We all have demons that keep us from writing. I’ve named mine, but I’m betting you know them.
First is Eggbert. He sits on your keyboard in a sleepy, warm little pile, his soft belly spreading over your keys. He’s pale pink and covered with white, silky hairs. His brown eyes have enormous, slow-blinking lids and his rat nose would be frightening if it weren’t for those baggy jowls. Eggbert says in his phlegmatic voice, “You’ve got nothing to write today anyway.” He gives you the most tantalizing yawn and rolls over. If you’re agreeable, he’ll let you scratch his tummy while he tells you of all of the comfy, lovely other things you could be doing. When he sees this isn’t working, he’ll pull out his secret weapon, “You know, if you (go for a walk, lie on the sofa, watch a little telly, take a hot bath, get out among the people) it might really loosen up those creative juices.”
Here’s what you do: Grab Eggbert’s mushy form up in one hand. Smack him on the behind and drop kick him into the corner. You likely won’t see him again ’til another day, as he tends to sleep where he falls.
Buster is the thug demon of sixth grade. He looks like you’d expect. He’s an overall humiliator and is heavily armed because he knew you way back when. He lays the past humiliation of wedgies, spitballs, and fake love notes around your shoulders as he mocks you. He says, “Look at you, bigtime writer. Haha! A WRITER! Puhlease. You’ll never get published, you’re gonna write and write and write for years and nothing’ll happen for you because you’re the one with that flat, flat hair and those highwaters we made fun of and no one is ever ever going to forget that candy-snap rust colored velour shirt or your purple framed glasses. Why even bother. You never could write.” Buster is pretty much immune to physical abuse. So just remember that he’s running a gas station back in your hometown and is addicted to beer and Fox News. He tried to run a disability scam but the company wouldn’t pay, so now he spoons sugar into every twenty fifth car’s gas tank to retaliate. Turn your back to him, knowing this.
And get back to work.
So you get writing. Buster’s gone. He evaporates if you ignore him hard enough. Eggbert’s off in a corner upside down with his tail falling in his eyes
And you start to write. And the keys move faster. And you may actually have the beginning of a fragment of a thought that might turn into something. And your sails billow and you feel like this may be a journey worth taking.
But then you look up and Miss Nibs is there. She’s tall, skinny, has spectacles at the end of her nose, and she’s leaning against your computer screen. Keep a ruler handy because it’s the only way to deal with her.
Miss Nibs has at her disposal every misspelled word, grammar mistake, and red-marked note on every school paper you ever wrote. She holds every C minus, every B plus on what you thought was an A and, deep in her pockets, she holds that F you got in geology. Miss Nibs is there to tell you that you shouldn’t write, because you can’t. She reminds you that you are not smart enough. One good whack on the nose with the ruler and a sharply exclaimed, “You’re not a writer!” and she will slink away. Because Miss Nibs is a grammarian and a corrector. She never could write.
Get back to your work and whatever you do, don’t look over in the corner. For there sits Oliver in a wing-backed chair. He’s green and smug and reminds you of that guy in college, the one with inexplicable appeal. Everyone wanted to hang out with him, but you never knew why. Pardon his cravat, his pipe, his Masterpiece Theater smoking jacket, his hip chunky horn-rims and his general air of entitled well being — he just wants to remind you of all of those who have succeeded in this field of writing. If you look at him too long, your heart will race with book publications, cushy tenured university posts and parties and contracts and houses in the country and honorary degrees and movie deals and thanks and all of the things that you — he hates to say it — are not even close to getting. Because you’re not good enough. This guy’s a real bastard. Because he’s made of castles in the sky and if you stare at him too long you’ll forget that the reason you’re here in the first place is to write. The magic charm to disappear this smug fuck is, “Oliver, what are you working on?” Because he isn’t writing. He’s gotten too high off the success. He’s actually stuck on page five of the first book of his three book deal at Random House. He’ll deflate, then wither, then disappear.
So you’ve bid your demons goodbye, you’re listening hard to the muse and to your material, things are going well, and you get to draft. It’s here you’ll meet the last and perhaps the most insidious demon. This is the demon who makes sure that a lot of good writing never sees the light of day. The demon of revision. The nihilist.
He doesn’t have a name. I just call him, “little fucker.” You’re looking at a large body of work that you’ve amassed, or a single story or poem you had some confidence in yesterday. You look at it with revision in your heart and he creeps onto your shoulder and whispers evil things in your ear about how your voice is terrible, what you write is shit, and none of it matters. He asks you why you thought you should write this piece of crap in the first place.
Here’s what you do: Lean forward over the keyboard like you’re writing something really, really intense. He’ll lean in to see what it is. Loop one arm around his neck and throw him forward. He’ll never see it coming. When he falls forward into your laptop, slam it shut. Cause that fucker’s no good for writing. He is a big ol’ negative TIME SUCK. Let him go prey on someone else.
Because none of these guys matter. These guys are all about other people, past and future. These guys have nothing to do with the work at hand, the piece, the writing, the doing it every day. And if you sit down and blow these fuckers off, you will accomplish great things. You’re a writer. Carpe diem.