Me: Well, good morning everyone. Welcome again to The Literary Support Group. Alright. So. Let’s begin, shall we? Why don’t we start by going around the circle—you there, in the purple beret—
Writer 1: Michael.
Me: Yes. Michael. Hello. Good to see you were able to join us today. Tell me, how are you feeling, and, more importantly, how is your writing going? No need to censor yourself, everyone in this room, remember, is supportive of you, as you are of them. I want you to be entirely and completely honest with us. Say whatever comes to mind, blurt out anything that is bothering you about the writing process—which is, as we all well know, not an easy one. How far along are you, by the way?
Writer 1: Halfway through the book. It’s not working. It’s hideous. A few days ago I took a bottle of sleeping pills and went to bed, hoping I would not awaken the next day.
Me: Really, again? You do know that if you do end up successful in killing yourself the book will remain unfinished for all of time. It’s counter-intuitive. It’s counter-intuitive, isn’t it, everyone?
Writer 1: It’s not just the book. It’s everything. The whole world. Life. Existence. All of it. It’s all hideous, and I can’t stand it, there’s nothing behind anything, it’s all veils flapping in a yawning emptiness—
Me: Now what solution did we collectively agree upon the last time you spoke of this problem? Do any of you recall—yes?
Writer 5: To think of better things.
Me: Well, yes, that certainly can help, but what was the concrete solution we decided upon last week, as Michael here stood before us with a gun to his head—yes?
Writer 4: To channel our existential angst into our work. And to think of better things.
Me: Yes! Quite. Exactly. Did you hear that Michael? Nod for “yes” if you’re feeling too overwhelmed to speak. Good. So the next time those shadows come creeping up to your doorstep, what I want you to do is to pick up your pen, put it to paper, and write away, even if it’s only a diary entry five pages long detailing your despair and emptiness, to chase them all away. Understand? Next time, I don’t want to hear about you getting up to any more funny business with knives, pills or guns; they have no place in a writer’s paraphernalia. Only paper and pens do. Right. Next.
Writer 2: He’s dead.
Me: I beg your pardon? Did you have another partridge?
Writer 2: No, not the stupid bird. Between you and me, it had it coming for it, frankly, chirping during those infernal hours. No, I meant my character, the protagonist of my book. The circus boy. The one with the tattoos, yeah?
Me: Oh, I see. I’m very sorry to hear that. However you needn’t get too upset about it, many of the world’s greatest books—Romeo and Juliet is one that comes to mind—killed off their main protagonists. It’s a creative choice that, if done well, can be very poignant and powerful for the reader; and often, if it occurs as part of the natural progression of the story, makes the tale more realistic and authentic.
Writer 2: That’s not what I mean. I mean he’s dead, you know, he’s lifeless, he’s a cardboard cut-out. He’s just dialogue and robotic actions, there’s no centre, no heart. No point.
Me: Oh, right! Now, now, let’s not let Michael’s despair rub off on us. What you are experiencing is perfectly normal for writers, and all artists, for that matter, for those who must bring to life people and personalities through mere pictures or words are in many ways playing their hand at God, and His are quite big boots to fill. First, you must realise that all fictional characters, in many ways, are unrealistic, and will never seem as real and true as someone who stands before you in the flesh and blood. Besides, even in real life, you only scratch the surface of the psyche of those around you, and one can never completely and fully understand someone without actually being inside their head. Nevertheless, there are solutions available for making your character seem more like a real person. You could, for example, imagine them as a real person, someone who you could stand beside and talk to. You could imagine your character as a famous movie actress or actor, someone whose face you can easily envision. Some writers even choose to base their characters on people they have met or know in real life. Even if your character is one of a kind, irreplaceable, unique, don’t think of them as someone you’re creating, but someone you’re meeting as you write. That way, who they are can develop more organically as the story wears on. Does that help?
Writer 2: I mean. I guess.
Me: You guess?
Writer 2: No offense, woman, but I kind of feel like you just threw me a box of bandages when I’m standing beside a man on the ground bleeding to death. If you get what I’m saying. Let’s face it: The whole book’s ruined. I’ll have to start again. New day, new page.
Me: Right. Next.
Writer 3: Hello.
Me: Hello. Well, go on, then. Spill your literary woes.
Writer 3: Actually, I’m not really a writer, my mother left me in the room next door and she hasn’t come back for a quite while so I thought I’d join you guys.
Me: …how old are you?
Writer 3: Thirteen, turning fourteen this December.
Me: And how long have you been waiting in the room next door?
Writer 3: Two days. It’s fine, though, I have some food with me, biscuits, some fruit, and a bottle of water. She said it’d only take a minute, and it’s been a little longer than that, but I’m a patient person.
Me: Okay. Okay, listen to me. Do you know your mother’s phone number? Do you know the way back to your home from here? Do you have a phone on you?
Writer 3: No to all three! She just told me to stay here, no matter what, until she returned. And that if she wasn’t back in the next week or so, I was to use the money she gave me to buy a plane ticket to get out of the country as soon as I could. A week’s not up yet, I still have, like, four more days to go. And it’s so boring in there, in that room, all by myself—she told me I wasn’t even allowed to turn on the light. Can’t I just sit with you guys, just for a little while?
Writer 5: Oh my God, she’s a criminal.
Me: Okay, I can’t deal with this right now. Yes, you can stay, but we’re all going to pretend that we never saw or spoke to you. In fact, right now, you do not exist. Everyone clear? Good. Alright. Let’s see. Back to—yes, you. Go on. Spit it out, or I’ll wring it out of you.
Writer 4: I’ve nearly finished my book.
Me: That’s—that’s wonderful. I’m so happy for you, Daphne. So I guess that means you have no sorrows to pour out to us today?
Writer 4: But my dog ate it. I don’t know how it had happened, but it did. I found the remains of it this morning. In its mouth. Half-chewed.
Me: But surely you kept a back-up this time, or something?
Writer 4: Nope. Wrote it all out by hand on sheets of paper, all tied up neatly with ribbons. Pink ones. My favourite.
Me: But this is the third time this has happened. Surely you would by now consider it wise to perhaps lock one’s manuscripts in a drawer, or get a dog less inclined towards paper-eating?
Writer: I couldn’t possibly get rid of Dodo. He’s everything to me. He was the only one who was there for me when my father died. And I did lock it in a drawer—but Dodo’s so smart, he found the key and opened the drawer with it, all by himself, just to get at my manuscript. I saw him do it.
Me: Right, it’s either the dog or the writing. We all have to make tough decisions in life. Next. Lucky last. Thankfully.
Writer 5: I finished my book last month, and since then, I’ve found a publishing company willing to take it on. They’re doing an initial print of 5,000 copies, and if those sell well, they’ll print more. I’m even working on the marketing campaign for the series—it’s scheduled to be a trilogy—as joint managing director.
Me: I hate you.
Writer 5: Sorry?
Me: That’s excellent news! Alright. Yes. Alright. Okay, session’s over everybody—and you, you need to go back into the room next door, I think that would be best.
Writer 2: What about you?
Writer 2: How’s your writing going? I mean, seeing as you’re the coordinator for this group, obviously you have to be pulling some literary kicks in your own time. How’s it going, then?
Me: I—well—I—really don’t think this is—
Writer 5: Do you write under a pen name? Perhaps I’ve heard of your work before. I’m exposed to so many authors now that I’m in the publishing business myself.
Writer 4: Come on, tell us.
All The Writers, Except Michael: Come on!
Me: I—I—haven’t started! I haven’t started! I’ve tried so many times to put pen to paper, but there’s always so much resistance, I haven’t written a single word since the beginning of August last year, which is why I’m supplementing my paltry income as a part-time writing teacher listening to you all prattle on every Friday afternoon when I could be drinking wine and listening to waterfall sounds on my Ipod.
All The Writers: ……….
Writer 1: I’m sorry.
Writer 2: Yeah, I feel you. I know what that’s like. Some days, as a writer, because there’s no-one to force you to work, you just want to lie in bed with your hand down your pants.
Me: That’s not what I—
Writer 3: It’s okay. Back when I used to go to school, I never got around to doing any of my homework, and look at me, I’m still here.
Me: That’s not the same—you don’t even know where your mother is—
Writer 4: I lied. My dog didn’t eat my manuscript. I did.
Writer 5: I could put in a good word for you with my publisher when you finish writing your book?
—-All the writers turn to look at Writer 5—-
Writer 5: What? I was just trying to help. Who’s that?
Random woman covered in blood who has just entered the room: Amelia! I told you to stay in that room! Who are all these people? What have you told them? Nevermind, it doesn’t matter, they’re already compromised. Put your hands up, or I’ll shoot!
Writer 1: The day has come.
Writer 2: Shoot.
Writer 3: They’re nice people, mum, please don’t kill them like you killed my other friends. I’ll promise to be good and always eat my vegetables and remember to feed the man in the cage downstairs.
Writer 4: Help!
Writer 5: I’m—you—I’m calling my lawyer! Soon I’ll be famous soon, you know, so if you touch me, you’ll be damaging national treasure!
Me: Hmm. There’s a story here. I can sense it. Finally…finally…the block has come to an end…