I reflected on the first time I opened the book “The Phantom Tollbooth” yesterday. The feeling of anticipation, excitement, and absolute awe that words could transport me to somewhere that wasn’t home, was overwhelming. I remember it to this day, and even how fresh the pages smelled, how it sounded when the new spine cracked.
As I went through my life, I wondered if I would bring different worlds to life for children. I considered it a pipe dream.
When I dreamt of being a best selling author – because isn’t that the fantasy for all of us? – I had a very set image in mind. It’s what I imagined the Danielle Steele’s, Mary Higgins Clarke’s, and James Patterson’s did.
What did I imagine?
A study/den, very formally done. There’d be books on shelves around the room. The desk would be perfectly aligned to – but facing away from – a window. Their trusty typewriter (have I mentioned I’m old?) would be battered and beaten from years of use.
Reams of blank paper would sit to one side, neatly typed pages would be on the other. In the 80s it was safe to assume everyone smoked cigarettes, so there’d be an overflowing ashtray and a cloud of smoke hazing the room.
The author would sit behind the desk. They’d be calm, cool, and collected. They’d be wearing business casual clothes.
Pages would fly from their talented fingers. Publishers and agents would wait breathlessly for the next manuscript. The author would be spoiled with whatever superstitious claptrap they believed they needed.
Fans would send letters that would require the postman to use giant bags. An assistant would hang around, always ready to fetch dry cleaning, or a bottle of scotch, whatever the talent required.
The author would be approached by fans who want to talk about how much the book meant to them, asking for signatures and waiting in long lines simply to say hi.
Need I mention that I’ve always had an active imagination?
So what’s the reality? What does it look like when an author is creating that best seller you’ve been dying to pick up since last year?
I’ve spoken with many authors. I’ve heard the war stories I’ve lived through my own battles. No imagination required.
The clean, well organized book lined study I mentioned does not exist. Or if there is one, the desk is covered in notes, other people’s books, cat/dog toys, old coffee cups, new coffee cups, random souvenirs, pens that don’t work, pencils that do, and a laptop. Random clothes can often be found in the mix.
At first the lack of the typewriter broke my heart. Then I remembered what it was like to work on one of those things, and I dismissed the nostalgia immediately. Why make things harder than required?
Sitting behind the desk, freshly showered and wearing matching clothes with our hair done, does not happen. Like, ever. Unless we’re coming back from an appointment or were forced to leave the house for another reason.
Inspiration does not wait until the writer has slapped on some deodorant and brushed their teeth.
More often than not, the amazing desk with the hidden drawers and comfortable wheelie chair is actually a kitchen table with chairs designed by Satan. The writer had to carve out a spot next to homework corner.
Or, in my case as I don’t have a kitchen table, sitting on couch with a laptop on my Criss Cross Apple Sauce legs. A TV stand can be useful, but not if the recliner has its footrest up. The overflowing ashtray exists, but now that it’s the Twenty-First Century, it’s more often filled with paperclips we don’t need.
The writing hours aren’t set. We’re not at the desk from 9-5 gleefully jotting down our brilliant thoughts. No, that stuff hits when we’re in the middle of watching the championship game, or out with friends, or sleeping.
There are few things as disconcerting as waking up in the middle of the sleep cycle, to write down a single paragraph, and go back to bed.
The bags of fan letters are email or FB or Twitter messages now. They aren’t anywhere near as flattering and fawning as I would have thought they’d be. I imagine the difficulty of having to attach postage to a letter stopped old school trolls from being as prolific as they are today.
When asked to do a signing, we’re excited. Then the reality kicks in. The people that come to the libraries more often than not want to know how they, too, can be published. Or they want to talk about the book they’ve dreamt of writing their whole lives but they’ve never found that spare time.
Side note on that: if you have a story that has to be told, the time finds you. It’s not that convenient. Either write or don’t. /rant over
Going to signings makes us change out of our pajamas. As time draws to a close, we’re already imagining our comfortable lounge pants and slippers.
The glamour I always imagined doesn’t exist.
I admit, this isn’t the first time reality destroyed one of my favorite fantasies. Has that happened to you? Feel free to share in comments.