Rhymer’s Blog on Life
|Come with me...I wanna discover the world, and I don’t wanna do it alone.|
(or, I Only Write for Rewards)
All the writing I participated in over the last forty years, all the works I started before losing interest because I was certain I am not a writer sit with heft on a table in my office. That illustrious and fast-paced world of literary fame was something I could never have hoped to jump into, a dream only for those who know what they’re doing and are destined for something great from the start. And, yet, one of my first memories is as a little boy, maybe three or four years old. I was excited when my mom received a typewriter, even if I didn’t have a clue what the machine was actually for. I sat in the kitchen in front of the heavy, black thing while the snow danced to the ground outside, but I used the entire day to peck out a one-page story on a piece of wide-ruled paper about a cat. When my step-dad came home and read it, he found a spelling error and proceeded to edit my work. All I knew for sure was that I had spent all day on this, and in just a few little clicks on the typewriter, he crossed out my misspelled word. I was infuriated. I yanked the paper from the antique, the damn thing offering more resistance than I had anticipated as I dramatically tugged the sheet of paper, and I ripped the story into pieces as I ran to my bedroom. I writhed on my bed, tears forced by the agony of artistry.
The whole experience should have been the first indication I am a writer.
Through the next thirty-five years or so, I began so many projects, so many stories with no real characterization or destination. I wrote anyway. I still have legal pads full of stories from when I was in high school, story after story because it was just what I did. I’m not trying to be cute here; without realizing it, in my free time, I wrote to amuse myself. I felt powerful having characters do what I wanted them to, living lives I could only dream of. In my office is a table full of notebooks and papers of stories started with no intent to finish them.
Still never realized I am a writer.
A few years ago, I set out to write my first book. It took eight months to write 70,000 words. Once completed, I put the first draft on the shelf to allow myself some distance for six weeks, then went back and read it.
I quickly felt this was not a good novel. I didn’t know why exactly, but something about the mechanics just didn’t work. It was a good start of something, or to something, but the seeds of magic hadn’t been properly planted. I began researching and reading everything I could find about how to actually write. The elements in my failed novel that wouldn’t work began to highlight themselves, beginning with the first four chapters of backstory. The more I studied the actual craft of writing, the more I realized there was no character arc, no real progression of an interesting story within my novel.
In short, I had created something that should serve as the poster-child for everything to avoid when writing a book.
Turns out, writing is much more difficult than I could have guessed. I think it may be true that everyone has the ability to sit down and write a book; only a fraction of those have the talent to write a good one. I imagine only the smallest piece of the fraction have the patience to learn how to use and be used by the art of writing. Not everyone has the ability to focus on the more difficult and mundane aspects of storytelling so the reader is left to enjoy the story without the task of editing typos or finding an obvious plot hole - work the author should have already done.
Doing research for a story can be overwhelming. For a reader to give twenty percent imagination to the book, the author has to give eighty percent realism, or so I believe, something so that the reader can jump into a world of imagination and wonder without feeling hindered, without being ripped from the story to contemplate the believability of the written situation. With the right amount of realism in a story, there’s nothing that can’t be believed. Eighty percent translates into a lot of research to ensure the reader has nothing to think about beyond the actual story, nothing to do but fall in love with or hate the characters they’ve invested in. Research is the key to believability which, in turn, yields the potential for magic.
The act of writing is grueling, a lonely environment causing mental exhaustion by day’s end. Forget typos and messed up chronological timelines; the real mental exercise comes from the juggling act a writer must perform as he or she balances between characterization, plot, and progression, all while attempting to maintain a freshness within the story to make it as interesting as possible. It’s an odd dance, to think without thinking, to allow the characters to become who they’re working toward while I hover overhead and monitor their progress, keeping it all on track.
I think, for me, the worst part of writing is trying to rest when my muse wants a job done. I don’t know if other writers experience this or not, so maybe I’m just creating conversation here, but there are days when, while I’m attempting to nap, I can feel an itching in my core, a desire to produce something. It feels much like I think ants in the pants do, except I call it “Muse in the Fuse”. It’s a drive to write even when I’m trying to stay away from such addictions. But it calls, and, for a writer – and maybe it’s true for art in general – there is no escape. The only way to please this feeling is to write something, anything. Get it out, and soothe the muse.
It does feel like the work is not worth whatever rewards might be reaped. A writer isn’t guaranteed fame or money, we aren’t even sure people will read the words we put to paper or screen. So why do it if nobody cares? What’s the point?
The hard work described above is the way one grows. The only alternative is to stop writing altogether, and it also the only way to fail. Once we quit writing, we stop being writers; we become scribblers and people who copy, but we are no longer writers and creators when we become too good to become better, especially in a world where, as Hemingway put it, nobody will ever master the art. The only way to truly fail in writing is to give up.
It seems perfectly obvious to me that a writer would want to strive to change and evolve into something better for the sake of him or herself. What do we do when, as babies, crawling becomes inefficient and falling down hurts? We figure out a way to be better, to move by walking and strengthening our muscles. We learn naturally how to be better humans. The same is true with writing. There’s a point where we do all we can as writers on our own, and then we need outside help, eyes foreign to our work. We can only become better by showing someone else what we’ve created. It stings to hear that a piece of work isn’t as perfect as I’d thought, but I love that pain, that slicing of my personal feelings because the story becoming better is far more important than my ego. I know that sting means the story is worth making better, worth putting in the work. It’s not about money or clout…the reward is that I’ve achieved something small during the creation process, and that keeps the process going, the desire to do the absolute best I can simply because I want to.
The hard work brings about a better quality of work, and, for me, it brings along a higher standard of what I want to be as a human being. Completing something and then making it better, and then stepping it up still…it feels good to do something for real that I’ve felt in my heart for so long. There’s a strength there fueling who I am.
The best reward is finishing a project, producing a more tangible version of a world I’ve ever only seen inside my head. To create a work I can believe in, to hold it in my hand and know it represents so many hours of research and typing, all the nights of lying awake and replaying a scene over and over until I feel nauseated from the stress, it feels good. It is the physical culmination of hopes and dreams and personal magic, and that’s the ultimate reward for me. To hold the manuscript, to know the ink and paper are so much more than their physical attributes, that’s where I find home.
There’s no way I can write without so many of my psychological truths surfacing. It’s a little easier to see who I am when I inspect the theme of my novel, when I can see what’s really me and what’s imaginary. It becomes a beacon of who I am right now, a testament of who I’ve become versus how I’d like to see myself. There is a list of psychological translations protruding from this story I’ve written, and that list seems to be eternal. It’s scary to think about what I might expose about myself, but it’s fun to see who I am because of the characters just doing what they do.
The more I accomplish, the more I achieve, and the easier it is to discover the strength of my desire to be better. With learning how to correct my current novel to near-perfection comes a yearning to deliver an even better performance next time. I like my book, I believe in the story, and I love some of the characters. I want to do everything to make sure they receive the best representation I can offer. But there’s always a next project just over the horizon, and if that’s the case, why not try to learn? If the first book is good, then shouldn’t the second one be kick-ass? And that’s the fire commencing the cycle of writing, with the end result, hopefully, translating into a human who wants to discover the magic within himself, someone who wants to grow.
Whether I knew or it not, I have always been some kind of writer with no real purpose or direction. Only in recent weeks have I begun to suspect the reality that maybe I can hold my own eventually in the realm of writing. Even more to the point, maybe I should be doing this, if not for any reason other than evolving from the inside. In that light, it turns into something more personal, more spiritual. I feel like I’m discovering new parts of myself. It’s like I’m coming out again, except instead of being gay, this time I’m a writer. Finding that bit of who I am, that hint of purpose, I think, is all I needed to figure out a bigger picture, a frame I’m honored to be in. I’ve already experienced just a little of the magic, a taste, and I now want to do everything I can to feel that magic again and again. To be a better person is why I write. It fills all the requirements I have defining a spirituality. It’s the altar upon which I’ve been sacrificed by the muse, not so I can experience the ego of martyrdom, but so I can pay my dues as a newbie, appreciative and eager to evolve.
(or, TF is That Knitting in the Corner of My Bedroom?)
Kelly Clarkson has labeled the year 2020 as a dumpster fire, and one only has to look as far as the inner workings of one’s heart to understand how the results of the year changed each of us in the form of ashes and half-burned debris. However, when we sift through the damage as one does after a disaster, it’s easy to find those things within the rubble that cause us joy and excitement, remnants of a former life that bring us happiness not comprehended by others. That’s our reward for living through the previous year: we find pieces here and there, scraps of life that help carry us into the next phase of our lives.
We all found hobbies during The Great Quarantine, we met with an art form that forced us to grow or accept failure. One treasure I found in the isolation while sorting through the destruction is writing. I did not discover the process of writing this year; I’ve been playing with words and stories for thirty-five years to amuse myself. Professionally, it always had the potential of turning into something more real, something that could happen, but I never saw it as a dream to pursue. I wrote a book a few years ago, and when the time came for the revisions, it was clear I had no choice but to literally rewrite the entire story. The thing had no structure, no real arc, and the first four chapters were backstory.
The realization was soon clear: this was a much larger task than I had anticipated, and I had only cleared the first hurdle of writing the actual story. Part of learning, for me, at least, is knowing when I haven’t done as well as I know I can. I took myself to the books and internet, reading as much information as the authors could produce. I learned everything I could about the elements that work together to create a story and to make it work.
I also learned how lonely the process of the art of writing really is. Even in the height of creation and use of magic by moving words around, the procedure is still little more than one person in front of a screen while banging on a keyboard. However, when in the presence of others, it’s difficult to communicate story development to someone who hasn’t yet read the story. And there is a reason for this secrecy, a logic as to why the author lives in a bubble while he or she is creating magic: any opinion from outside the author’s head has the power to alter or derail the entire process. With one criticism, a change could be made to a character, and, as a result, a story could differ from the original course, directing the plot toward a path antithetical from the initial ideas for the story. We generally keep silent when creating so we may produce something consistent and enjoyable, a result that is the psychological culmination the author, and it requires the steep price of loneliness concluding in a sense of detachment.
The universe of my mind introduced me to Reginald late one night after I had already settled into bed, the sheets threatening to carry me into the unknown as my body shut down for rest. I awoke in the bedroom of my mental capacities one morning, the light from my office escaping under the closed door. Not accustomed to someone else existing within the privacy of my mind, I left the comfort of my bed and walked toward the door, the sounds of frustrated grunting and exasperated laughter dominating over the noise of shuffling papers from beyond the wooden barricade. I turned the knob and pushed open the door, determined to find out who was disturbing my mental rest.
It was the only time we have interacted with each other personally. The sounds ceased, and I entered a quiet room. There, in my chair, was the muse about whom I have heard so much. His body stiffened, his eyes widened, and he stared. There was no question I had interrupted his work. I backed out with slow awkwardness, and within a few minutes, the clamor of creating and editing resumed.
I can’t be sure Reginald is he or she. For the sake of explanation to those who may not understand the muse, and because I am a pretty simple male, I identify with it as a male. I don’t even know his name, to be honest. He’s never left it anywhere, and our relationship doesn’t require that we speak. For all I know, where he’s from, his name is Maximus Potentate Artaxerxes the Eighth. But we both seem to accept the situation as it is with few labels. I don’t need to know his details, and it isn’t necessary for him to acknowledge my existence in order to function.
We work in opposite shifts. He waits until I’m sleeping, and then he creeps in from somewhere I’ve never heard of, nestles into the office (so I assume), and starts working without hesitation. Sometimes I awaken to the sounds of printing and typing and realize he’s there, and I try to fall back asleep so as not to disturb him nor his process. We have never occupied the same space at the same time. Maybe he’s a superhero.
By our natures, Reginald and I have different styles. I do the physical work by touching keys and placing words into the formula of syntax within the rules of grammar, and I organize the creation to its physical manifestation. He, however, does what I consider to be most of the real work, the hard work. I know this because he leaves his work in a light blue folder on my desk when his day is done, a file with bits and pieces of story, descriptions of characters, maybe some drawings…but the evidence is there, and it is the gusto to which I arrive at my keyboard.
He can be a bit of a diva, needy and demanding. His requirements are sometimes difficult to meet, but he seems to survive on four points.
Sleep is the prerequisite under which he best works. If I am not resting enough, if I’m not sleeping, he has less time to do his magic.
He demands a serious diet of art. I know writing and music, but I don’t understand the more visual arts. I believe he is the one with the better education, because he understands and appreciates a painting more than I do.
He insists on discipline. He is dependable, but only if the artist is, also. He puts in amazing work, but he only rises to the occasion if the author is willing to exert the same effort. Otherwise, why would he even show up if his work is ignored?
He demands dedication to the project. I learn as much as I can to ensure he has all the resources necessary for him to produce the brilliance for which he exists. He requires these four aspects, and he wants them offered with consistence. If I display laziness, he threatens absence. He is only as serious as I am.
These demands are more work than I could have ever imagined. With the introduction of Reginald, I was also introduced to Rhymer, the writer in me who has to meet the standards set forth by Reginald. And it is fair that I do all of the heavy work. When I do the labor and allow him the space to grow and function, he rewards me with more than I could have dreamed of. When it’s difficult for me to move the story from point L to point N, Reginald creates point M so I can get there. If I am writing dialogue that progresses as slowly as myself running a marathon through syrup and peanut butter, Reginald leaves his outline for the matter in his blue folder. Given what he needs, I find he opens my mind to inspiration. As I’m editing, he submits his own thoughts and critiques. He pushes the rewrites, and without him, creating would be improbable. He is the partner I need when I don’t even realize how much I depend on him.
There are many details of our relationship I still can’t explain. I’m unsure of what he does to fill his spare time. I don’t know what formal education he has (though he seems much more academic than myself), and I have no idea where his house or apartment is. Does he have a wife or a husband? What kind of schedule does he keep? I don’t have these answers. I don’t even know what he knows or thinks about me. These specifics, though interesting, are inconsequential regarding the more detailed picture. As long as he provides me what I need in order to find success within myself, he finds life to do what he loves. It’s symbiotic, and I appreciate him. And as long as he continues doing that which he loves, I can continue to do what I love. Until my dying day, I will do my best to feed him and make him happy.
Besides, I don’t want to wake up one night to find him at the foot of my bed staring down at me like a hungry cat waiting to fill his bowl. I already have five of those.