Writing: Enjoyment vs Compulsion

A colleague intrigued by my decision to give up my wonderful job (snicker) to choose to actively become a penniless writer, asked me last week about creativity and how creative people function. She does not feel creative and does not enjoy writing when she has to do it at work. Despite the fact that the task she was talking about would probably be quite dull even for me, I stated that I might get some sort of pleasure from it.

She also expressed admiration for people who can be creative with anything and I explained it in terms of writing being a compulsion rather than a chore. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that my devotion to writing is split pretty much 50/50 between doing it for pleasure and doing it because I am compelled to do so.

I do enjoy being creative with words despite not considering myself an accomplished linguist. I’m also one of those rare creatures that sees editing as a problem to solve and as the steretype goes, as a male I get pleasure from problem solving. Re-wording a sentence to make it flow better, to convey the proper emotions, to make it more efficient or to add or remove detail is problem solving. Sometimes I have to stop myself rewriting and tell myself that it is currently as good as it is ever going to get.

Yet sometimes I am compelled to write. I can’t stop myself from the inevitable furious typing that comes with an idea so intense that I cannot stop until it is conveyed into as much detail as I possibly can before I lose the moment. This is what happened to me this weekend.

I’ve spent weeks quibbling over how to approach Herrenvolk 3. I scribbled lots of notes but nothing seemed to fit:

  1. A story about a war. We take one small part of it – decided this was not doable for a short story to keep it intimate enough
  2. “Enemy Mine” – Too cliched these days
  3. The war is over – we lost – and we follow humans in a concentration camp – I liked this idea but couldn’t think of a satisfactory plot
  4. The idea came to me while I was sat on the toilet of all places and immediately afterward I raced downstairs and started writing. Two hours later I had typed the best part of 1500 words which for fiction is pretty good going for me at the moment.

    The action or state of forcing or being forced to do something; constraint.
    An irresistible urge to behave in a certain way, esp. against one’s conscious wishes.

    Though not against conscious wishes, it is an irresistible urge; I simply could not stop myself from writing what I needed to write and I kept going until my entire opening idea had been put into words. Granted, I did not finish the story but I got down the basics of what I was trying to do with the beginning of the story yesterday. 1500 words is probably about 1/4 of how long I expect it to be but at least I now have my opening.

    I had a similar issue when I started to write Vulcan City (the working title for my steampunk novel). Though this was the image of the city occupying most of my waking thoughts that I simply had to describe it in words. I also did a simple sketch though I am a terrible artist, just so I could visualise what I was trying to write. So far all I have is a description.

    So fellow writers, this one is for you. How often do you write for pleasure and how often do you write because you are compelled to do so?

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2 thoughts on “Writing: Enjoyment vs Compulsion

  1. I don’t think I wrote a single word of my trilogy because I wanted to. I wanted to write a YA Sci-Fi novel set on a small family run space ship (which I’m still planning to write one day) but instead I was only able to write the Paradox War. I couldn’t plot or plan properly until I had exorcised that particular demon.
    So do I write entirely from compulsion? I don’t think so I enjoy it too much. Just like I enjoy drawing, painting and music…

    1. It is a strange dichotomy this compulsion v pleasure thing. I’ve been thinking about it some more and I can’t make up my mind whether it is truly polarised or a mix of the two. Yes I love it and do it because I love it, but also I feel driven to do it at the same time. It never becomes a chore, even on those days when I struggle but it is always an drive to do it.

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