By Tracy Clark
Recently, I was kicking back in my Dorothy Gale ruby slipper socks, and it hit me like an apple lobbed by a talking tree in a haunted forest how the story of “The Wizard of Oz” kinda of correlates to the writers’ journey, a journey fraught with setbacks and obstacles—like, for instance, poisoned poppy fields, flying monkeys and cantankerous witches with footwear obsessions.
It starts off slow, your writer life. You’re clueless. You have more desire than skill. You’re mired in drudgery, like, say, slopping pigs on a dingy farm in the middle of nowhereville. The slopping is us typing out clunky words in a messy first draft, knowing full well half those words will be cut in draft six. It’s slow-going on the farm, not a tinct of color anywhere. We can sing all we want about some perfect Writer Island over a rainbow where bluebirds fly, but right here’s where we’re at, and it’s gloomy as all get-out.
Then the twister hits and blows all your pages to the four winds. Nothing makes sense. You went to bed the night before thinking your stuff wasn’t half bad; you wake the following morning with the sinking feeling that half bad is all bad. There’s nothing in that crystal ball to give you solace. You start again, leaning into a horrendous funnel cloud, figuratively. It’s writer v. nature, you against the twister, and you know for a fact you’re not making that storm cellar before Uncle Henry locks the door behind him.
Elvira Gulch is self-doubt pedaling in on that rickety bicycle trying to steal your joy. She’s you trying to talk you out of believing in yourself. She’s got that dumb basket, but Toto’s not going in it, your manuscript is. If you give her power, she transforms into an evil witch. Don’t let Elvira/Witchy tear you down. You’ve got to get to Oz!
Munchkinland is you not writing. It’s less stressful not writing, easier on the nerves. It’s nice in Munchkinland. The houses are pretty, there are all those flower boxes. I bet the food’s good there too. But you cannot stay there. You have to follow the Yellow Brick Road and get out of Dodge before Elvira Witchy creeps back in and convinces you that you’re a fraud.
So, you’re off. In the slippers. On the road to Oz. With doubt chasing you on an old timey broom. The Scarecrow is you. The Tinman is you. The Cowardly Lion? You. You sometimes lack the heart to continue, sometimes your brain won’t work the way you need it to, and you’re often afraid because the path is dark. There’s a fork in the Yellow Brick Road, you’ll have to choose. Writing is nothing but a million choices. Fine, you pump yourself up, choose a path, and go, and that’s when everything hits the fan—crabby trees hurl their crabapples at you (rejection letters), flying monkeys in cool little monkey jackets swoop in, grab you up and deposit you right back at Witchy’s feet. Lions, tigers, bears? They’re all the haters. Pssst. They’re working with Witchy.
Oz is publication, often the goal, but not always the goal. But the guy with the big moustache dressed all in green who guards the door to the good stuff isn’t about to let you in. He’s got bigger fish to fry and stacks of query letters and partial manuscripts on his desk. But you nail that query. You thread the needle. The double doors swing free. The heavenly music starts. You’re in, baby!
But not so fast. You’ve made it, you’ve had your ride around the place in a coach pulled by that tie-dyed horse, had your hair done, buffed the dents out of your tin, but Oz looks a lot smaller than you thought it would, and once the horse promenade is over, guess what? The people of Oz have to get back to work and you have to do it all again—the poppies, the monkeys, apple concussion, the dicey road. And Witchy, because in this writing game water doesn’t do a darn thing to vanquish self-doubt, stays. You stay too. The balloon ain’t coming.
And the funny part about it is, I don’t think any of us would have it any other way.
So, I’m going to just wear my socks and think about all that. I may even click my heels three times for kicks when no one’s watching, but not for long, because if you give Witchy an inch, she’ll take a Yellow Brick mile.
What movie best captures your writing journey?