Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net

The Fever

By Justin Stanchfield
© 2004, Justin Stanchfield


It starts with a tickle...

Like a dry cough that wonít go away, it gets worse every time you pick up a book or watch a favorite movie. Soon, it isnít enough to simply read the words on the page or lose yourself for a few hours in front of a screen. You want to live with the characters, be part of their world, step inside their adventures and let the devil take the consequences. Seems innocent enough at first. But, with time the tickle becomes a fever, a need to immerse yourself outside the normal flow of events and travel deeper into the reaches unseen. And suddenly, with blinding clarity, you understand the truth.

You want to write.

For some of us, the fever arrives early. I  remember sitting at the kitchen table dictating my first Ďnovelí to my mother who was indulgent enough to take down my five-year ramblings, staple the pages together, then squirrel the finished product away to torment me with in later years. The story was little more than a rip-off of my favorite cartoon. Remove Johnny Quest, insert my brother and I, then scribble a picture on the cover. It wasnít good, but it was enough to snare me. Never mind that it took more than thirty years between that one and my next publication. I knew I was going to write.

I suspect there is a similar story lurking inside every writer. Somewhere in their life they came to the bold conclusion that they needed to create worlds of their own. Itís a drive, something primal, like the call a goose hears to fly south at the first hint of winter. And if we werenít born with this strange need, then we were certainly infected early. Donít try to deny it or it simply worsens. The only cure is to give in and set word to paper. The disease is that strong. Try as you might, it wonít let go.  And letís face it, you wouldnít want it to if it could. This desire to create is what sets us apart from the people who off-handedly say ĎI think Iíd like to write something. Someday. When I have the time.í They donít really understand. When you have the fever, you donít get a choice in the matter. By the time you realize you need to write, itís already too late. Youíre hooked.

Possibilities. Every story, every fresh page, is a chance to create something wonderful -- something that can create mountains or tear then down. Who else can boast they build entire worlds just to let their imaginations run loose for a while? Painters may have their canvases, and sculptors their marble, but what we have is better. Ours is the canvas of the mind, and that particular palate is infinite. We are like alchemists. Given the proper amount of skill, applied with the precise measure of imagination, and we can transmute lead into gold. While we write, we get to play god.

Better yet, we get to be children.

Writing fiction is an unending game of dress-up. Letís pretend dragons are real. Letís make believe the closet door opens into another universe. Letís set aside reality long enough to make ourselves believe in the characters we have conjured. And if we are very lucky, the people who read what we have done will believe them too. There is an appeal to this idea, that every project we begin can become something that lives on beyond ourselves. Never mind that it might not live up to your bright expectations, because the next one is going to be better. In a sense, being a writer is like having someone hand you a do-over card. No matter how mundane your real life is, you can still create characters to live out your wildest dreams and most horrifying nightmares. This is the lure of what we do, the chance to craft the reality of the unreal and let every sand castle we build stand high.

But, before anyone else can share our little playgrounds, we first have to make them real enough that they can be trusted. And after that, they have to be published.  No amount of skill or talent can put your work in a reader's hands unless youíre willing to put yourself on the firing line. And that takes guts.

Just having the fever isnít enough. At some point every author who has ever been published made the jump from writing to submitting. Ask a thousand writers if they remember their first submission. Odds are each and every one of them will shake their heads, smile ruefully, and if youíre lucky, launch into the story of how, when, and how long it was to their first rejection. Call it a right of passage, perhaps the biggest in a writer's career. Itís a quantum leap, moving from scribbling in private to summoning up the courage to let an editor see your work. Youíre exposing more than your story - youíre giving a total stranger a glimpse into your soul, and itís no small feat. Many hopefuls will send out one story theyíve poured their hearts into, and when it is rejected, slink away never to try again. This is unfortunate, because rejection is part and parcel of what we do, the yin to our yang, the alpha to our omega. And, it really is true what they say about rejection slips. After the first hundred or two, you really donít pay that much attention anymore.

For me, submitting is almost like a game of chance. Once the story is finished, and youíve done the best you can do with it, step up to the window and place your bet. Play the odds: is this the story that will finally sell to one of the big magazines, or should I send it off to that new anthology that just opened up? Will the novel slowly gathering pages on my hard drive push me into the ranks o the published, or simply wither away unnoticed? Every time you stuff a manuscript inside an envelope or move the mouse pointer over send, you are staring at a universe of possibilities. Like SchrŲdingerís cat, the manuscript is both rejected and accepted, and which the final outcome will be you will never know until you send it out. And even if the same story or novel comes back a dozen times, the next time out might be the one. Take heart. Weíre all writers here. We understand.

Now, get busy. Donít you have some writing to do?