Saturday, February 16, 2008

Light-Hearted Look at the Hazards of Being a Writer

Light-hearted? There is nothing light-hearted about the hazards of being a writer. Every day, I hear voices in my head and feel compelled to talk back.

“No you don’t.”

What? Dag-nabbit, there goes another one. She’s a protagonist, I think…I’ve been trying to delete her.

“Don’t even try, bucko.”

So yes, it’s a serious condition, this mental deterioration which results from writing. The longer you work with the words, the more they begin to seep through you subconscious mind and take over the rest of your life. You begin to think of freedom of speech as a right and you try to enforce it, but then you have characters who begin to say terrible, horrible, unpublishable things.

“What, you think I’ll be like Jane Fonda? She only said the c-word. And it was only national television.”

Dagny, stop it – I don’t need to get banned from Helium because of you.

“What, you’re afraid of a fictional character?”

I’m not afraid of you, just afraid of what you’ll make me write.

“Well fudge,” Dagny mutters, planting hands on hips, glancing down at the polished handle of her plasma disintegrator, “how in the gosh-darned heck am I going to express myself? What, you call yourself a writer? More like a two-bit cyber-punk wannabe trying to drive traffic to some cheap-skate website.”

Like I said, it’s dangerous being a writer. Just when you think you’re safe, your fingers start typing out the n-word and the f-word and then all kinds of social norms get shattered in the name of literature. Before you know it, the Catholic Church is pounding at your front door while Homeland Security goons drag you out the back.

“Oh, you wish,” Dagny adds. “That only happens when you’re popular. I don’t think you have enough friends for that.”

Great. There it is, the greatest hazard of all, true death to the writer – self esteem so low that his own imagination fails to believe in him.

Dagny rolls her eyes. She would tap her foot on the ground, but I’ve been taught to never write in clich├ęs.

“Oh, it’s not that I don’t believe in you,” Dagny says. “It’s just that we’re tired of your whining.”

We? Who’s we?

“We, us, the rest of the voices. What, you thought it was just me down here?”

Ah crud. I suppose I could just go ahead and ignore the physical hazards, then – carpal tunnel, eyestrain, mental disfigurement.

Dagny crosses her arms. “Mental disfigurement? Are you making up words again?”

No, I’m trying to describe the act of jabbing a pair of scissors through my skull. Man, can’t I get even a few moments without you crazy inner monologues? I’m trying to express a serious point here about the hazards of being a writer.

Another voice pipes in – Jonathan. He sounds tired again, as usual. “Hazards?” Jonathan asks. “I think you have it pretty good.”

Right. Listen, Jonathan, I know you don’t understand that you’re fictional, but you should at least know that you’re only some dude in a novel. It’s your job to face down fire-belching dragons and homicidal robots. It’s called poetic license.

Jonathan and Dagny exchange looks. Dagny mimes the act of jabbing a pair of scissors through somebody’s skull – probably mine.

Listen, I tell them, sitting at a keyboard all day isn’t as easy as it looks. I get migraines from neck pain, and my wrist still hurts, so if you buggers could just go back to whichever part of my brain spawned you, then I’ll go on back to work.

“Um, correct me if I’m wrong,” Dagny replies, “but, ah, aren’t we your work? Aren’t you, well, kinda unemployed when we’re quiet?”

I said can it!

“He’s bitter,” Jonathan tells her. “He thinks he’d rather be fighting the dragons himself.”

“Oh really? Why don’t we let him, the ingrate.”

“Trust me,” Jonathan tells her, “if real live dragons were a hazard of writing, our wonderful author would have a lot more than scissors sticking through his head right now.”

Right, right…moving on, let’s see if there’s something else to write about…something safe…a nonhazardous channel. Maybe politics. At least there I can express an opinion without overruling by myself.

“You wish.”

“Shh! Come on, Dagny, we gotta let him pretend. He’ll stop writing if he gets depressed.”


“If he jabs those scissors through his forehead we’re dead.”

Dagny again rolls her eyes. “Whatever.”


Anonymous said...


I am trying to shift my writing from 1st person point of view to 3rd p. POV but can't seem to wrap my head around it:e.g.,
'Sit down Fred,You've got three minutes to tell us how Isabella le Fauxp died',
'Inspector Weisenbaum approached a small group of men at the corner bar and singled out Fred Yeats, "Sit down Fred", he said without reference to his personal life."The time has come".
Fred Yeats collapsed into a heap infront of Weisenbaum.
He's gotta be kid-ding, right?

Can you plse tell me if the above makes the transaition from 1stp POV to 3rd? If not then pleeeeeease advise.

Ryan Edel said...

Deciding to transition a novel from 1st-person to 3rd can be a very painstaking decision - it requires a lot of changes at every level of the work. On the plus side, though, you can still fit all the 1st-person perspectives and the protagonist's ignorance into 3rd, but it also gives you a little more wiggle room for descriptions. You can move just a bit farther outside the main character's point of view to describe surrounding world.

With your submission here, I think you're on the right track - the scene is dialogue driven, and the action details are good. "Inspector Weidenbaum approached a small group of men at the corner bar" works just like it is in 3rd, and I'm guessing that this is one of the sentences that had to be switched from 1st.

I'd have to read a longer sample of your work to get a full feel for how the transition's going, but I think you're definitely on the right track. Something to keep in mind is that even in third person, the protagonist's thoughts can seep through as they do in your last line. For example:

Johnny didn't like salsa. It hurt his stomach, gave him heartburn, and burned his tongue. And look at that, he thought, Mama's got salsa on the table tonight. Gee, thanks, Ma.

Let me know if this helps.