by Jeffrey J Michaels
…Being a writer is a scary life.
I am haunted by books not written and ideas long forgotten. Where did that moment of brilliance go that I experienced while walking to the store to buy a lottery ticket? I failed to write it down! I possessed no piece of paper or writing implement! Now it has fled my mind, that melding of thought and emotion where creativity attains structure. Alas! I have failed in the respect that one precious concept is vanished, like a ghost in daylight. This happens to me frequently.
Some days the ideas come so rapidly, rising like Dracula and his brides from the graveyard near Carfax Abbey. It is frightening. Yet, like dead leaves in an autumnal wind, I let them blow past. One cannot pursue every idea even with the suspicion that it has hidden secret value. Life is too short. Death befalls us all. We mere mortals must struggle to leave our mark on the world, perhaps attain literary immortality by pursuing one solitary story to its imminent completion before it eludes us like a phantom in the deepening shadows of the sewers below the opera house.
A crypt of notes…
The scary part is how many times I hear published authors say that they have too many ideas, a crypt of notes, decaying scrolls of past thoughts, a tomb of tomes birthed and abandoned: first lines, character names, settings and situations that might make for an excellent story. Yet they never chose just one and thus nevermore are quoted by readers or ravens. Their legacy of papers perishes with them in funeral pyre, as their heirs battle over dark earthen material inheritances of gold and silver, leaving abandoned all intellectual property.
Or ONE great idea…
It is equally terrifying when I hear people who want to be writers, who claim ONE great idea and they are willing to share it with me or some other published author if only we will write it for them, do the actual digging work and exhume all the treasure this wannabe knows are buried in their valuable concept. “Please Mr. King, Mr. Clancy,” they plead, “WE will make a million on this idea of mine. And all you have to do is the easy part. Just type out the details.”
Inevitably the story is one that has been told before, dusty and cobwebbed, but with some terrifyingly inane twist. “It is like cowboys, but in space. With dinosaurs!” And they are willing to sell their soul, er, sole literary property, to gain life at the expense of another’s lifeblood.
…To bleed on the page.
“But writing is so easy,” they may say, to which I will agree and misquote Red Smith and Paul Gallico who said something frighteningly similar to one another, “Writing is easy. Just open a vein and bleed on the page.”
“Where do you get all your crazy ideas?” some will ask, and in truth it is a common interview question, one that causes dread in an author’s heart. Such is the despair some feel at the posing of the question that they prepare a pat answer, designed to be sly and sharp witted enough to drive a stake through any follow-up query on the subject. Because the big secret, hidden within a dank, dark lair in the fevered brain of the mad scientist-like writer is…ideas are easy, a dime a dozen. It is the translation of those concepts into heartfelt tales of love won or lost, destinies achieved, enemies conquered or converted to allies, mistakes amended and atoned, monsters destroyed or socially re-adjusted, all brought to clarity through the use of language and storytelling craft; it is the process of creation to completion that is horribly, terrifyingly maddening in its isolation. The accompanying self-doubt is rumored to be the primary cause of mournful midnight moon howling.
Writing is a solitary pursuit…
If you fear the empty room, choose a different path. If a blank page that calls out in sepulchral tones, wailing for your words, sends blood-chilling spasms through your corporeal form, I beg of you, do not walk into that Borgo Pass of shadowed life. But if it is your wont to creep about in the midnight hours, prowling dusty shelves of forgotten libraries, seeking secrets of bringing beings to life, whether through spells found in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the use of Tana leaves (three or nine, your choice) or simply having a quiet cup of tea alone in the light of the full moon, then gather those ideas that leap at you unexpectedly from the weird corners of your subconscious, your misunderstood Id and Super-Ego, whispering absolutely nutty things into your bat-eared alter-ego and get thee to a raven-feathered quill or Alienware laptop!
…Until you find your Igor.
When you have achieved that first draft, when you feel that your creation might be about to come alive, you must then find a lab assistant, some Igor/Ygor/Eyegor fellow (“What hump?”) who will look at your work critically and cast his baleful, doubting eye upon the bloated thing that is your manuscript.
Dear would-be author! Feel the fear but reach for lightning! Burn off the dross and dreck of that first draft and ignore the villagers with their traditions and unfounded superstitions, those who lack your vision and imagination and seek to keep you from experimentation and straying from the norm. Torches and pitchforks they may possess, but you, YOU are alive and the characters in your story can breathe and move of their own volition because YOU dare to tamper in God’s domain of creation! All of those lofty things – plus you found a good editor, one who gets what you are going for but understands there are certain things that are acceptable and cannot easily be stretched, bent, or ignored. One who will not attempt to alter your authorial voice and make you sound like all the other zombiefied hacks seeking to profit on last year’s dead concepts, lying corpse-like at the bottom of Amazon’s algorithms.
Don’t get spooked, dear writer.
The creative power in you is seeking to escape, to burst forth from your chest. But you can control the deep urge by sitting and communing with the spirits who will be embodied within your stories. When that full moon casts its light through the window of your soul and you sense the wolven beast is emerging, chain thyself to the altar of creative flow and purge those demons of doubt, transforming them into servants of story to do your will. By that I mean, sit down, shut off the internet, and write! Write like mad! Wild and crazy, savage and sarcastic, let the bestial nature free to chase and hunt the words and phrases that will give chills of delight to your future readers.
And if during the process of creation, that exploration of narrative flow, you find yourself trapped like Fay Wray in the grip of a giant hairy paw, stuck in the lost world of writer’s block, relax a bit and take some notes from your elevated position, whether in the jungles of a tropical island or the jungles of the big city. Consider the fact that someone is giving you a hand. Enjoy the shift in perspective. When you are once again free (and you will be! The bi-planes are coming!) give yourself a hand and attack that manuscript with renewed fervor like a Zuni fetish doll in Karen Black’s apartment.
And if, after all the mangled metaphors and rack-stretched similes offered above, against all the doom-laden prophesies of the elder gods, you still believe that you are a writer possessed of the talent to craft and weave the stories this world sorely needs, then sharpen your vorpal blade and venture forth, brave soul! Tell the Tale and Write from the Heart!
Jeffrey J. Michaels is a Gemini. As such he is deeply involved in whatever interests him at the moment. His describes his book A Day at the Beach and Other Brief Diversions as “metaphyictional,” combining fantasy and humor with metaphysical elements. He is currently polishing a sweeping fantasy series of interconnected tales collectively known as The Mystical Histories. It is varied enough that he says he may even finish most of the stories. In his real life he is a well-respected creative and spiritual consultant. He does not like to talk about his award winning horror story. www.jeffreyjmichaels.com