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An Author's Intervention

New Year's Day has come and gone, and a struggling author struggles to commit to a resolution for 2024 until his characters intervene.

By MatthewKuszaPublished 5 months ago Updated 5 months ago 10 min read

Everyone tells stories. It's part of being human. But some of us feel called to share our stories with the world, wondering if we might earn a living writing. If you're one of these types, I warn you, friend, once others learn about your aspirations, they will pepper you with endless questions about how your writing is going until inevitably someone asks the evil, boss-monster of all questions, "Have you published anything yet?"

When this happens, you'd be wise to procure a mighty magic sword. Be sure it bestows daily confidence while being sharp enough to cut a path of clear perspective through any miasma, no matter how thick and rank it is, with fear, doubt, and self-loathing. Be ruthless with this archvillain, the bane of writers everywhere! Don't hesitate to smite its ruin at first chance, dispatching it back to the hell with which it came, or risk opening the door to a host of inner demons and critics who will thwart every attempt you make to write.

This is precisely what happened to me this past year. Paralyzed by an internalized sense of incompetency, my writing repeatedly stalled until it reached a near-complete stop by year's end. Thank heaven for the time-honored tradition of making New Year's resolutions.

There is something beautiful about a fresh start, a new day, a new week, a new month, and the beginning of a new year! Discovering the theme for Vocal's 200th challenge couldn't have come at a more opportune time. I dove eagerly into the project, drafting my list of things to accomplish in 2024. I excel at planning but often need help recognizing when to stop prepping and start. My list was long, but I feared it was incomplete, so I didn't dare begin writing. Frustrated, knowing I was falling into the same old trap, I paused to stand and stretch. When I reached for another sip of that most blessed nectar of the gods of motivation and achievement, coffee, I found my mug empty.

I shuffled out of my study to the kitchen, put another pot of coffee on, went to the bathroom, took the dog for a walk, grabbed a bite, and downed a cup of coffee before filling another. As I inched slowly back to my desk, desperate not to spill the overfull mug, I became aware of hushed voices from my writing study.

I froze and panicked momentarily until I remembered yesterday's notice on the community bulletin board reminding residents that maintenance was working on this side of the building. Concluding the crew was working outside my window, I relaxed. Turning the corner, I found the door to my study closed. I trembled, knowing I had left the door open.

Bravely or foolishly, I opened the door to find my study filled with people, a bizarre, motley collection of individuals. Dumbfounded, I stood mentally cataloging everyone. A burly dwarf shivered next to a frost sprite, a disheveled wizard nervously eyed a dragon who had managed to squeeze its snout through the window, a couple of young men shared a dish of creme brulee while making googly eyes at each other, a boy with fangs fidgeted next a woman with serpentine eyes, a group of people dressed in futuristic spacesuits lounged in the corner, and standing in the middle of them all a hulking, ruddy, bearded man dressed as a Viking beamed at me.

"Ha, Author. We've heard you've been ruminating about what to do next with your writing. I'm not good with all that brainy stuff, but I told George here he should help you. He's one of those smart, magicky, creative types."

The Viking shoved an embarrassed, scrawny young man toward me, who, after having recovered his composure, shrugged the medieval barbarian's hands from his shoulders and, with a sigh of exasperation, rolled his eyes and began to lecture me.

"Listen. Mr. Author. I'm George. I'm sure you already know that, and this bumbling fool is Jockular. By the way, that's a ridiculous name. I realize you were trying to be clever by combining jocular with jock because I get it; he's supposed to be a comical medieval brute. He's forever going on about quests, wooing maidens in distress, and generally making it impossible for me to live my life. I don't know why you started our story, but we must discuss how it ends. I hope I get to go back to being a normal twenty-something working a dead-end job as a dishwasher at the local tavern."

"All of us need to talk to you," someone shouted.

A murmur rose among the crowd, only to die off when Jockular harrumphed.

"You see, this is all about Vocal's 200th challenge. You know, the one about making resolutions for your writing in 2024. Look, Mr. Author, not to be rude, but are you about to start something new again without bothering to see all of your current projects through to their completion?" George asked.

George then folded his arms and glared at me expectantly without another word. An uncomfortable silence reigned until a couple of jazz musicians, trying to ignore the demonically dressed conductor following them, pushed through to the front.

"Yeah, man. You've drafted a brilliantly crazy story about us, but when it came time to edit, nothing... just tumbleweeds in the wind. What gives?" one of the musicians asked.

Jockular glowered at the musicians, who took the hint and slunk back into the safety of the crowd's anonymity. The colossal man peered down at George, who seemed to understand that everyone was waiting for him to continue.

"Look, Mr. Author, all of us are worried you'll never finish our stories. I don't know how it feels being an author but being stuck in limbo, not knowing if and when the ending will arrive, is exceedingly disconcerting."

Now, I have an active imagination, and it is a common kooky truth that fiction writers occasionally experience their characters taking over the writing process to tell their stories. I never expected anything like this, though. I didn't faint to my credit, but I did scald myself when the forgotten coffee mug slipped from my hand as I fled.

I refused to enter the study after that. But I did listen at the door and always heard all those characters grumbling about how unfairly they were being treated. To my relief, there was no sign of the rest of the dragon from outside.

I started to formulate a logical explanation for what was happening. Obviously, the strain and stress of struggling to overcome self-doubt, writer's block, and imposter syndrome had addled my mind. Always looking on the bright side of things, I tried to identify what my subconscious was trying to convey.

Naturally, avoiding the study meant no actual writing happened. January dragged on, and I stewed, procrastinating. I told myself I needed to rest and recover my wits. I told myself I still had plenty of time to tackle the challenge. I even made notes about possible resolutions on the back of envelopes or my phone.

The list grew. I knew I needed to decide on only one idea. Still, I resisted, deliberating endlessly whether to read more books on writing and editing or try to learn more by osmosis while reading actual fiction. I debated whether to redraft old material or create new material to post on Vocal. I contemplated exploring a new direction, nonfiction or even poetry! I couldn't decide anything and began to entertain thoughts of giving up on writing altogether.

But, as the deadline for the 2024 New Year's resolution challenge on Vocal approached, I desperately wanted to return to writing. Still, I feared confronting the scattered, mismatched collection of past stories and characters waiting for me in my study. It didn't matter if they were really there or mere figments of my imagination. I knew I had to determine what my creations needed from me.

I hadn't been near the study door for days and heard nothing as I stood before it. Putting an ear to the door revealed again only silence. I knocked on the door, and having received no response, I cautiously opened the door and peeked in. I'll admit I almost ran again, seeing the room still inhabited.

"I told 'em you'd come back, Lad, didn't I, Georgie?" Jockular said.

I cringed. Why had I decided my medieval Viking barbarian had a Scottish brogue. I had to own up to that rookie mistake.

"Yeah, you big oaf. You haven't stopped talking about it since he left weeks ago," George said.

I immediately noted George looked even more bedraggled and exhausted than I usually imagined him. I scanned the rest of my characters. They all looked dull and worn. I swallowed hard, knowing I had to try.

"I'm sorry, everyone. I really am. I really need help with this writing business. Yet, again, I've allowed my fears and need to be perfect to stop me. I'm here to assure you I will come up with a plan. I'll figure it out. I promise. Someday soon, I'll get back to writing," I said.

A groan rippled through the room.

"Laddie, you are on the precipice of something big. There's no more need to scheme and strategize. It's time to take a leap of faith."

"I don't understand," I said.

One of the space characters, a woman who looked as dangerous as she was exquisitely beautiful, spoke up. I recognized her. I had named her Pauline. She was a wonderful femme fatatle character who played the main antagonist in my discarded science fiction novella.

"Look, Ink Brains, it's simple. No need to scour the entire planetary system for the ideal resolution. You're avoiding writing and making excuses, and it's pathetic. I should implant Riker's mind control device in your head and make you write something to submit for the Vocal challenge." she said.

"But it's due today! I can't possibly come up with anything presentable." I said.

"Save it, Mr. Author. You did this to yourself. If you want us to return to our stories, show us you've got asteroids big enough to take the plunge." the femme fatale said.

"But, it won't be any good. I'll just embarrass myself," I said.

"Write. Submit. It doesn't matter if it's crap or not. You'll never get rid of us until you start writing again," Pauline said.

"I should go," I said backing out.

"Ah, no, you don't, Laddie. We've discussed things while we waited for you to drag your sorry hide back in here, and everyone agrees it's time to raise the stakes in this intervention. Trust me, it's for your own good."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"We're going with you. No more locking us up. Where you go, we go," the barbarian said.

"Are you trying to give me a nervous breakdown?" I asked.

"We're trying to help you, Lad, and win peace for ourselves."

The thought of seeing my characters everywhere I went was too much. I caved, surrendering myself to all of them.

"Fine! Why is it so important to submit a substandard writing piece for this particular challenge?"

"It's your resolution for 2024. We're stepping in and assigning you one," George said.

"What? You can't do that? Can you?" I asked.

"We're fictional characters. We can quite literally do whatever you imagine us capable of doing," Pauline said.

"Damn! That's not fair! You know I'm always daydreaming!" I said.

"Write. Submit. Then move on to the next Vocal challenge," the characters said.

"Don't I get any breaks?"

"I think you've used all your break time for a while, Laddie," Jockular said.

"What if it's all horrible, and I get a reputation for being a crackpot author who is lazy and sloppy. I'll be ridiculed," I said.

"No promises, Lad. But you want to be a writer, don't you?" Jockular asked.

I considered the question, but the answer was emphatically yes from every angle I could see.

"I don't care if I make any money, though. I just want to write because it feels right. Any praise or material success is frosting on the cake. And trust me, all we're going to get is cake. So, do I sign a contract? How do I get you all to leave?"

"Just declare the resolution and vow to keep it for one year."

"But January is almost over," I whined.

"Doesn't matter. You still have time to complete the first challenge," Pauline said.

With a resolve I hadn't felt in a long time, I realized all these figments of my imagination, all these characters who in some way were each in their way a weird version of myself, were correct. Write something and submit it.

"I declare 2024 will be the year of honoring the deadline. I promise to submit something for every Vocal challenge applicable to my genre and style of writing. In addition, I will return to each of your stories to revise and repost on Vocal. It's the least I can do to get your stories out there."

The room exploded with applause, and everyone rushed forward in a maddening jumble of hands and arms to snatch me off the ground into the air. I crowd-surfed around the room three times before being plopped at my desk before my computer.

And there before me on the screen was this document written. I read it and recognized my work, but I had only the haziest dream-like memories of typing the words. I turned to find my study empty except for a note on my whiteboard.

Dear Mr. Author,

Seek progress always; perfection is never the goal. Write for the joy of it, and if you are true to yourself and your characters, then you have done well. Congratulations on meeting the first deadline!

P.S. The barbarian wants you to know he's watching.

P.P.S. George says the barbarian is a big softy. The actual character to watch is the space femme fatale who will flush you out of an airlock if you make her return to the real world.

InspirationWriter's BlockChallenge

About the Creator

MatthewKusza

Star Wars Fan! Dungeons & Dragons Geek! Love history! Probably born a hundred years too late, I relish anything from 19th and early 20th century. View world through lens of Tolkein's mythology. Pretty simple, I write about what I love.

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Comments (2)

  • Rachel Watts5 months ago

    Brilliant!! I am right there visualizing this happening and I am laughing and tearing up throughout. #puregenius. It is all about the joy it gives you and others!

  • Tom Kusza5 months ago

    Keep trudging along.

MatthewKuszaWritten by MatthewKusza

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