“I am a galley slave to pen and ink.”
--Honore de Balzac
Every now and then, a tricksy little monster scurries up my spine, slithers over my neck, and curls around my ear. Hidden beneath the fall of my hair, he’s unseen—but always felt. His pointed claws knead my flesh like a cat settling into a blanket.
And then he begins to speak.
As bad as his pinecone prickled skin feels against mine, the monster’s words are worse. I know he’s a monster. I know he’s bad. But somehow…somehow I find myself believing him.
“You’re no good,” He says. “You can’t do this. Who are you to swim in the same current with people like them?” His forked tongue flicks against my earlobe, like a pointing finger, and before me are the ghosts of so many people I admire.
I’ve lopped the head off of this monster before but like the Hydra, there’s always more to replace it. At moments like this, I find myself retreating—from people, from life, from writing.
I used to think the monster was mine alone but I’ve learned that he has many cousins and they’re busy little demons. I was reading On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King and spotted one of the slippery little buggers right there on the page.
Mr. King was relating the story of getting caught at school—selling his own rendition of The Pit and the Pendulum—and meeting with the principal. She said to him, “What I don’t understand, Stevie, is why you’d write junk like this in the first place. You’re talented. Why do you want to waste your abilities?”
In this case, I think that monster found a way to transmit its voice directly. I don’t think it was alone. He goes on to say, “I was ashamed. I have spent a good many years since—too many, I think—being ashamed about what I write.”
My own monster purred. I felt like I’d been slapped.
Before I could wonder if the infestation of monsters could ever be exterminated, Mr. King said this: “I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent. If you write…someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.”
He was as good as admitting that these monsters were alive and well and infecting a great deal more writers than I thought. No, I am not saying people are monsters (although we have the capability to become them). On the whole, I believe the best of people, believe that they’re inherently good. I just happen to be intimately acquainted with my monster—like I suppose many other writers are too.
With monsters hanging off of people’s ears like Bluetooth headsets, how does anyone manage to create anything—be it a novel, music, or popsicle-stick art?
I believe in opposition. As I believe in the monster, so too do I believe in angels. I’ve had personal angels, friends and loved ones who buoy my spirits and help my find my feet. I’ve had angels at a distance, voices that carry over the chasm of time and sprinkle truths from their wings. Sometimes an angel comes through song, lyrics and notes surging back against a tide of dark and washing my doubts out to sea. And there’s the tiny angel, a whisper in my heart that tells me to believe.
Even if all these angels do is keep the monster at bay, it gives me the time to remember what I’m doing and why. What’s my Why? I’ll leave that one to Stephen King.
“Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”
I’m filling my glass and drinking deep.