A writer’s life is a lonely one — so much time is spent in solitude — apart from the outside world. Hours are consumed by days, and just as quickly days are gobbled up by months. Holidays and full moons sit like food crumbs on time’s cold, hungry lips.
All these lonely hours of writing lead the people in your life (the few who are willing to put up with your constant absence) to reach out to you from time to time. “So how’s your writing going?” Each of my parents will ask me this in their own ways. My mother wants to know if I have made some creative breakthrough, my father wants to know if I am making any money.”
The answer to my mother is usually “yes,” the answer to my father is usually “no.” They have very different points of view about how successful I am as a writer.
This all begs the question: Have I given myself to the craft of writing to be consumed by time, or am I trading my time to excel at the craft of writing? Only two of us know the truth, and I am hell-bent on keeping it secret. So, we are left with the old adage: only time will tell.
1. The Invoking of the Muse
As I sit here at my desk, I feel unmotivated. I force myself to write something. Now I am watching words appear on the screen as if independent of my thoughts and actions. I kind of have a headache. I took some ibuprofen earlier. I think the headache is from clenching my jaw. I’m in my mid-thirties and yet I feel like I’m teething or something. Life is so strange. I’m not sure if I believe that beliefs cause outcomes. I mean, I think I believe that, but the outcomes are so wishy-washy that it’s hard to get an accurate read on the data around me. Did I cause that? Maybe…Maybe everything I need to know about the power of my beliefs is present in the words I just said. That is, if I am willing to look at them from a different perspective. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so wishy-washy.
These words just keep appearing on the screen as if independent of me. Writing kind of feels like using a Quija board — Wait! Did you pick those words or did they come from somewhere else? This brings us to the idea of a muse. In the ancient epics, it is a common conceit for the poet to invoke the muse as he begins his story. I guess you could consider what I am doing now, that, because as I sit here at my desk, unmotivated, cleanched jaw, with a headache and teething, I realize that I’m going to need some external help if I want to be productive. Maybe I should take another Ibuprofen, I think, or maybe I should just take a placebo and convince myself it's working.
That’s it! Eureka! Maybe I could convince myself I’m working. I sit here, lacking all motivation, yet somehow words just keep appearing on the screen. Is this all just a game or is there actually some invisible spirit in this room, moving my hand over these letters, sending me a message from beyond.
I snap out of my delusions…
I feel like I have nothing left to say.
Is there anything to that?
To the fact that right as I stop believing the muse is here, words stop forming seamlessly on the screen in front of me.
Invoking the muse as you begin your writing is less of a classical trope, and more of prayer that makes writing commesurate with spirituality. Writer’s block is like a cross that we carry; “My God,” the writer laments, “why have you forsaken me?” [Weirdly, as I typed that last sentence, my hand slipped on the keyboard and the sentence got deleted. (Truly.) I considered whether or not that ‘accident’ was some divine sign telling me that what I was saying was somehow wrong. I thought the sentence seemed clever enough, so I pressed ‘undo’ and just as quickly the sentence reappeared. So instead of deleting the sentence, I kept it and discussed its supernatural tenacity.] I asked God where he was when I needed him, and it turns out He was there all along, giving me a constant stream of things to write about unhindered, I just lacked the vision to see it clearly in the moment. But I see it clearly now as the words continue to appear on the screen as if completely unaided by me.
I somehow feel productive after all. I’m not sure if the Ibuprofen is working or if I just stopped clenching my jaw, but my headache seems to be going away. Or at least I believe it is.
2. An Introduction to the Hero
We often say that one’s weakness is his or her “Achilles’ heel.” This comes from the story of the Greek warrior Achilles. That famous Trojan war hero was dipped in the river Styx by his divine mother, which made him immortal; however, when she was dipping him she was holding him by his heel, and because of this, that part of his body did not get dipped in immortality. As a result it was an arrow shot through Achilles’s heel which led to his death. To put it another way, Achilles would have been completely unstoppable if not for the one small mistake in his creation.
I wonder what my Achilles’ heel is? All heroes have them.
Am I claiming that I am a hero? Not in the conventional sense, no. I am merely claiming that I am the hero of my story. I am the Achilles in this battle. Achilles was the greatest fighter alive, and in my story, I am the greatest writer alive. Am I really? Again, not in the conventional sense, no. But it’s my story and I can do anything I want with it.
Whether or not you find my story believable is a whole other question entirely. And once again, it all comes down to the power of belief. I have surrounded the walls of Troy and I’m here to retrieve believabilty from the antecedents of Rome. If I can summon the bravery and mental fortitude to allow my writing to go whereever it may lead, unencumbered, and come face to face with each unexpected foe on this battlefield — a convoluted plot, a wishy-washy character, an ill-defined theme — I can prove my virtuosity as a writing hero. To do this, however, I need to come in disguise in order to get beyond the proverbial walls you have put up against me. It’s hard for people to let me in; sometimes I come on too strong. Maybe that is my Achilles’ heel.
So as I was saying, I am the greatest writer in the world, fighting my days away on this battlefield (which is to say I am using the analogy of a fighter via the heroic story of Achilles to show my place in this epic world of literature as a writer making a name for himself) and these words are left in my wake as casualties of war. You can see the lines of carnage left behind me — the evidence of my divine gift — as I continue storming these walls, rambling my story. My only mistake is my pride. It is the one huge flaw in my otherwise perfect creation. In other words, it is that conceit that will do me in in the end.
3. A Presentation of the Quest
The Greek leader Agammemnon appropriated Achilles’ spoils of war for himself. I think about self-publishing my work at times like this.
I can hear the harps play. I can hear the horns sound. The triumph of the scene can be clearly seen if we focus on the laurel wreathe that sits atop the hero’s head like a crown. It’s easy to get lost in the myth and fairy tale of it all…
No it’s not!
Life is always there to remind us that it is based in “reality” and not some fantasy world - Snap out of it! You need some money, pal! Rent’s due! Electiric’s due! Water’s due! Phone’s due! Student loans are due! It’s an insurance versus insurance duel! Who will be the one to come out on top? Which one should I pay first? As I snap out of it. They say if you do what you love for a living, you never work a day in your life. What if the thing that you love to do, and the access to the money thereof, is being held captive by some spoiled son of a king? (Past rejections have clearly scarred me; those antecedents of Rome show no mercy.)
Paris stole Helen away. And now I am being dragged halfway across the world to show off my talents. This is a war I never wanted.
4. The Final Battle Scene
Hey editor! I could outwrite your best writer. Just send 'em out!
The Bible teaches us that pride comes before the fall. I believe most of what the Bible says. On an entirely separate subject, people often tell me I’m delusional.
Hector is the best Trojan fighter, but I am Achilles, the best fighter in the world.
I have been honing these skills for years. Sparse sentences acting out the battle scene — Strike! Strike! Strike!
Then the final blow of the sword is clearly visible in a straightforward sentence about the matter.
The defeated foe, on the other hand…
his body has been torn apart.
So likewise, so should the language
that is used to desribe it.
After Achilles killed Hector in battle, Priam, the king of Troy, came to beg Achilles for his son’s body back. To put it another way, words were all the king had left to use against Achilles. “Coming to me like this is going to make you look weak to your people,” I said to him. I recieved an email back from the editor last week and he said that they would love to print my short story in their national publication. I should recieve a check by the end of the week. I may have won the war, but as I see the pain in the king’s eyes I realize that I am no hero.
5. The Journey Home
I sit here in front of this screen, typing away, lost in my daydream. Has the muse been here the whole time, or is my imagination just getting the better of me? Perhaps it’s a little bit of both. Maybe the former causes the latter. I was Achilles in my head a moment ago, but instead of a sword, my weapon was words. Nonetheless, I felt every bit as gifted as that half-god warrior. Now I am Odysseus, his fellow soldier, returning home victorious after that long war.
If I don’t return home then no one will know the story of our victory. If they do not hear the tale of my heroic deeds then the war was fought for naught.
A check in my account is how the outside world tells me my writing matters, but it is my people hearing my heroic tale that actually matters. The money will come and go, but the Odyssey is for ever.
I am finally back where I started.
If writing is such a lonely life, and if one has to give up all of one’s time to do it, then why would anyone want to be a writer? You see, writing is not something you do; it is who you are. The telltale sign that you are doing what you love in life, is that you lose yourself in your work. “Where did all the time go?” is a common question asked by those of us who are living our dream.
Rejection letters and self doubt try to usurp your throne and kingdom, but you won’t let them. This is my story not theirs, I tell myself defiantly. And in my story, it is the hero who wins in the end.
Odyssesus returns home to Ithaca, and reclaims his throne. “Thank God for my safe return,” I hear myself say as I lean back in my chair and put my feet up on the file bin beside my desk. Believe it or not, I am finally at peace.