There are various rewards to writing, starting with the exotic experience of being sucked into a fantasy world of one’s own creation. I suspect all authors experience moments of such utter absorption everyday life becomes a fuzzy noise in the background, an inconsequential little irritant in an existence that is entirely focused on the story unfolding in the author’s brain.
In my family, such moments tend to be brusquely interrupted by someone yelling “the fridge is empty and I’m starving,” or “When’s dinner?” (Ours is a a food oriented family). While tempted to yell back that I couldn’t give a rat’s arse, and I’m in the middle of a delicate description, most of the time I will sigh (LOUDLY) and go down to inspect the so called empty fridge and start cooking.
Another upside for an author is the power to steer the story in the direction you want. Not into happy endings? Have it all end with a tragic bang. Want a hero with a beard? Stop him from shaving. Yearn for a novel combining historical details with an obnoxious thing that goes bump in the night and has three eyes? Knock yourself out, baby. Having said this, there comes a point in your writing when the characters become so vociferous and so opinionated you may find yourself obliged to compromise. As a writer you won’t really mind; the fact that these figments of your imagination have taken on so much life of their own so as to have opinions to voice will thrill you. (Alternatively scare you silly; are you going crazy? Losing touch with reality? No to the first question, maybe a yes to the second – but hey, that’s okay, we all need some escapism now and then.)
As a writer (at least of historical fiction) you also have the added benefit of constantly expanding your knowledge. Heavy tomes are read with furrowed brows, the ubiquitous notebooks contain scribbled notes to self on everything from clothing to when the first orange made it to Sweden, and in particular you’ll sigh happily when you stumble over odd facts such as pineapples being sold in Edinburgh in the seventeenth century, or that all carrots used to be cream-coloured until the Dutch decided they needed a veggie in their national colour. I’m not entirely sure this is true (I need to verify this elsewhere) but isn’t that carrot thing cute? Imagine Mr and Mrs van Heuteen peering down at their plate with disappointment.
“I am so weary of this,” sighs Mr van Heuteen. He spoons up a sad, over-boiled root vegetable that matches the colour in his pasty face. “Look, it’s all grey or beige or brown …” He shoves the plate away from him. “Why is there no orange food, heh? Why can’t we decorate our plates with our favourite colour?”
“Err…” says Mrs van Heuteen who prefers bright blue and can’t quite envision anything edible being that colour. She shoves at quivering cube of fatty meat. Had it been blue no way would she have eaten it, and she isn’t that taken with the idea of it being orange either.
“I …” Mr van Heuteen stands up and slaps a meaty hand over the general region of his heart. “ … I will fix this! I will do genetic re-engineering until my carrots are a luscious orange!”
Mrs van Heuteen takes a firm grip of his coat tail and yanks him back down in his chair. “Yes, yes dearie. Now, don’t upset yourself my little mustard pot. Here, sit down and finish your pottage.”
However, the single most fantastic thing about being a writer happened to me a week or so ago, when I had a conversation with a reader. Yupp; I have those now, people who have read my book & (I hope) liked it and so want to share with me. It is a rather special experience, to have someone talk with intensity about one of my characters. There’s an element of having to let them go, because clearly the reader’s views on what my characters look like and who they are varies from my own. There’s also a sensation of fizzing pride; my writing has touched this particular person to the point that she is now keeping a constant look our for potential holes into the past, because she would very, very dearly love to meet my Matthew. (Well, who wouldn’t?)
I mildly pointed out that Matthew is spoken for. My reader shook her head.
“I know he is, and I love Alex to bits, but still …”
I know, I know: I have that “but still” feeling quite often when it comes to Matthew, which generally results in Alex giving me the evil eye and shashaying over to remind me that she got Matthew, okay? In her opinion a fair trade; I yank her out of her time, throw her into a far too adventurous setting, and the only upside was Mr Graham. As I still have a tendency to wish I could time travel, I’m not entirely convinced she needed to be recompensed – lucky girl, to land in 1658 instead of boring 2002. Even luckier girl; who was there to pick her up after her fall through time? Matthew.
Anyway, my reader continued with her monologue about my book, how much she liked it (:)) , how much she cried when … (Sorry; no spoilers allowed) As she spoke, my ego swelled. Not in a bad way, more like a golden bread dough rising under its towel, filling me with a quiet sense of achievement. Somehow I had succeeded in transferring the pictures that populate my brain into text that someone else could read and enjoy. Wow!
Ultimately writing is a self-pleasing pursuit, the creative effort in itself being compensation enough for the hours upon hours spent considering a particular scene. No, I don’t aspire to hit the bestseller lists (Ha! Of course I do, but I am sufficiently grounded to relegate that little wish to dreamworld) nor do I believe I will put food on the table through my writing efforts – unless food = porridge for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But to share my world with others, to have them laugh and cry at my inventions, well that is quite some icing on the cake. She made my day, that particular reader. Heck, she made my week, my month, my year. Thank you!