It’s winter break and all the students slouch back to their separate rainy rooms. Damn exhausting, keeping all this energy restrained, meted out in studious amounts, spent on projects we are told are important. Our world of black ink and white paper is suddenly free to explode into any color we fucking choose.
We hibernate, curled in blankets, dreaming art, consuming art through open mouths like suckling infants or iPhones recharging, recuperating, finding our muses again. Parents shake their heads: “Why don’t you do something?” they ask, and we can’t explain it, but we know we are. We need this.
And then, when we are ready, smoggy-eyed and bad-breathed from coffee and alcohol–our medicine and chlorophyll–we burst upright in our beds. Oh, we are so swollen and pregnant with possible art. It swells up, coiling and uncoiling like alien DNA, and we give birth to new things, real things, important things that no one else understands.
Do you ever look at someone you know – a friend, relative, significant other – and get suddenly horribly jealous that you did not come up with their character first? That you cannot claim the right of creation for this nuanced, multifaceted, beautiful individual?
Today my older cousin had a baby. What a contribution to the world – a brand new human being, a soul, a real live person. Nothing I could ever write – no matter how brilliant – could compete with that kind of pure, sacred creation.
There is something so pretentious and uncomfortable about beginning a book, like breaking a long pause in conversation to tell an elaborate anecdote about yourself. You hope it’s interesting and relevant and that the listener can relate, but you both know it’s mostly because you like the sound of your own voice.
Go out for a coffee on a rainy day. Sit in your car and drink it all by yourself. Turn off the radio, and listen to the hum of the engine and the patter of water on the hood, running down the windshield. Tell yourself a story in a low, sentimental voice between thoughtful sips of hot, sweet caffeine. Feel the inspiration come.
Writing is not like dancing or modeling. With those art forms, your peak is twenty and it’s all downhill from there. With writing, time and age does nothing but enhance and build one’s skill and understanding. So stop stressing out, trying to write the perfect story right now, and realize that it might not come until you are sixty. But when it does, it will be amazing, formed out of all you’ve done before.
Your muse is a jealous lover, and the pact you enter into with her is dangerous, all-consuming, and demands your dedication. She won’t be cast aside and wait patiently for you to return to her. She’ll snatch you away from more pressing matters with a sudden burst of inspiration and that itch to write at the base of your skull. Or she’ll leave you, let you stagnate in front of a blank page for weeks, if you do not give her the constant attention that she demands.
To appease my muse, I think I will go to a cafe and sit quietly and listen to her, pen in hand, free from other distractions. Maybe then she’ll learn to love me again . . .
A word of warning: As writers, we are creators, gods . . . but only in our rooms, at our desks, on the pages we write. In the real world, we are just another human being trying to sell a commodity we believe other people need, and writers-in-training would do well to remember this when dealing with publishers. No indignant rants, please, no streams of complaints, perfectionist critiques, or snobbish appearances. They do not want your book badly enough to bow to your godliness.
Get on a computer and design the dream cover of your finished book. Print it out and tack it to the wall above where you write. Imagine the way it will feel in your hands, thick and heavy and hot off the presses. Imagine stacking them on shelves like bricks with their beautiful glossy spines shouting your name over and over in authoritative lettering. Imagine a stranger finding it in a bookstore and thumbing through it, wondering if they should buy it.
Repeat every time you find yourself losing interest in your work.