Mark A. Carter

TRIPPING the light fantastic

World famous Canadian Science Fiction writer Mark A. Carter rants about dilettante writer wannabes who see writing as easy, as merely tripping the light fantastic.

"I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity." - Edgar Allan Poe

Writing novels for a living is not for the meek. It is not for the mild. It isn't for milquetoasts who want to punch in at nine and punch out at five. And it isn't for idealistic, pot-inspired, and uneducated dreamers.

Read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig, to garner some insight into the razor's edge between insanity and success that writers walk in their obsessive quest for good writing. Also read The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, by Alan Sillitoe, to get a feeling of what it is like to live the life.

Like running, it isn't easy. And it isn't romantic. It is hard work physically and psychologically, and painful. That hard work goes greatly unrewarded, and may go unrewarded for years.

For dreamy fools who think that writing pie in the sky poetry is easy and will be their claim to fame but don't want to toil at it every single day like Leonard Cohen, and have never heard of amphibrach, anapest, iamb, spondee, and trochee, don't quit your day job. And for those deluded individuals who think that their dilettante dabbling will result in the Great American Novel, think again. Your miniscule effort will not garner you fame and fortune. It is what you put into it.

A real writer writes a million words then cuts them down to the best one hundred thousand before they are even ready for publication and maybe not even then. But if that doesn't apply to you because you have "talent on loan from God," to borrow a Rush Limbaugh expression, let me put it in words you can comprehend:

You are far more likely to ignite your farts
and launch yourself to the moon
than to succeed at this difficult craft.

John Dos Passos put it well in Manhattan Transfer. He wrote: "Life ain't all beer and skittles, Rosie." Well, neither is the art of writing novels for a living. It is all consuming and requires dedication and sacrifice. If you're not willing to work like a monk in his cell at the monastery for years, without reward, and that includes getting those sheep skins, then don't start. Do something else. Sell out and do something mundane and practical that generates a weekly paycheck.

The Gothic Romance novel The Monk, 1796, by Matthew Gregory Lewis, was written before the author was twenty years old and only took ten weeks to write. Let it be your inspiration. But don't hitch your horse to it.

Tripping the Light Fantastic isn't this kind of light.

And for those of you who think they are writers merely because they have a computer with a word processing program, think again. These hardware and software wonders have merely replaced typewriter, whiteout, scissors, and tape. But they don't make you a writer. If you continue to believe that this technology makes you a writer, see a Psychiatrist. You need help. You're delusional. And prescription medication may be required. These modern devices are merely tools.

For those of you who feign a desire to write, there is no free lunch. There is no skipping to the head of the line. If you talk big about becoming a writer, but don't want to work at it, don't want to get an education, and clearly are a seven and a half watt bulb in a hundred watt literary world, stick to your day job nailing press board boxes together, and be grateful that you have any job at all. For you, a pedestrian existence is as good as it gets. And perpetual promises made to me every time you see me that you will go on my web site and/or read my tomes aren't worth a tinker's damn. So, save yourself the trouble. Ignite another reefer, satisfy your munchies, and trip into the perpetual haze of your unfulfilled dreams. It's where you are destined to exist.

If, on the other hand, you live and breathe writing, you don't merely desire to become a writer, let alone a novelist, but are compelled to write, like breathing oxygen, and you are smart and imaginative, equip yourself with the tools of the trade. Get yourself a formal education. There are Creative Writing, Comparative Literature, and English Literature programs at colleges and universities around the world. And if you can't attend, for whatever reason, there are all kinds of self help books out there, such as they are. If you want to write fantasy, I recommend Anatomy of Criticism by Northrop Frye on Romance. I also suggest that you read The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, which is a perfect example of the genre, and Tree and Leaf also by J.R.R. Tolkien for the theory behind Fantasy.

But a word to the wise: don't start this arduous, academic journey unless you have a fire in your belly to express yourself in words, and an imagination that stokes the flames. Creativity cannot be taught, only disciplined, educated, and pointed in the right direction. So, by all means, be who you were meant to be. Enroll. Read. Write. Garner some polish. Hone your craft. And share your scribbling with the world. Let your words dance, baby. Trip the light fantastic. Ars Longa. Vita Brevis. Do. Be. Do. Be. Do.

Read: Sycophants and arrogant diminishers.

Now you know.

from the imagination of Mark A. Carter - writer

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