29 July 2016

The Joy of Writing


By Dixon Hill

I don't know if you enjoy watching the late Bob Ross on his PBS show The Joy of Painting.
 However, I really do.

I find it relaxing.  Which is sort of funny, if you consider that I probably couldn't even paint a realistic looking stick figure.

I'm also moderately capable in basic construction, and I understand the theoretical methods of joining wood via dove tails, biscuits, etc.  Yet, I stick to screws and nails, sometimes even screwing things together with metal plates or carriage bolts.  I've never built any fine furniture that actually LOOKED "fine."  In fact, I'm not sure I used the right "biscuit" word in the sentence above.  Which doesn't keep me from watching videos about fine furniture construction, or even tools for said work.  Because, these videos also relax me.  My wife laughed that a video I watched about the different types of planes, and how to use them, "relaxed me" right to sleep a week or two ago.

A short while back, however, while watching Bob Ross painting green trees against a violet background, I suddenly snapped upright, ears pricked.  I grabbed the PS3 controller and rewound the NetFlix video a few minutes back, to hear him again.

What he said was that he'd "agonized over paintings" many times in the past.  But, he no longer agonizes over them.  He just paints what he enjoys.

I've often stressed to my kids that we make decisions and choices in life -- even if we try to avoid making those decisions.  Part of my mantra was always, "Maybe I could have made more money doing something else, not focusing on my writing while working only part-time jobs and taking care of you guys.  But, this is what makes me happy.  Though we can't buy you every toy, or take you to the Taj Majal, I get my happiness from spending time with you, and by writing."

But, Bob Ross seemed to be saying more.  What I heard wasn't "I chose to become a painter because I liked it, or because it was easy."  Instead, the message I heard was, "My painting works best when I enjoy the work."

If you've read some of my past posts here, you may recall my mentioning the idea that I know I'm "in the groove" and writing well when the story picks up a force of its own and starts driving itself across the pages.  I liken this to a train having picked up speed and suddenly barreling down the tracks.  I just do my best to grab hold and hang on tight, hoping I won't get bounced off up ahead.

Bob Ross's words made me realize that this "train" begins to roar when I find my Joy of Writing.

Now, don't get me wrong.  Just because something brings you joy, doesn't mean it isn't hard work.  If you don't believe me, ask a mountain climber.

Writing isn't easy.  Just as I'm sure painting isn't easy.  Or furniture making.  Certainly, neither one comes easily to ME!

Sometimes, at certain places in writing a story -- particularly a long one -- the road ahead can loom like the Matterhorn.  Even if my writing "train" is roaring down the tracks, if I spend too much time concentrating on that steep grade I have to climb ahead, my writing can just run out of steam.  Maybe this has something to do with why I don't like to outline extensively.  I'm sort of an "Well I'll cross that bridge or climb that mountain when I get there" kind of guy, anyway.  So, it makes sense I might not want to dwell on too many details, for fear I'll build a mountainous mental ziggurat that will knock out my will to put the story on paper -- flesh the thing out.

I also realized that The Joy of Writing is why -- though I hold a journalism degree -- I write fiction.  Fiction provides much greater joy, at least for me.  I'm not bound by strict facts.  I can write the ending the way I want it to end, not the way it really just seems to be struggling along.  Which is largely why I never felt satisfaction writing eight column inches about a story with roots twenty to forty years old and no end in sight.  No wonder so many reporters drink!

And, I don't think this means I can't write stories aimed at certain publications or editors.  I find joy there, too.

Where do you find YOUR joy of writing?  Or do you?

--Dixon











7 comments:

Art Taylor said...

Great post here, start to finish.
My brother and I used to joke about Bob Ross when we were younger—that hair!—but he was indeed inspiring in so many ways, making art look easygoing and fun. I appreciate the perspectives you bring here, the quote you pulled from him and how you built on it to make some thoughtful points on writing. I'll admit some days (many) I don't feel the joy of writing, and indeed that's often a clue that something isn't going well. (But even when the joy is there, it's still hard work, as you say—and the key is to try to preserve that sense of joy even on the most difficult of writing days--to find fun in the challenge, not just despite it.)
Anyway, really enjoyed this. And thanks again for the Bob Ross shout-out!
Art

John Floyd said...

What an inspiring and insightful column, Dix. And I think everyone loved watching Bob Ross work.

Yes, I share that joy of fiction writing that you've described so well, and I agree with you on all points. Thanks for this post!

janice law said...

I also love how to do shows of every kind. And you're right, of course, if writing wasn't fun at least much of the time, we would do something more practical! For me, the best part is getting the idea and getting ideas along the way. Putting in the connective tissue, so to speak- not so much.

R.T. Lawton said...

Dix, sounds like you've got a handle on the situation. Do and write what you enjoy. Life's too short to do otherwise. Lord knows I won't get rich writing short stories, but it is what I enjoy.

Robert Lopresti said...

Many years ago Larry Block used to write a column on fiction for Writer's Digest. I always remember one month his subject was: Why are there no living room novelists? Plenty of people paint just for pleasure, never trying to sell their work. But no one seems to do that with fiction. As I recall, he didn't have any answers...

As for Bob Ross, I am afraid I can't see him without thinking of a series of parodies that were done on the Seattle-based sketch show Almost Live: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2U2_zzbl-oE

B.K. Stevens said...

I enjoyed your post, Dixon, and it rings true to me. Writing IS hard work--I suspect that's why I often procrastinate so much before getting down to it, and I suspect I'm not alone. But once we get going, there's plenty of joy to be found despite the inevitable frustrations. I especially enjoy drafting, but I enjoy the other stages of writing, too, from planning to proofreading. (On the other hand, I find precious little joy in marketing and promoting. Those aren't really stages of writing, but these days it's hard to avoid them if we want anyone to read what we write.)

Anonymous said...

I feel like I have a really weird relationship with writing. While I'm doing it, it feels like trying to untangle barbed wire bungee cord stuff that's wrapped around me and everything in my vicinity. Sometimes I am ready to throw my laptop out the window, and I am not exaggerating. Then I pull my hair and cry and stomp around swearing. And then it unsnarls itself and lays down and makes goo-goo eyes at me like it was never difficult but all in my imagination. My sister says she's learned just to expect that's the process and not to take it seriously any more.

What's scary is I can't stop doing it. I "enjoy" writing! What the heck!? LOL

Robert, I think there are living-room novelists now. They write "fan fiction" across a number of different fandoms for television, film, music (think rock stars), and I have no idea what else. :-) A college creative writing professor was the first one to tell me about it, back in about 1998. He said it was the most significant thing to happen to writing among "regular people" since paper and pens became widely available. It's a very interesting phenomenon!