DigitalThoughts / The Story Of A Lifelong Hobby
There is a famous saying which goes something like this: "Scratch a science fiction reader and you'll find a science fiction writer gleaming underneath." Surely enough, I've been wanting to tell my own stories ever since I could read -- and I was an avid reader by the age of five.
Of course, I didn't actually learn how to write until I was in school, and from that to writing stories is a long way. When I was 18, writing a complete, three-page story was still an accomplishment for me. But I persisted, going through a couple of writers' circles (and having contacts with at least a couple more, as the sci-fi fandom was still lively in Romania at the end of the nineties).
But I was still a slow writer, and by the time the whole thing fizzled in 2002 or so, I had only produced a single story of significant size. My real strong point was creating interesting worlds and occasionally a compelling character. I tried to hook up with people who had proven their storytelling ability, but they either had their own worlds, no time or simply were not inspired by my worldbuilding.
So I struggled, writing several more beginnings, imagining more worlds and even trying my hand at interactive fiction (an attempt that failed horribly). At some point I got into roleplaying, and that worked a bit better, which only reinforced my idea that worldbuilding was the easy part while telling the stories proper required real skill that for some reason didn't come naturally to me. It didn't help that computer programming took up most of my attention for most of the 2000s; it's not a job you can simply forget once 5PM rolls by and you're out of the office!
In any event, the only prose I wrote for many years were blog posts. That wasn't so bad either, as stringing words together finally became a natural act for me, and since you can't write without also reading a lot, it also led to my English improving considerably. I translated some of my older work from Romanian, too, which was good practice but also a mild disappointment when even my newly extended audience reacted with a resounding "meh".
That cemented my conclusion that telling stories just wasn't my thing. Oh, I was fully aware it was a skill that could be learned, after all there were so many fanfiction authors who seemed to effortlessly churn endless serials (sometimes better than the original works). And once I got into text-based virtual worlds, also known as MU*s, my ability to write compelling prose descriptions proved especially useful. But still, I was a little sad at my failure to go the whole way, and jealous of those who could. Even though now I *was* producing stories, if not in a conscious fashion.
Why am I telling you all this? Because a couple of weeks ago, after a particularly nasty bit of freelance work went south, I suddenly started writing a story. Less than one week later, I had a completed text (which you can read on my website), and I've been writing constantly since then. Call it a muse that finally found her way to me. Call it the influence of recent readings. Now it's here, and I'm living my childhood dream.
If you're only now trying to start writing, at some point you'll run into a school of thought that claims setting doesn't matter, being entirely secondary to the story. If, on the other hand, you're a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien, you might be forgiven for thinking settings are everything, and stories develop naturally around them. Both views are traps for the unwary young writer.
No, you should never develop a setting more than you need for telling a story. If you can't capture the essence of your storyworld -- be it real or imaginary -- in a page or three, you're doing something wrong. But if your story isn't writing itself, it might be because you're trying to build a castle on shifting sand. Step back and re-examine your where, when and all those other pesky questions.
But most importantly, practice your writing until it comes as easily to you as breathing. You'll never get anywhere otherwise. And that would be sad.