Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why I'm Worldbuilding and Not Writing

It wasn't so long ago that I didn't consider myself a writer. Oh, I've always made attempts at writing stories here and there. I've written some fanfiction pertaining to my experiences playing The Lord of the Rings Online. But for a long time I considered it just a hobby, something I did because I couldn't help myself. I never for a moment considered that I might be able to write a real book that I could actually have published. My husband would tell me my writing was good and my fanfiction received good feedback, but publication, actually selling my writing, just wasn't even on my horizon.

That changed this last fall. Before, I considered my story ideas to be pretty amateur. I'm not sure what the catalyst was, but sometime this past fall the story in my head began to develop into something bigger and brighter than it had ever been before. I conceived what I like to think is a fairly brilliant story idea. Everything had been vague concepts and images floating around in my head before, but now! Now it began to take on shape and life. Now I thought I had something that I wanted to share with the world.

Having played around with blogging through LOTRO for about a year previous, I decided right away to jump into blogging again and chronicle my journey as a writer and I began first the long but exhilarating task of worldbuilding. You see, I'm an epic fantasy reader/writer through and through and  the secondary world where my stories happen is very important to me.

But while exploring the writing blogosphere and learning more about publication one message hit me over and over: Write! Write! WRITE! Get that story down on paper! Now! Get it published! Now! You're not a writer unless you're writing!

Sad to say, I took it to heart and ever since I've been making blundering attempts to get my story written before it's too late. To be a writer. And it hasn't been working. The story just isn't coming together.

But I've realized something. I don't want to be a writer. I don't want to be one of those authors who are oft quoted because of their skill at putting words together in meaningful ways. I don't care to be one of those authors who are remembered for their poetic or sharp or efficient prose or anything to do with prose. I don't even want to be known for brilliant characterization or exhilarating plots or complex structure or stirring description or genuine dialogue or any other literary technique. I don't care are about literary technique.

Let's be honest here. J.R.R. Tolkien was the father of modern fantasy and his books are among the most popular in the world. But is he known for any of the above things? Is he remembered for his technique? I'll admit that there are very few lines I can quote out of his books considering how much I love them. No. What Tolkien is remembered for is his sub-creation. He created a secondary world so detailed and so complex and so real that people can't forget it. People spend their lives wishing they could live in Middle-earth. People spend hours upon hours playing and MMORPG set in Middle-earth pretending they are Elves and Hobbits to get that feeling. Middle-earth is what endures. Middle-earth and its peoples and places and its languages and history. But always, always, Middle-earth.

That is what I want to achieve. Oh, I don't fool myself that I can ever be a worldbuilder on the scale of Tolkien. I have no gift for languages. But still I strive to create a world as real and complex and enduring as his. I want to fill it with wondrous places and fascinating people. I want to tell its compelling history.

And so, right now the worldbuilding is more important than the writing. Only once I have my secondary world fully fleshed out, once I know the intricacies of how it works and am acquainted with all its diverse societies and peoples and creatures... then I can write my tales. I already have a list of several different stories taking place in different parts of the world that I want to tell. But I must know the world to know how the stories unfold.

So for now I will not give in to the pressure to write my stories before I am ready. I will still write. I will write vignettes and short tales and character building exercises and the like. I will practice my story telling technique. But only once my sub-creation is ready will I write its history.

And then, oh then! I will be a storyteller, and not a writer.


  1. You are smart to back up and build the world! I think world building is essential and your story can even be easier to write after your world is in place. This is the work of a writer!

  2. I think you make a valid point, Sarah. There are lots of different types of writers and styles out there. I think they all have to work very hard at the writing nuts 'n bolts, but some are just better at it than others.

    A big part of this writing stuff, for me at least, is learning to figure out what I'm BEST at. Then using that as the basis for my stories, and trying to fill in the rest as best that I can.

    Writers will all have their strengths and weaknesses, you just have to learn which is which. Sounds like you're on your way! :-)


  3. I agree with Rebecca. It is smart to back up and work on world building. It's so important in fantasy that you can't go wrong working on that.

  4. Maybe you'll create the next Dungeons & Dragons style RPG! You never know...

  5. Rebecca, I do think it will be much easier to write after the worldbuilding is done.

    EJ, I think it's less about what my strengths are and more about what I want to accomplish with my writing, what I want my legacy to be.

    MJ, yes, the setting is one of the main reasons for reading fantasy and a well crafted world is one of the most enjoyable aspects of it for me.

    Alex, I'm not sure I'd want to do that. I wouldn't have much patience for people playing around with and altering my world.

  6. You've definately got a point there. The main reason I love Harry Potter is for the magical world J. K Rowling created and all the litle details of it, including the characters. The actual plot is secondary and the writing is not particularly rich in literary techniques. I too, like to do a lot of planning of my world and characters before I start writing. But I think people have a point as well in saying that there's a danger to plan too much and not actually right anything. At the end of the day, though, you should start writing when it feels right and you're ready for it to get the best results.

  7. You're world building because it's awesome. You're world building because it will set every bit of scenery in your mind. You're world building so that you'll be writing about something YOU know 37 ways from Sunday.

    It's funny. My longest book is the one I spent a full month and a half world building...it is also the one that took me the shortest amount of time to finish the first draft.

  8. There is nothing wrong with wanting to get the world, in which you will be setting your novel, perfect. Everyone approaches writing differently and that's what I find so great about it. Do what ever you have to do to make your vision or story come to life. Do it your away and enjoy.
    Thank you for always stopping by to offer me great advice and encouragement. It is truly appreciated. Also, thank you for the tag.

  9. Ha! This is fabulous. I think your MC should meet mine - they have something in common :)


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