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