Fate has granted me a long expanse of months home alone. I sit at my desk, inside a stone house, in a hamlet deep in rural France, in a very isolated corner of the world. My husband is in England, paving the way for my arrival (we can’t just show up with two cats and a dog). We thought we’d be leaving together in August, but plans changed quickly, and so here I am.
This odd limbo has left me free of almost all distractions. I have no phone, no television, and because we thought we were leaving, most of everything I own is in boxes. There is only the dog to walk, the cats to feed, and the spiders to chase out of the kitchen sink. With all of this time to myself, I thought I’d be working on my novel by now, with the expectation that I would eventually finish it, polish it, find an agent for it, and hope for publication.
That never happened. As I was looking through my writing files, I came across one I’d forgotten about. I’d had what seemed like a brilliant idea at the time, and had taken a few notes. I had failed to capture the initial brilliance of the idea–my notes even said this was a brilliant idea when I had it, should have written it down then. But the seed of a character was there, and suddenly, without warning, I was swept into her world, where I found myself writing for no other reason than to entertain myself during these months of solitude.
This is a time-honored tradition. The Brontë sisters, along with their brother Branwell, made up stories constantly. They, too, lived in an isolated village, where there wasn’t much in the way of entertainment. They provided their own, and Charlotte and Branwell even went so far as to put the stories into tiny books they created out of scraps.
There is a real freedom in writing something without having any expectations of it. There is a joy in creating a world and populating it with characters that no one but you has to love. I had discovered a companion, someone with whom I could have all of the adventures I longed for over there in England. Her world is full of all the things I love–fairies, magic, an old idyllic village that can only ever exist in stories.
I had so much fun with that first story, that I wrote a second one, and then a third, and then a fourth… and there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight.
It doesn’t seem very popular, this idea that writing is a joyous activity, or that a person would write for no other reason than the sheer joy of doing it. All this stuff about bleeding on the page and things being set on fire–is that meant to scare away the competition? Is that meant to say hey, look at how we suffer for our art? Of course writing is hard work, and the learning curve is never ending. It’s not like learning 2 + 2 = 4 and that’s the end of it. Writing is what if 2 + 2 doesn’t = 4 and then all of a sudden you’re left with π. Endless possibilities, endless learning how to manifest those possibilities, endless work.
But what if the work itself brings you joy, and what if your story makes you laugh out loud? What if you don’t care if your story never sees the light of day? What if you are writing because what you are writing makes you happy? Or keeps you company beside the fire at night? There is no suffering for one’s art there. There is nothing, except you and the story.
This is what I have found with my Billy. My muse said forget about that serious novel, forget that your husband is in England and you are not, forget your worries. Why not have an adventure or two instead? The muse beckoned, and I followed.
And yet, by another twist of fate, the first Billy story was picked up by an editor, for the reincarnation of a magazine I wanted to break into way back when. This, too, was entirely unexpected, but I am very glad to report that How Billy the Conqueror Took Back the Greenwood will be appearing in the first issue of the new Grendelsong.
I am entirely pleased that readers will get to meet Billy, but publication changes nothing. There are a lot more stories where that one came from, and I expect nothing from them. I will not have my joy leeched away, and I will not sacrifice my companion to worry. The only thing I will hope for is that some reader out there enjoys Billy’s first adventure as much as I did.