by Tara Sparling
Tara Sparling is an Irish blogger and humorist. I stumbled onto her award-winning blog, "Tara Sparling Writes: A Sideways Perspective on the Bonkers Business of Books" through a Tweet, and I've been an avid follower ever since. Her take on the writing life is uniquely quirky and hilarious... and oh, so Irish. Seriously, follow her blog--she'll bring a little much-needed laughter into your work week. And today she has some laughs to help us through this frantic season.
Why Being a Writer is Like Being Santa Claus
by Tara Sparling
1. Most people don’t believe in you. You’re not even sure if you believe in yourself.
Santa gets a lot of stick. Even the people who believe in him question his existence. Eight- and nine-year-old kids make it their business to go around playgrounds, discussing the logistical anomalies of his work.
And at peak production time, having left his underwear on the floor three days running, we can be sure that even Mrs Claus is questioning whether or not he is for real. It has to get a man down at times, even one as relentlessly jolly as good old Saint Nick.
Which brings us to writers, who don't live in the real world at all. If you did, instead of writing, you would be packaging leveraged financial derivatives on Wall Street for enough money to make an accountant's eyes water.
Upon informing your nearest and dearest of your literary ambitions, they smile sadly and say "You must follow your dream, darling."
But inside, they're crying, because they've just bid adieu to their own dream of a tropical retirement. They'll be too exhausted to enjoy it anyway, because they’re going to have to spend the next twenty years coaxing you out of an endless cycle of self-loathing.
2. Your greatest work is done alone, or in remote locations.
Certain occupations (such as supernatural sleigh deliveries) are by their very nature solitary. I will concede that at the North Pole, Santa is surrounded by elves.
But how friendly with them is he, really? He is the boss, after all, and as any of us who have worked for a large organisation are aware, the boss is not your friend. Santa might create decent working conditions, and welcome his elves in the mornings with a hearty Ho-Ho-Ho, but he's never the person Snuzzle Figglesticks confides in about secretly fancying Esmerelda in Doll Assembly.
No: Santa works alone. He spends 364.25 days a year in one of the earth's most remote locations, not the sort of place where one can easily form a support group for Magical Toymakers.
Writers seek the same solitude. Nowadays, however, most don't have the luxury of Thoreau. You're forced instead to make remote locations out of whatever comes to hand (a back bedroom with the door locked; a garden shed with a two-bar heater and fingerless gloves; or even the kitchen table, having told all loved ones to cross your path on pain of death).
Here, you pretend that you are utterly alone, save for the makey-up people in your head. But there is no more solitary occupation than writing, unless you're co-writing, which is extremely dangerous, and should never be undertaken by anyone with a discernible pulse (which is why it's fine in Hollywood).
3. You work for free.
I know Santa is magical. I know the joy of children across the largely western world is payment enough. I know he doesn’t want money. That’s not the point, though. The point is, if he did want payment, he wouldn’t get it.
Nowadays, even mid-list authors are working for free, because the number currently retained by advances substantial enough to live on is estimated to be about 0.00357% of the writing population (I made that up, but I defy anyone to provide a better figure).
You might argue that the ultimate writing payoff comes later: that even salaried staff are paid in arrears. But the work I do in my office results in a dependable sum at the end of the month (unless, of course, I bankrupt my employer by accident), whereas a writer almost never knows if they're going to make money with what they're writing. And almost most writers don't make any.
4. You have a long and illustrious cultural history, but people are always questioning your future.
Saint Nicholas was a Greco-Turkish bishop who was famous for centuries before you and I were even thought of. Yet no matter how many miracles he wrought, or how many legends are told about him, there is a constant drive to question his relevance in today's society from Hollywood, organised religion, and plain old mean folks. If I were Saint Nick, I know what I'd be doing with my bishop's staff.
Even Santa hasn't been subjected to the same degree of abuse as the poor old writer, however: even though writers have been writing since someone first decided society needed a rule book, and someone else had the bright idea of trying to make the rules a bit more interesting.
Just a couple of centuries ago, widespread literacy created a boom in storytelling: but now, professional writers are an endangered species, and will soon be preserved in a zoo, where people can take a break from reading free books to come in and observe them in their natural habitat.
5. You’ve worked bloody hard for a very long time to get where you are. But as soon as people hear of you, they think you’re an overnight success.
When Christmas morning arrives (unless you’re from certain countries in Europe: just go with me here, for the sake of this article), people take approximately 14.7 seconds to marvel at all Santa achieved on Christmas Eve, delivering presents to billions of children in an impossibly short window. It's magic! they cry, delighted with the end result.
They don't think about the other 364 days Santa toiled and prepared and manufactured, inventoried and sorted. They don't care.
Lots of writers explain their process online, detailing the writing of their books word-count by word-count, tweeting #amwriting like it’s #ambreathing, and discussing the many and varied tribulations of trying to market a book in order to become successful.
Nobody cares. People care only about the final number, and whether that’s the no.2 New York Times bestseller spot, or a $300,000 advance, that’s all readers will ever remember about how you got there.
6. You're constantly asking people what they want, but no matter what they tell you, they always seem to prefer a surprise.
How was Santa supposed to know, having sat on eBay for thirty-six hours straight in order to secure the world's last available 5-Minute Wonder Character Doll™, that after all that, you'd spend every waking minute between Christmas and the New Year playing with the $2 rubber egg he threw into your stocking at the last minute?
And just try talking strategy to the poverty-stricken writer who took a break from his life's work (a 1,000-page opus on the futility of the self in a digital age), to dash off a comic novella about Hitler being taught how to make bagels by a Polish baker, only for it to win him sixteen literary prizes, several hundred thousand dollars, and a fellowship somewhere swanky.
7. You despair sometimes, that your work will ever be appreciated: but just when you feel exhausted and beaten, you find that someone has left you a carrot.
Well, let's be honest about it. The carrot is for Rudolph, not Santa. But Santa's a nice guy. He doesn't mind. He just drinks the booze, scoffs the seasonal pastry, and gazes fondly at the image of himself reflected in a very contented, shiny nose.
A writer will grasp at any carrot in front of them, no matter how far they must reach. Even if your last review was a stinker; your book sales are tanking; your publisher is threatening to drop you, and you're certain you're developing arthritis in the finger you use to type the letter 'e' with – the mere sight of someone reading your book on social media, or a funny comment on your blog, is a sign from above that you’re meant to keep writing. Right?
8. Your customers can be fickle. One day, you’re all they can talk about; the next, you don't exist.
Kids are awful. You spend your life trying to please them. They get all excited about your next visit, only to judge your performance without mercy, and then, BAM! You're yesterday’s news.
Readers are awful. You spend your life trying to please them. They get all excited about your new book, only to judge your performance without mercy, and then, BAM! You’re yesterday’s review. In fact – who are you again?
9. You work as hard as you can, for as long as you can. But in order to really succeed, you're always going to need just a little bit of magic.
Had Saint Nicholas merely delivered gifts and charity to one small village in Turkey in the fourth century, we wouldn't be talking about him now, no matter how hard he toiled. It still took a few miracles to make him what he is today: a saintly harbinger of happiness, with enough supernatural energy to fuel several YA romances.
And so, alas, to writers. Nobody can deny that writers work hard (unless we're talking about certain blockbuster authors, who eventually get to hide out behind an ampersand, eating caviar). Some writers are always telling people how hard they work. Some are even revered for it.
But when it comes to commercial success, there is always an element of the inexplicable. Why did readers love that book, and not this? Why did this book get all the free editorial publicity, and not that? The answer is simple. Luck. And luck is tough.
10. You get little or no thanks for the work you do. But you wouldn't change it for the world.
Santa is Santa, because he is Santa. He couldn't be anything else; he couldn't do anything else. He was born to make other people happy, and has the mythological means to keep doing it. If he wanted thanks, he would be delivering iPhones to Millennials. (Actually, no. He probably wouldn't get thanks for that, either.)
But you just try telling Santa to stop making kids happy, and see how much coal is rained down upon you.
Writers are the same. You write, because the mere idea that someone might like what comes out of your head is the most intense natural high a body can get, once you’re too old to be on Santa’s list anymore. And you love writing, too – or at least, like the old saying, you love having written – because nobody in their right mind would choose to live the writing life.
In fact, anyone who thinks they're going to get rich from writing, or indeed find peace with it, should be installed immediately within the nearest straitjacket, behind glass, underneath a black-and-yellow sign saying “DANGER! SHOCK HAZARD”. Yet still you do it. Still you do it.Tara Sparling writes fiction and screenplays. Originally from the west of Ireland, she now lives in Dublin. Her blog explores bestselling book statistics and trends, literary and mathematical humour, along with traditional and self-publishing, marketing tips, bizarre success stories, and spectacular failures. In 2014 she won Best Newcomer in the Irish Blog Awards, and her fiction has also been shortlisted in several national competitions. When she's not writing, she has a very prim and proper day job all about numbers, but we don't talk about that. Besides her blog, she can be found hiding (poorly) behind @TaraSparling on Twitter.by Tara Sparling (@TaraSparling) December 20, 2015
What about you, scriveners? Are you feeling Santa-Clausy at this time of year? What other ways do you think writers are like Santa? Or not like Santa at all?
Labels: Anne R. Allen, Santa Claus stories, Tara Sparling, Why Grandma Bought That Car