I have a real, actual job to work on right now. A looming deadline, and everything. And it’s a big job, too. This gig pays for rent for both October and November. I can’t eff this one up, or I’m homeless.
Being a professional writer is kind of like betting on yourself. You’re essentially wagering your life on the chance that the next time you sit alone in a dark room and stare into The Unblinking, Unforgiving Eye Of He Who Is Called “I Am!'” the geyser of masturbatory, self-referential vomit that ushers forth from the center of your third eye and finds its way into your notebook will make enough sense to other people that they’ll be willing to give you some of their money for it.
There are ways to cheat at doing this: you can utilize Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth to ensure that your story operates within a tried and true realm of cultural resonance, or, if you’re doin’ something that requires a perpetual second act (like a serialized comic, pulp, or TV show) you can map the sucker onto Dan Harmon’s easy-to-use, 8 point Story Circle. Hell, if you’re super hacky you can just ape the really obvious beats from Star Wars.
Those are the algorithms that writers scrawl on post-it-notes and thumbtack up on their bedroom walls next to their posters of Joss Whedon and Stan Lee. They’re Heaven-sent. Work every time.
…except for when you’ve just found out that your mom has a bunch of stupid cancer.
It’s hard to make up stories about cowboys and super-robots when you’ve just found out that the only person you’ve known since birth is going to die.
Even if, by some miracle, she beats the big, gnarly, incurable disease that is The Big “C”, that realization is still there: that someday she’s going to die. Welcome to Wormfood City, Population: My Mom.
My mother and I don’t have the best relationship in the world–partially for reasons that are none of The Internet’s business–but also because I’m a writer…and I think that’s just something that comes along with the archetype.
To people who make fiction for a living/identity, the most powerful story we’ll ever tell is the one we make up about ourselves. Our parents are the only folks who get to overrule that story (with embarrassing anecdotes, baby pictures, snarky comments, whatever), so, as young people, its in our best interest to distance ourselves from them as much as is physically possible (for you Campbell nerds, see step 9, “Atonement With The Father”).
But I’m not a young person anymore. I’m in my LATE twenties. I’m finally finding my footing and gaining a little bit of agency in the world. I’m supposed to be gearing up for step 15 “The Crossing Of The Return Threshold”, wherein I return home as the conquering hero and repair all of the damage I did as a young, Marilyn-Manson-loving, shit-for-brains reluctant hero.
If my mom dies before I get my act together, I’ll never be able to do that. She IS my home. Without her, there’ll be nothing to return to.
So…yeah…that’s what’s bouncing around my skull right now. Definitely not the paranormal romance plot I’m supposed to be tinkering with.