Running a flashfic community has been surprisingly liberating in this regard -- instead of mulling over ideas until they're perfect, I often jot down a scene that would otherwise end up in a longer story. It's fun. I'd forgotten that short finger exercises could be fun!
Play really is one of the important ingredients in keeping your passion, isn't it? I wonder why I find it so easy to forget that, and so hard to just let myself play.
Playing around with flashfics has made me realise something else, though. You won't know this, but before Children of Earth, I'd actually written and posted a few Torchwood stories under my sockpuppet name (which I started due to performance anxiety). Those stories are very, very different to the ones I'm writing now. Those stories were me finding my way into the characters, so that I could start to really get to grips with the central question I'm currently trying to answer.
Do you do that? I find that every time I change writing fandoms, it's because I have a new central question I want to try and answer. Torchwood appealed because it had an established canon couple, and also the option of polyamory. So my first stories were gearing up to look inside an established relationship and see how the dynamics worked, and how the partners created intimacy. The next step was to start working on longer stories with actual plots (time travel! bizarre gadgets! more time travel!), and seeing how negotiating challenges changed the dynamic within the relationship.
Since Children of Earth, what I'm finding is that my question has been derailed. Instead, I'm writing flashfics that deal with what happened, and the longer fic I'm currently working on... Well. It's become pretty clear that the first ten thousand words (at least) are going to be dedicated to "fixing" one of the events of the series, before I can even get started on my main question.
It's odd. The thing that attracted me to this fandom is still there, the question is still burning, I'm actually writing for the first time in months and months, and yet, I still can't get to grips with the thing I actually want to explore.
And so I cycle back to the topic of artistic responsibility again. You know, I remember, back when I was a baby writer, being seduced by the idea of my own genius and originality, and that whatever I did was okay in the name of art. Art! It was a get-out-of-ethics-free card.
But the minute you start to really engage with the idea of fiction's power actually residing in the reader -- they take your story onboard and make it part of their lives -- it changes that get-out-of-ethics-free card into a what-story-are-you-filling-them-up-with-
In a practical way, here I am faced with that issue of artistic responsibility as both reader and writer at once. I want to talk about the intimacy (or lack of it) constructed by the Torchwood text, but that topic has been derailed by the (canonical) artistic choice to embrace nihilism.
Where do I go with nihilism? What does that story give me? How does it fare on the what-story-are-you-filling-them-up-with-
To me, it feels like a big, fat, frustrating fail, although I'm aware different readers take different things from it.
It all comes back to this: story. The more I learn about story, the more I think it's the primary powerhouse of culture, and that it matters in ways that impact everything else. And to me, that means that art can (and possibly should) be playful, but it also means there's no get-out-of-ethics-free card.