The hardest thing about writing is that you are alone with your personal demons. Now let’s define terms; when I say demons, I mean personal issues so large, so painful, so intimately damaging, that it either cuts your soul to face them, or heals it. You don’t have to be writing about the issues that make up your personal demons to have them torment you as you write. Oh no, it’s more insidious than that, just as writing will call the muses to you, the angels come to dance around you in shining choruses, so creativity calls the demons. I’m sure there are writers out there that are so mentally and emotionally healthy that only angels come to dance around them when they create, but I’m not sure I’ve ever met one of those writers. Most of us are fairly self-torturing, emotional angst seems to come with the job description. I don’t mean we all go through life doom and gloom, oh woe is me. Some of us are fairly cheerful people, actually. What I mean is that when we sit down to write we are alone with our thoughts.
If the idea of being alone with your thoughts doesn’t give you a twinge of panic, then I’m not writing about you, but for most of the writers I know we both crave to be alone to create and dread it. Some days it’s all muse-driven inspiration and the pages flow like the proverbial water from the cleft rock. Those are the days that I love the best. The days that make me think being a writer is a great career and all I was ever meant to do, or be. Then there are days when nothing is coming down the muse-highway. I sit and I stare at the screen for hours, literally sometimes, or I write and erase, or I write and rewrite, and its all terrible. Or the writing is good enough, but it’s like dragging each word out of the void one painful inch at a time. Those are the days when I think, maybe I should have bought that horse farm, or become a field biologist, or . . . runaway and joined something, somewhere, anywhere but in this one room in front of this damned computer, trying to draw words out of thin air.
“If you can’t stand your own company alone in a room for long hours, or, when it gets tough, the feeling of being in a locked cell, or, when it gets tougher still, the vague feeling of being buried alive–then don’t be a writer.”
― Graham Swift
Your angels tell you positive things and hold hands with your muse, or sing behind her like upbeat backup singers, but your demons . . . they sing other songs. They start out with actual issues from your past, and most writers have things that haunt them, its part of what fuels most of us, but after they hit the real issues the demons move onto other things, false things, lies. Demons are those voices in your head that tell everyone, “You’re not good enough. She’d/he’d never go out with you. You’re too fat, too thin, too short, too . . . something. Your thoughts aren’t important enough to fill a whole book? That’s boring, you’re boring. People will hate your writing. They’ll reject you. She/he will reject you.” See, everyone has those negative voices in their heads that I call demons, its just that some of us have louder ones, or more persistent ones, or maybe we just don’t know how to shut them out as well as you do.
I never sweated rejection either in dating, or in writing, I accepted it as a given in both. But it was just one boy saying, no, he didn’t want to go out with me. Okay, there, done. Now I knew he wasn’t interested so I could move on and find someone who did want to date me. I always saw it as their loss, not mine. Dating you have a fifty/fifty chance, but writing is much harsher odds. Writing is designed to get you rejected.
“The first thing you have to learn when you go into the arts is to learn to cope with rejection. If you can’t, you’re dead.”
― Warren Adler
I like writing quotes, they help me realize that what I’m feeling is felt by a lot of wordsmiths. I am not slogging in the literary salt mines alone, or at least while I’m digging in my mine, I know others are getting just as tired and discouraged as I am. I find that comforting, and one of the reasons I’m doing this blog is to reach out to other writers, especially the beginning ones and say, “Look it’s hard, even for me, but if I can do it, you can do it.” You are not alone.
But we are alone while we create, and most of the time that’s great. In fact a certain amount of solitude is absolutely necessary for most of us to write a novel, or even a short story. We need to be uninterrupted by real flesh and blood people while we play with our imaginary ones. But the rub is, alone with our thoughts means there’s no distraction from what’s in our heads, our hearts, our souls. We try to pour all that onto the paper and turn into fiction and share it with others, but . . . You knew there was a but, didn’t you? But the personal demons come like vultures on days when the writing is slow, and the muse is reluctant or missing in action. On days when the writing flows and shines, and it feels like magic, you can almost feel the brush of angel feathers on your cheeks, but on the other days, the hard days, if there are feathers anywhere around you, they’re black. Black isn’t a bad color necessarily, Odin’s ravens are black and He is a God of inspiration, poetry, language, and magic, so black wings can inspire and lead you to greatness, but they can also pick over the corpses of your dead dreams like carrion crows.
My demons don’t have wings of any color, or pitchforks, or any of the traditional Western ideals of devils and demons. My demons are the voices in my head that tell me, I can’t. That I’m turning perfectly good paper into garbage, or back in the day when there was no internet and everything had to be printed and mailed, “I was killing trees to no purpose.”
Those are the days when I’m most likely to post things on twitter about fighting dragons, but dragons are not demons. The latter come wherever they smell hesitation like blood in the water for sharks, they gather when they feel you weaken. A moment of doubt is all the negative voices need to whisper horrible things in your ear. One of the ways I chase them back, force them to shut up and leave me alone to create is to pick up my metaphorical shield and sword and go hunting the dragon. I see it as taking the fight to the monster, rather than letting the monster have the upper hand. On a bad day, the dragon wins, but I know that I will take up my sword, my pen, my keyboard, the next day and I will fight on.
I’m going to stop writing the blog now, because that can be a distraction from the actual purpose of writing novels. Blogs are so fast and so much easier than writing a novel, especially on days when the demons are loud in my head. I’ll leave you with some more quotes that seem appropriate for the topic of inspiration, personal demons, personal Angels, and dragons.
“If I got rid of my demons, I’d lose my angels.”
― Tennessee Williams, Conversations with Tennessee Williams
“An artist is a creature driven by demons. He doesn’t know why they choose him and he’s usually too busy to wonder why.”
― William Faulkner
“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
– Jack London
“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”
― G.K. Chesterton
People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.
– Harlan Ellison