Non-fiction writers keep their feet firmly planted in this present reality. Novelists, on the other hand, are citizens of multiple realities.
Think about it. How can a novelist entice a reader to leave this present reality and enter the fictional world of his story if he’s never been there himself?
But it comes at a price.
Biographies and documentaries about novelists intrigue me. Pity the poor person whose task it is to record the life of a novelist. Put a camera crew in the workplace of a novelist and what will they see? Someone sitting in front of a keyboard for hour upon endless hour muttering to himself. Highlights would be the occasional guffaw or a sudden burst of tears for no apparent reason. The only difference between filming a novelist and a mental ward patient is that the mental ward patient guffaws and weeps in a clutter-free room.
When my children were younger, I used to joke that my wife should stretch one of those red velvet museum ropes across my doorway so the kids could see their daddy working without disturbing him.
Years later, when my oldest daughter showed signs of literary talent, I asked her if she’d given any thought to becoming a novelist. Her response? “No, I want a life.”
What she meant was, she prefers spending time in this present reality.
What people don’t understand is that when novelists are working, they’re not in the room. Their bodies may be there, but their immaterial self is in an alternate reality.
As a person who frequently transits between the present and alternate realities, I’ve made several observations—
The longer you stay in a reality, the harder it is to break its hold on you. I’ve found that for every hour I spend in the present without writing, it takes me two hours to work my way back to my fictional world. And once I’m firmly planted in that alternate reality, I don’t want to leave it. The momentum of the story is as intoxicating as a white-water river ride.
Flipping between realities can be confusing. Once, I remember leaving my fictional reality long enough to pick up my children from school. I found myself motionless at the end of the street trying to remember where the car’s turn-signal was. My mind hadn’t yet made it back from horse and buggy days.
Time passes at different speeds in different realities. Entire days of this present reality have passed in a blink while I’ve dwelt in fictional worlds. The experience is both thrilling and frightening. One the one hand, some of the best days of my life have been spent in an alternate reality; on the other hand, it scares me to think of how many years of this present life I have spent alone in my office.
Is it worth it, this transitory life bouncing between realities?
A hundred years after my body has returned to dust, readers will wander into my alternate realities and I’ll be there waiting for them to tell them a story that will help them gain a measure of insight and hope into their present reality.
For me, it’s worth it.