There are lots of romantic notions of what the writerly life entails, the kind of stuff promulgated by frothy fictions. My favorite example is the 2021 Hallmark Christmas Movie Christmas She Wrote. It stars Danica McKellar as Kayleigh King, a popular advice columnist for the New York newspaper Empire City Globe, my all-time favorite name for a fictional tabloid. Kayleigh is fired at the company Christmas party, the victim an economic purge by Corporate Overlords who frame their business model on Scrooge and Marley, LTD.
As per the Hallmark Christmas Movie template, Kayleigh returns to her picture-perfect hometown of Pineberry, USA. A delightful name for a delightful hamlet. It’s a utopia in my view, as there isn’t a single Starbucks to be found. Since she can’t become a low-paid barista, Kayleigh decides to rebuild her life by working in her sister's quaint little bakery.
Stay with me on this
Back in Manhattan, the city is roiling with reader outrage now that their beloved Kayleigh is no longer gracing the pages of Empire City Globe. Granted, all they have to do is contact Kayleigh on Twitter and plead her to post on Medium or start a podcast. But these true-to-life options don’t provide what we really want: Corporate Overlord comeuppance.
And that we get. Fearing their circulation will go down to zero and with no understanding of how the Internet works, the Corporate Overlords make a desperate move. An emissary is sent to Pineberry to lure Kayleigh back to the Big Apple. That plenipotentiary is none other than the son of the top Corporate Overlord. His name? Trip Wyndham
Yes, Trip Wyndham. Has there ever been a better name for a scion of overlorddom? It’s awash in WASP pheromones. I can only imagine the cackling and howls that rang throughout the Hallmark Christmas Movie writers’ room when they came up with that one.
Back to our story
Remember that there was not enough money to keep an advice columnist on the Corporate Overlord payroll? What they do have in terms of finances is cash-o-plenty to woo Kayleigh back to New York via what is probably a pricey all-expenses paid for trip for Trip.
Never mind logic: we're talking Hallmark Christmas Movie realities. Kayleigh rebuffs Trip at first but gives in when the Corporate Overlords offer her an incredible sweetheart deal. Kaylee will get her column back, which she can write from the blissful confines of Pineberry. Of course this reinstatement comes with a nice pay raise.
But that’s not all. Through a separate publishing entity within their labyrinthine holdings of the Corporate Overlords, Kayleigh’s novel will be published and skyrocket to bestsellerland with what surely will be a fat marketing campaign. That book deal—made sans agent—gives Kayleigh a dump truck load of money as an advance.
Somewhere within all these plotlines Kayleigh reunites with her impossibly handsome ex-fiancé, who still lives in Pineberry. And he’s not some mope still mired in long-gone glory days as a high school fullback. Rather, he’s a successful, kind, and delightfully monied doctor.
As for Trip? He realizes that there is no true happiness to be found as the inheritor of a Corporate Overlord sovereignty. Instead, Trip heads to San Francisco where he’s lined up a reporting job, perhaps for the Golden Gate City Globe.
Hallmark, Meet Reality
Would that Kayleigh’s career turnabout be that easy for us in the real writing world. No stinking rich Corporate Overlord ever wooed me with fat raises and yearned-for mega-money book deals. Chalk that up to my lack of Kayleighsque winsome looks.
I have a feeling that if Kayleigh King was ripped from fiction into reality, she—like many writers both young and old—would cling to myths of the craft. Kayleigh would need these fallacies blown to pieces. Hence, what follows are deconstructions of some of the biggest misconceptions about the writing process.
Myth Number One: The writer’s muse strikes you at the right moment.
Reality: Ain’t no muses, for Kayleigh or you. You can set a perfect time to write, use bright and shiny pens, and compose in the prettiest of Moleskine notebooks. You can gaze at the
sunrise, sip your chamomile tea, and think beautiful thoughts. And you’re still going to have to scribble down a whole lot of garbage before getting anywhere close to drafting to that decent first sentence.
Writing demands arduous work, not muses. Prepare to write a lot of junk. Dare to be a bad writer on the road to becoming a good writer.
Myth Number Two: I can’t write because I have writer’s block
Reality: No you don’t. That so-called “writer’s block”—i.e., when you get “stuck”—means one of three things:
1. You’re approaching your subject the wrong way and need to start over with a different tact on the material.
2. You’re probably writing about something that just isn’t right for you. The “block” is telling you that you need to write about something else. Start over.
3. Writing isn’t a sprint: it’s a marathon. You’ll have stumbles here and there but stick to it. Blast your way through the block by just writing the same phrase over and over, scribbling nonsense, or whatever it takes to get back on track.
Myth Number Three: I’ll write “on the side.”
Reality: There is no “side.” Most writers support themselves by something other than their writing, such as gigs teaching, editing, office work, driving an Uber, or working at their sister’s quaint little bakery in Pineberry, USA. Regardless, you must think of yourself as a writer first. That day job is what you do “on the side.”
A writer is who you are, and writing is what you do. If that means making sacrifices, like no social life or pushing the boundaries of losing sleep, so be it. You are a writer on the forefront, not on the sideline.
Myth Number Four: A good imagination is all you need to make writing easy.
Reality: Imagination is only part of the process—and it’s small one. Anyone can come up with a story and characters. But turning those ideas compelling prose so they can reach their fullest potential requires not just flights of inspired fancy. You must do exhaustive work, feeding the imagination engine that unleashes your creativity.
Bad writing, ruthless editing, and repeating these two elements in draft after draft is what propels your writing to the place that your imagination demands.
Myth Number Five: There are specific rules and methodologies you must follow to become a writer worth reading.
Reality: Maybe for Hallmark Movie characters who write advice columns and novels with great advances. But for the rest of us there is no so-called “magic bullet.”
Every writer has different processes, habits, rituals, and tools. Steven King didn’t use a quill pen and ink and Charles Dickens wrote without a typewriter or computer. Neither waited at a desk waiting for magical authorial lightning to strike the page. Yet somehow they both became prolific authors of hefty books which are read and reread by audiences every day. The “right” way for you to write is to do whatever it takes to gets the job done. Find what works best for you, then do it.
Blow up the myths. With hard work, some luck, and perhaps sheer will, you too can live as happily ever after as Kayleigh King—or a reality-based approximation of that vivacity.
Copyright 2022 Arnie Bernstein