Writing ad Libitum
Writing at one’s pleasure. Anyway, that’s a rough translation of the Latin there. I make no claims to Latin scholarship, but I’d looked up the phrase after seeing it in a paper (rats were given food and water ad libitum) and it struck me that it’s a bit how I used to write. Used to.
Before I went pro with my writing, I’d write when a story struck me, and as a consequence, I have files (or had files, many have been lost or discarded) upon files of snips and scraps of tales that I wrote down simply to amuse myself. Writing ad libitum, as it were. Deciding that I was going to make a more professional tack with the writing took away from the ‘at my pleasure’ but it produced more polished, and egads! Actual finished work.
Because that’s the difference between professional and amateur. Not that a good amateur cannot produce some amazing stuff, but they only go so far as their passion for the topic will take them. A professional approaches the task with a different framework entirely. It’s not that writing becomes less fun – although there are days like that – it’s that you begin to approach your own work with more objectivity. It’s not strictly about writing what you enjoy, it’s also about writing what will sell.
Furthermore, it’s about pushing yourself when it’s not fun any more. Because as anyone who has seriously pursued a sport, or simply an exercise regime, you don’t start to see results until after you have pushed through the really hard, sometimes painful, and often dull bits. Then, on the other side, you get into the synergy of ‘this is fun again! And I can do so much more than I could before I developed my muscles…’ Which is what you’re doing when you practice. Physical development, for sports and exercise, mental, in the case of writing. That practice is what sets the pro apart from the amateur.
I realized the other day that Jetpack keeps some interesting statistics on my blog, and I added it up. Since I started the dang thing, way back in 2006, I’ve written over a million words on the blog. Just the personal blog, not my regular posts here, or guest posts elsewhere. Not counting my fiction. The last few years, since I got serious with the blog as a marketing platform in 2013, I’ve racked up six figure word counts every year, so most of that million words is just in the last five years. I got serious about my writing, and started to treat it professionally, and it shows. At least I think so. I’ve gotten enough compliments on my non-fiction work to swell my head a little, but also to let me know that I’ve improved. I’ve even gotten nice words from people who bashed me in the next breath because of my affiliations. So there’s that.
As for my fiction, it’s been languishing recently, in no small part because I haven’t been treating it professionally. I had shelved it so I could pay attention to other things, like the day job, and personal life, and you all have seen that ooze into my blog articles I fought to keep writing, and finally decided that it would be better to come back to it when I could pay attention to it. Which will be, hopefully, soon now. Work is going through a lot, so I tend to come home and fall over. Family stuff takes any spare energy. Weekends have become impossible to write on, other than blogging (and possibly not even that, with my personal blog). So… I persist. I insist that I will come back to writing, because at my core I am a fiction writer. I tell stories. I write ad libitum. That I get to make money with it simply adds to the pleasure.
The last thing I wrote sheerly for the joy of it?
There was a snowflake on her eyeball. It sparkled a little as I bent over her, close, but not too close, lest I should thaw it with the warmth of my breath. I could imagine what it would look like, the liquid giving her flat gaze a mockery of life, focusing on me, accusing. How could I have let this happen to her? I straightened up, expanding my focus, away from her, to the rest of the scene. There were no visible marks on her tiny body, on the footie pajamas she wore, or the bright, almost fluorescent, pink jacket with the puffy quilting. Perfect, just like she was. I bent back down and touched her cheek, gently, with my left hand. The one that couldn’t feel. Her skin was rigid, as unyielding as my own fingers.
I turned away then and headed toward the house she had come from. She would remain at her rest as she had been for hours, now. I walked slowly, reluctant to face what I knew lay inside, my breaths coming in visible puffs of white. Maybe if I blew out hard enough it would expand into a blinding fog and wipe it all out, a blank white surface to write a new story on. One with a happy ending for the little pink girl, with cocoa and marshmallows in.
I stepped through the open door, exchanging silent nods with the uniformed policeman who was standing there. He’d worked with me often enough to know not to speak until he was spoken to. And I knew him well enough to know that this place would have silenced him, anyway.
It was as cold inside as it was out, perhaps even colder. I made my way to the stair, ignoring the open arch to a living room, at a guess, and the swinging doors which would lead to a kitchen, perhaps. I had been briefed, briefly. My lips twisted in what might have been amusement, under other circumstances. Looking up the stairs, I knew that the next scene would not be as peaceful as the one outside. The splashes and arcs of blood, bright droplets frozen onto the eggshell paint…
I turned my head and spoke, not looking all the way around at him, my body still facing the path I must take. “Get images done of this right away, while it is still frozen. I don’t know how long it will last.”
Now I could hear him speaking, into his radio, but I wasn’t listening to his voice, letting it fade into the background buzz. The death curse that lay over this place wouldn’t hurt me, or my people. It wasn’t directed at us. No more than it had been directed at the little tyke outside, who had been caught on the backlash by virtue of her blood, and trapped, no matter how well someone with half-sense had bundled her and told her to run, just run.
I stepped onto the stair. The magic was a scream inside my head, but I focused carefully and took another step. This was my job to do, and I would do it. The curse was a strong one, which alone told me that it would fade quickly. Magic must come at a price, to the surprise of the perpetually physics-bound. Just like their human laws, it had bounds which held it. Kept it from taking over the world, really, like some comic-book villainess. Not that magic was limited to women. Just that this was a feminine voice in my head, howling for vengeance.