. I want this back in my life because, as Elias Canetti said in  The Book Against DeathWith every hour spent alone, with every sentence that you draft, you win back a piece of your life.”

If “I love doing it,” isn’t motivation enough, well, maybe I need to talk to a doctor.

But in the meantime, you’ll find me writing!

—Philip Athans

Follow me on Twitter @PhilAthans

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Or contact me for editing, coaching, ghostwriting, and more at Athans & Associates Creative Consulting.

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And did I mention that I love monsters?

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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