by Jeffrey J. Michaels
Reality is hard. Writing is wish fulfillment.
I recall the day I discovered that jolly ol’ Saint Nick was actually my Uncle Robert in a rented Santa suit. It was quite disconcerting. My trust was shattered. Santa is not real?! The axis of my world shifted. Now, I liked my uncle, all my uncles in fact, but I began to look askance at each of them. Did Uncle Robin look a little like the Easter Bunny? And did Uncle Brian sneak into my room and replace lost teeth with quarters? The holiday season became less jolly.
The reason many of us become writers is because of disillusioning days like that. The worlds we can imagine are so much better than the one that carries the dread descriptor of “real.” Writing a story is the ultimate wish fulfillment.
We get to The End, despite uncooperative characters.
Many of us entertain the notion that we can get published and paid for our efforts. “My story is at least as good as that poorly-reviewed bestseller released last year,” we may say, and we may be correct in our critical assessment. So we dutifully pursue completion of our epic tale. We get bogged down in the middle, but some of us persist and get to the end.
Of course, there is often that moment when the plot diverges crazily from what we expected, and we feel compelled to follow it because . . . Dang! That is an interesting twist! Why didn’t we think of it?
Yes, you are a writer, well on your way to becoming an author (a.k.a. a Published Writer) when your characters take on a life of their own and become far more interesting than what you previously had written on three-by-five note cards or the digital equivalent. We strive to remain faithful to our outline if we are plotters, but too much adherence results in plodding rather than plot. We let ourselves run wild and free if we be Pantsers, but again, every Pantser becomes a Plotter by Act Two.
If we persist, if we gain an actual manuscript, if we hit spellcheck and work our way through the entire 50,000 NanNoWriMo first draft and hit the print button and watch in wonder as the ream of blank paper is consumed and filled with ink and words, OUR words come into reality!
And then . . . Reality is hard.
And then what? Then reality. Reality is hard. Reality is the editor that we met at the Writer’s Conference or the response from everyone at the Read and Critique Group we deigned to attend. (Really, our work is nearly perfect right out of the printer chute. What need for critiquing? But every issue of Writer’s Digest suggests such a path, so we’ll try it. Once, anyway.)
Reality is not just hard, it is discouraging. It is painful. It is embarrassing and makes us angry! We start a new novel based on all the poopy-heads who are trying to tell us that our first draft is not the deathless prose we believe it to be. “Where,” we might cry aloud in our room at night, pleading with the universe in the dark, “where is my LIMOUSINE? Where is my six-figure advance? Where is the appreciation?” After all, we spent the whole month of November hammering out this epic. We were diligent and focused and put off binging on the latest Netflix superhero show. We have sacrificed for our art, dammit!
But we CAN do this!
Reality is hard, but, deep breath, we can do this! We can edit our perfect manuscript and make it even more perfect! And the editor from the conference is happy to hear from us and is willing to read the first thirty pages and give some direct suggestions and it will only cost . . . Wait . . . What? Cost? Reality once again strikes, and we realize that the sacrifice for our art has just begun.
We authors view our manuscripts as precious gifts. But editors in publishing houses view the slush pile our manuscript sits in like an overcrowded mall at Christmas time — packed with possibilities for the most perfect present to buy, but filled with merchandise like Billy Bass.
Arguably the telling of Santa Claus to children is a lie. In my darker, angstier years (16-19, with a retrograde period during my late 20’s), I did hold people accountable for lying to children, but the alternate view is that it is a story that makes no sense, but feels good. It makes us jolly for some reason, pushing all the jollity buttons in many folk’s psyche. No one, not even children, really believe that nonsense about reindeer and North Polar societies of toymakers. But it is the language of children. They delight in freeness of thought and flights of fancy.
Santa is only as real as we want him to be, but we must put a level of energy and effort into our belief. My uncle dressed as Santa to make us happy.
One day I was asked to put on the Santa costume at the bookstore I managed. The children that showed up for Storytime that day were ecstatic. I was mobbed as I reached into my bag of little trinket toys and candies.
I did not look like Santa. I was tall and, at the time, still relatively slim. But reality was not what the kids wanted. They wanted a story. They wanted to be fooled and were willing to suspend their sense of disbelief. We did Storytime and it was fun and I read Grinch and pretended to be all the characters, despite being Santa.
I met one of Dr. Seuss’s editors not long after that and they told of harrowing times getting Geisel’s work into publishable shape. Can you imagine trying to edit Fox in Sox? How would you even know if it was right?
The reality is, creating a complete book is challenging in all elements of the process.
But the reality is, as an author, nothing makes us feel more jolly than telling a story. Especially one that we have written.
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