The Worst Part Of Being A Writer

Jason Locke

Jason Locke | April 23, 2024

The Worst Part Of Being A Writer

“So, what is the worst thing about being a writer?” my neighbor asks me at the Spring Social.

“Ummmm,” I say, looking past him to the office.

I had forgotten that there was a Spring Social going on today. I see the notices clipped next to my door for them a few times a year: Spring, Fourth of July, End-of-the-Year bash. And I ignore them all. I am, you see, a good neighbor. I know nothing about my neighbors and they know nothing about me. So when the tap in my sink develops a nasty habit of running, no matter what I do, and the office wonn’t pick up, I decide to go out there personally to ask them to send a plumber. And walk straight into a gathering at the pool. The much-vaunted Spring Social. Because, Florida.

“I know you!” the man in the Hawaiian shirt says, waving his longneck beer bottle.

I freeze, because normally when people say it in this tone of voice, there’s something dreadful coming, like, “Didn’t we go to high school together?” to which I normally something like, “God, I hop not,” even when I’m about 90% sure we did.

anaheim | Beer and Baking“You’re up in that building on the corner, right? I see you coming back and forth to the store. Been meaning to introduce myself. I’m Dave*.”

And here’s where decades of training kick in. Rather than say something like, “What a nice name. Well, fun chatting with you!” I…blurt my name out.

“So what do you do for a living?” he presses, because he must smell my weakness.

I look at him. He smells of barbecue smoke and beer, a jolly, slightly overweight man who had a few too many and was in the get-to-know-you phase that will last, depending on his tolerance, for about 1-2 more beers before he starts sharing stories that he’ll wish he hadn’t. My faucet is leaking bucketsfull at home. I try to extricate. Ahhh, that’s why I said those fateful words:

“I’m a writer.”

I intend to answer his next, inevitable question, with the words, “Gay romance novels.” I love you, straight people, but you’re so fragile. Seriously. It’s hilarious how the mention of some hot and heavy gay action makes you get all green while I have to watch straight sex scenes even in Rom Coms. And yes, I could have led with, “History professor” because that’s true, and that’s what they pay me for, and what the degrees on the wall say about it. But then I get stories about how they loved or hated history and how interesting or boring it is. The conversation just. keeps. going. on. But I’m thinking about plumbing–well, SOMEBODY has a dirty mind–and I just want to extricate myself by making him uncomfortable enough to miss that one damned beat so that I can make it unmolested (poor word choice noted) to the leasing office to talk about my faucet.

And that’s when he hits me with the Question.

I take a breath, but he’s already speaking. Dave* is, I see, the kind of good-natured man who likes to put forth an opinion first.. “It has to be the loneliness and isolation, amiright? All your friends are out there doing something and you’re stuck indoors writing your next novel.”

“No, it’s not really that,” I venture, but now I see that I’ve trapped myself into this conversation. He’s peering at me, encouraging me. “It’s…I don’t honestly know. I think it’s that the process can be tiring.”

It’s a weak answer, and I can see by his disappointment that he didn’t get something interesting out of me. I’m disappointed in myself as well. The process is tiring? Who says that?

It’s only later, when my bathroom taps have been replaced and I’m chopping radishes for my next meal that the answer hits me with the force of an arthritic rhinoceros.

The goddamned plot bunnies.Oh those seductive plot bunnies! – Zen Scribbles

I’m glad I didn’t tell that to Dave*, because then I would have had to explain this, and my water bill would still be mounting faster than the national debt. But that’s it. The worst part of writing isn’t being alone. I’m never alone, actually. I spend most of my day surrounded by people I at least somewhat enjoy, at least more than I enjoy Dave*, crafting stories and listening to dialogue zing around my head like firecrackers, illuminating bits of pain, joy, hope, and sorrow. I enjoy walking around the house saying, out loud, random things like, “But if the vicar dies earlier, we can still get in the carnival scene!” and running back to my computer. I don’t even mind the fact that I can’t sleep without getting the words onto the page. I don’t even mind the frustration when you’ve written something fantastic and have to pause it because your plans are rubbish and no scene really measures up to whatever epic stuff you’re already written.

No, it’s the plot bunnies.

For outsiders, I feel like I have to explain this and differentiate them. The Muses are wonderful. They are the ones who come to you and whisper out words and make helpful suggestions. They are gentle and kind, carrying you to the next stage like a Mozart sonata, and then, once the chapter is done, they have suggestions about what the next four chapters should be. There’s something satisfying about working with them.

I’m not sure if the plot bunnies work with them or are independent contractors. They are rabid minions of hell that provide me with flashes of brilliance at the worst possible time. They attack at the worst possible time. Chopping food. Driving to the store. 3 AM I get a fully-developed scene of a couple on their first date when the restaurant is held up. I can see them on the floor, their cheeks pressed pressed to the floor. Next to them is a tray of Lobster fra diavolo and glasses of white wine that the waiter set down when he got on the floor. I hear the sound of wimpering from the next aisle. The diners and the waiter look at each other in terror. I can see the waiter clearly: he has curly brown hair and brown eyes. There is a scar high on his forehead, almost at his hairline, that I didn’t notice twenty minutes ago when he was taking our order. Someone fires a gun and we all twitch in fear. I hear someone sobbing and the words, “Open the purse!”

And that’s where it cuts out.

“WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?” I ask the plot bunnies.

To which I get a shrug. “That’s your job.” And then they’re gone.

The Muses are as unprepared for this new inspiration as if I took the Dead Kennedies to the opera. Because the thing is that this is clearly an opening scene, and I’m chapter 17 into a story that absolutely has to be finished or else these poor bastards will never get their HEA. Occasionally, I try to fit it into the book I’m already writing. Which you can do, in the same the way that you can fit a 1958 Buick Roadmaster into the dining area of a Taco Bell–it’s a tight squeeze, there’s a lot of screaming and crying, and in both cases you’re going to regret most of your life choices. So I write down the idea as best I can and put it in a folder marked “TBW” that multiplies every month with more projects than I can reasonably get to. Sometimes the Muses, after a bit of mulling, poking, and prodding, will tame some of the rawness of the original scenes and give me something that will flow into an existing project. But often, they become the kernel of a new story.

Recently, I read the book Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon, which I could pithily summarize as an endless series of vignettes in desperate search of a plot. And yet, most of those vignettes were golden. They might have been unconnected, but they were interesting, well-written, and brilliant. And within them, I can see another author who has been attacked by plot bunnies, to the point where he just gave in and stopped trying to construct a story to put them around. And I have infinite empathy for him. Because plot bunnies are assholes.

And just to show me who’s boss, one just bit me: A character takes a job in a world in which soap operas are real. He is to be an extra–to run the cash registers, clean up the blood, to walk by in the background while the Named Characters enact their ridiculous story lines. Hey, it’s a job, and my MC is from Alaska, and at least it’s warm here. But there are rules: you cannot speak unless you have a reason, and you cannot make eye contact for more than five sections, because that signals something special. You live in a segregated society, like Dubai, in which all of the extras and workers live. Of course, my MC doesn’t want to be involved in drama. But, ooops, didn’t he just make ten-second eye-contact with a Named Character? Oh, I’ll bet the drama level coming from that is going to be off the charts.

“And then what?” I ask the Minions from Some Unkind Master. Because they know they’ve got me.

*Shrug* “That’s your job.”

If I ever see Dave* again, I might even tell him that’s the worst.

Or not. Let’s keep this to ourselves.

It’ll be our little secret.



*Not his name. I can’t remember it for the life of me and if he greets me by name I will have to move immediately to avoid the embarrassment.


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