So you wanna be a writer?
Do the novel thing…
(with apologies to ‘So you wanna be a boxer’ from the movie ‘Bugsy Malone’)
Once upon a time – well, you could see them most anywhere you went. Now – not so much. Oh, they’re still there, if you know where to look. But now they’re in the back alleys and the darker streets. Not the really dark ones – the ones you don’t go down less’n you’ve got the types of friends nice folks don’t admit to, or maybe you just got no friends left at all. But not the bright ones, the big streets. Still, if you know where to look you can still find a boxing gym here and there. Full of sweaty guys (yes, and girls. Women. Er, not-guys) punching bags that weigh more than they do and dreaming of being a Contender. And in the corner, there’s Joe. Joe don’t look much, but he owns the place. He's seen it all - the good times, the not-so-good. He could have been a Contender once, maybe, but now – now he just takes money from guys (yes, Jones Minor. Or not-guys) he knows will never punch more than a bag, and tells old stories of The Guy. The Guy (yes, Jones Minor. Or The Girl) who walked in one day, and Joe knew. Knew she (or he) could have could have it all – but who maybe turned out to have a glass jaw. Or didn’t work hard enough. Or one day – who just quit. Because they all think they have it, when they walk through the door. And ain’t none of them really know how hard it is.
But Joe knows.
So maybe it went like this…
The door creaked. Joe didn’t bother to look up. Some days, creakin’ was all it did. They looked in, saw what they saw. Heard what they heard. The bent heads. The pounding keyboards. The one in the corner on his last legs, cryin’ over the beatin’ Ten Finger Simpson just gave him over too many ‘that’s’ in his draft. And those days, they didn’t even walk through. They just walked. Walked away, and maybe that was the smartest thing they ever did. Because Joe knew anyone who did anythin’ else had to be crazy.
A special kind of crazy.
And maybe this one was just that. That special kind of crazy. Because this one – she didn’t look at the ones pounding keyboards. She didn’t look at the tattered and faded Form Rejections lining the walls. She just walked in. Walked in, and came right over.
The words might have been a question. But Joe knew she wasn’t askin’. Wasn’t even Tellin’ she knew who he was. She was Showin’. Showin’ she was somewhere she was supposed to be, and to hell with anyone what thought different. And all that was a good start. So he did what he always did with the ones who might Have It. He ignored her. The dumb ones never got it, and the smart ones were used to it already.
“I… I got a book.” She held out a sheaf of loose bound sheets.
Joe shrugged, even if he did it inside and his shoulders never moved an inch. So this one was a bit of both. Part dumb, part smart – and maybe just crazy enough to make it, ‘cos you had to be crazy to even try. And at least she’d written a book. There was them as wanted to and never did, and them as started and never finished, and – his eyes never moved but his mind wandered over the hunched figures pounding keyboards – them as kept startin’ and never finished nothin’. Never would – and still didn’t quit. But this one – he ignored the sheets of offered paper as much as he was ignorin’ the person holdin’ them – this one had finished.
Or thought she had.
Like every other time, Joe wondered what she’d say if she really knew. Knew the damn thing in her hand was just the start. The easy bit. Or not even that. Joe wondered if she knew about Queries, and Synopses. Knew about bein’ surrounded by a hundred thousand others, just as smart, just as talented, just as clever. A hundred thousand others maybe one ounce more persistent than she might want to be in the long nights when she wondered why she was botherin’ and figured the smart thing to do was just quit. And if she Had It, knew none of that mattered a damn, ‘cos she was goin’ to carry on anyway. Joe wondered if she knew about Agents, and how little they cared she’d written something great, something amazing – and how it was right they didn’t care because all that mattered wasn’t what was great, but was what the Public wanted to buy. He wondered if she knew about No-Reply-Means-No, and Form Rejections, and Partials and Fulls and – and how none of even that maybe meant a damn, because after every one of ‘em ‘sorry’ wasn’t the hardest word at all. He wondered if she knew it was the easiest in the world most times, and one she was going to see and hear a lot. He wondered what she’d be like after her first time with Ten Fingers, maybe in Query Critique. Would she be a shouter, when Ten laughed at her Opening Rhetorical Question and told her he’d seen better Hooks in a crochet kit? Joe’s eyes moved for the first time as he looked over to Jack, still pounding away in the far corner. Jack, who Ten Fingers had reduced to tears when he’d torn his Query apart for the hundredth time, and told Jack he didn’t know motivation from meatloaf, and how Ten couldn’t see from the Query why Jack’s Main bothered even getting up in the morning. Mostly Joe wondered if this one knew what she was, what she was going to have to become, going to have to be. And how even if she Made It, became one of the Greats, how one day none of it would matter, all over again.
“I got a book!” She waved the sheets again, under his nose.
“Yeah.” At last, Joe looked up. “So did I once."