To Be A Writer

It’s difficult to be a writer.

Sitting down to an empty page staring back at you when you've got a story rattling around in your head that must be let out or it'll drive you insane like its always been there in the very fiber of the universe but it hasn't yet been spoken into being. So you sit down to read this great as of yet untold story and all you've got is an empty cycloptic page glaring at you and you think ‘Wait, where is the story?’, then you remember you’ve got to write it.

This is the first hurdle to the writer. There are others, but this is the first and most excruciating. And it repeats itself after the first page, the first chapter, the first one hundred pages, the first year, and you'll think ‘Shall the blank page devour forever?’ 

The answer, of course, is yes, unless you complete the back breaking work of making it go away, letter after letter, word after word, line after line after meticulously crafted line, trying desperately not to notice how many letter and words and lines and pages are filling the blank spaces all the while keeping niggling track, my god, its maddening.

Then one day you finish, somehow, miraculously, sweet lord above you finished, you filled all the blank pages and you have your story, you've shut up the ghost of your inner audience, and then you go back and read your pages teeming with words, and only then does the real grunt work begin. The editing and tweaking and rewriting and rewriting the rewritten, this process will never end until you slap your own hand and step away, step away to pass on your manuscript to others to read, in which is the second greatest hurdle of the writer and writing's very crux: to write what you want, what you know, without care of outside influence, only driven by the song of story within you, only to release it to the critique of they you wrote it for in the first place (in theory, at least): real people.

So then you release it to the wild of real people and the critiques come rolling back, the questions, the noodling, the outright correcting, disagreeing, the slashing and hatcheting, you all the while trying not to ‘Put on your hard hat’, as my 8th grade English teacher would say, but let your baby be chastised and scolded and bent and molded by others, with a semblance of humility that you do not have because it took all the hubris you could muster in the first place to convince yourself that you were worthy of filling the blank pages, just like convincing yourself you are worthy of filling the blank spaces of the cosmos in your very breathing, yes dear human, it is the same.

So you swallow the sword you've carried to protect your child, swallow it so that you may take into account the critiques and make changes and cuts and edits for the thousandthish time and then you finally have a book, a novel, a great something sort of.  

(Then, hopefully, you will shelve this great something and start the process all over again, because in reality, all first novels suck, just admit it, you will be better off and more humble for it). 

Then, if you really want to be a writer, you submit your writ to the world, right? So now you submit it to agents and publishers only to get rejection letter upon rejection letter and even if you didn't get a form and/or personal rejection and you were to get accepted, you would get an agent with opinions and an editor that knew what would sell best and they would mold and bend and break your baby again and you start to wonder, ‘why am I even writing?'

You do this whole routine 3 or 4 or more times, only to get sick of the rigmarole and finally you self-publish a novel to get the monkey off your back and it’s the wildest novel you have written, but at this point you have the confidence and scars from all the rewrites, late nights, word smeared blank pages and rejections to just let er fly, so you do, then the monkey is off your back, but the freedom from the monkey brings the sudden realization that you haven’t written anything longer than a novella in several years and you’re back at the blank page stage and you think

‘I can’t do this again,’

so instead of start another Great American Novel you write a piece about writing being hard to stave off the DTs of the lack of the imaginary divine spark and desertion of the muse.

You see, there is the Divine Spark of artistry, that moment where the muse of creativity snatches you up and takes you away and you go along no questions asked, like a drunkard bar hopping happily.  The other side of the Divine Spark is the hard work, the craft, the wrangling of the muse, the slaying of the blank page, the morning after the muse's bender - between these two is the art of writing.

Without the muse you are story less, and to be story less is to be wordless, and to be wordless is to be a blank page, which we have already established is the opposite of being a writer.

But even with the story sparked by the muse, if you don’t have the craft, the hard work, the ethic to bust it like a mule in you, you’ve got nothing. Nothing but a blank page.

So you juggle the muse and the craft like knives and torches while trying to tell a new story, any story for godssakes, please, muse, JUST BRING ME A STORY, but you realize the muse has brought you plenty of stories, scads in fact, but none have been finished, so you go back to wring a few out, finally finishing them, hastily, perhaps, but finished for godssakes but you think deep down in your gut ‘were these even worth it, they aren’t artistically divine’.

Then you tell your wife you are quitting writing altogether, but the next day and every day thereafter you tell her about grand story ideas that you never finish even if you start them and she can’t tell if she should inspire you or just placate you because it is clear the voices in your head are driving you mad.

Exhausted of yourself, the muse, and the craft, you look back on your writing ‘career’, which really isn’t a career, it’s a hobby after the 4 kids and the day job, the living and loving and dying. You look back at your past finished efforts for the formula when you never had one in the first place, you just write in faith, but looking back for patterns you start to see patterns:

‘Yeah, I usually do research organically and then I read a good book then I usually travel somewhere and then I write some poetry and then like a month later I start to write a novel and then like 6 months to a year later a book pops out, yeah, that’s it!”

Then you try to emulate the process but the muse doesn’t return and your craft fails you and you get enraged until patiently your wife points out to you that there is no formula, life gets busier, and you still write all the time, sure, short stories and novellas and poetry and some songs, but still you bygod write All. The. Time. Like you gotta monkey on your back. So you feel better and relax for a minute until you’re watching Downton Abbey on a Sunday night and drinking gin, innocently thinking about the plots and story arches and characters on the show until of a sudden you feel the icy hand of the blank page grasp your bowels as you think ‘oh god. I’m wasting time. I should be writing.’

Then, like Tchaikovsky holding his head you go back to everything you’ve ever written, looking back through folders and manuscripts and notebooks and you think, ‘Hey, this aint bad’. ‘I wrote this??’ ‘Where did this come from?’ and you realize that you really are a writer, a storyteller, you’ve got stories that came through you that you never knew existed but it's as if they’ve always been there in the universe, and sure, you need to edit everything for the 18 thousandth time, but yeah man, you got some craft, you got craft from gut wrenching back breaking blank page killing word filling stories, and you check this document you’re writing on being a writer is hard and see its over 1100 words and you’re like ‘hell, my kids would cry if they had to write a 100 word paper’ and you sit back and rest on your laurels, drinking gin and tonic for a minute until you think that that one idea you’ve had for years is actually pretty good, and you should probably start it, yeah, it’s a great story and you’re an old hard working hand by now at this writer thing, so you open an empty document on the computer and you sit there and look at it for a minute and it stares back at you like a wagging finger, the lecherous gaze of Polyphemus, it's blankness a mirror of your existence and in this very realization self doubt, and you think ‘where is the story’, then you realize you gotta write it.  So you panic and go pour another drink and watch TV instead of writing, because hey, its past 10, and that's too late to start a novel, and the empty page will be there in the morning, waiting for you to fill it.

This is what it is to be a writer.