Culture

Writing is a Lonely Business — Except When It's Not

[This is a bit of a wild hare here: A guest post by new author Terry R. Lacy. See his Amazon author page here. And watch out for the rabbit.]

Writers work alone. Other artists don’t. Actors have fellow thespians onstage, delivering lines of dialogue with them. There are directors, stagehands, lights, makeup, and countless other people around. Musicians have other musicians on their stage–one-man-bands being the only exception, but who can stand to listen to one for more than five minutes? Visual artists come close, but painters and sculptors use human models all the time.

But writers are different. We work alone, with no one else around and we like it that way. We create little worlds in our heads, rich and detailed, and we include everything from maps and tokens to the details of the trees–for sci-fi writers, even the color of the grass can change–and then we make people. We draw on people we have known, but they aren’t in the room–they’re people from our past and we take a little from person X, a little more from person Y, then we add some from person Z and we have our protagonist. Now our hero needs a quest–all good heroes need a quest, so we create that, then toss in an antagonist to foil our hero, and the antagonist has to be bigger–better–it has to be The Empire to our Luke Skywalker, or what’s the point? And when we have all of this, it hangs there, like gossamer, fragile and vulnerable, and then someone says hi and it goes in a puff of vapor because we’ve been drawn back to the real world, and we have to start over. My neighbors think I’m rude when I sit outside drinking coffee and they walk past and say hi, or God forbid, come over and sit and want to chat. Whoever wrote Jack Nicholson’s character in As Good as it Gets knows what I mean. It may not be what I do, but it’s how I feel. When I’m working on a project, I can go days without talking to anyone else and be perfectly content. It’s where my introvert lives.

So, when I went to Westercon in Denver, I expected pretty much the same thing–a room full of introverts, lost in the worlds they create in their minds, trying to decide if the night was hot, or if it was wet, while the word “sultry” evades them like a carrot on a stick. What I found was completely different.

My writing partner, Charlie, and I attended on Wednesday, the day before the real action began, but there were small panel groups in session. We were so early, the payment system wasn’t set up yet, and since we hadn’t preregistered, we were issued temporary badges on the honor system that we return and pay later. As swamped as they were trying to get things set up, I don’t mind telling you that I heard a little “cha-ching” of a cash register in my brain when they told us that. At $20 each, that was $40 bucks saved, because while I’m mostly honest, if I can sneak into a theater without paying, I’m going to do it, if for no other reason than the thrill.

We attended two sessions back to back. “I Wrote Something, Now What?” and “Ruins and Relics: The Bones of Your Imaginary World.” I expected a room full of geeks. What I found was a room full of artists, looking to help one another along this oftentimes well worn, but all too often unmarked and treacherous path of publishing, a business that seems to change more often than I shower. The panelists and the other participants were warm, inviting, and each offered advice as best they could, and without fail, there was a sincere sense of “Good luck,” because, in the end, that’s all we can do for one another — point the way and wish good luck.

Then Charlie and I split. He went to something on computers, because he’s into that sort of thing, and I went to “Why Best Ideas Don’t Sell.” I’m leaving out the panelists names for no other reason than they aren’t listed in the block schedule and I’m way too lazy to look them up. But this wasn’t for writers — it was visual artists — painters, sculptors, digital artists, and as the discussion began, I almost left. I said that I am a writer. I couldn’t draw water from a deep well, and instead of saying that I was correct, this wouldn’t be a good fit for me, I was welcomed again. I asked a question dealing with cover art and was given good advice. The Artist Guest of Honor, Jeff Sturgeon, offered to look at my cover art and give me feedback on it, and when they spoke of the creative process, I was able to offer opinions because as it turns out, we’re all the same. The leader of the panel, Chaz Kemp, is not only a painter but he’s also a drummer (I knew he was good people) and we talked drums, if somewhat briefly.

What I’m saying is that no artist lives in a complete vacuum, and if you do, you won’t live for long. Westercon runs through Sunday, July 8th at the Hyatt Regency on Tubbs St. in Denver. If you’re in the area, and you’re the creative type, I suggest you go. If you’re not, I suggest you find something similar and go to it. There are conventions like it all around the country, all filled with people going through the same struggles, trying to find the same path, trying to help one another along the way.

Now I was faced with a dilemma. Do I sneak out the back door and keep my $20, or do I go ahead and pay for the weekend, because I want to come back? In the end, it was easy. It was $120 for the two of us to get a weekend pass. Charlie owes me $60.