East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Rod Serling, and stories

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One of the authors I always look up to in order to improve my craft is Rod Serling, of The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery fame. Apart from the awesome quality of scripts, it’s in his views on imaginative fiction and society that I usually find powerful, intelligent ideas. If you are not familiar with them, check out Youtube – a search for Serling’s name will bring up interviews and actual masterclasses he recorded, and are worth every minute spent listening to them, taking notes.

And today a friend posted this image on their Facebook profile, and it was another eye-opening moment.

And of course he’s right, and that’s something you’ll never be able to explain to a non-writer.
Because of course you can write 500 words per hour, and therefore a 50.000 words novel will require 100 hours, or two weeks working eight hours a day, so they will ask you for the first draft in fifteen days time, and possibly the first half, as a preview, next week.
Only it does not work like that. Because writing is not just the mechanical act – and those 500 words per hour you can write are the end result of a month spent carrying the idea around, dining with the idea, sleeping with the idea.

It really feels like a relationship – in Ray Davies’ memorable definition of marriage, “a two-headed transplant.”
You really get the feeling you’re never alone.
And if, like I sometimes do, you are working on a number of open projects at the same time, you sometimes feel like a cheat, a two-timing scoundrel.
And yet for each story will come a moment when we’ll have to drop everything else, and give our full attention only to that one story. For a day, a week or a month. Only one story, perpetually intertwined with all we are doing.

And sometimes, when you are doing a ghostwriting job – as I sometimes do, because it pays the mortgage – you feel trapped into an abusive relationship. You have to walk, talk, think and sleep with ideas that are not your own, and that sometimes you detest.
Maybe for someone that’s timing your writing, and calls you and goes “What are you doing?”, and gets mad if you have taken a walk instead of sitting there and writing. Because that’s what they are paying you, right? Writing. Not going for a walk.
It’s really like being trapped with the wrong person in your life – and you have to hold on because that person is the one paying the bills.

And yes, I know – real abusive relationships are a whole different thing.
You don’t get out of them by finishing the damn book and cashing in the cheque.
But you got the gist of what I’m talking about.

In all this, the knowledge that Rod Serling was there before, that his approach to writing was the same, comes as a consolation.
Granted, I’ll never be that good, not in a million years.
But I am walking along the same path, possibly to the same destination.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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