Your Biggest Challenge as a Writer -and What To Do About It - Part 11
OK, so you’ve begun.
Not just talking about being a writer, or complaining about not having enough time to write, or hitting yourself on the head for procrastinating, but actually acting upon your innermost desire to be a writer.
You’ve made a commitment; you’ve nailed something to the mast of your life; you’ve openly discussed this with people you need to discuss it with. Perhaps you have even managed to eke out a more serious block of time than you have ever managed to before and have written something.
What does the future look like?
One of the biggest and most convincing illusions presented to us as human beings is the weight and power of what we call the past. Habits, routines, associations, patterns, commitments with which we are entangled and so forth - all creep around us like a giant boa constrictor, slowly squeezing out our oxygen as they hypnotise us into submission and convince us to return to the ‘old ways’.
There’s a scene in C. S. Lewis’s book, The Silver Chair, in which two children and a creature known as Puddleglum are trapped in an underworld ruled by a green witch, who is attempting to enchant them. Using beautiful and seductive music and overpowering aromas, she tries to persuade them that the things that they have talked about in the upper world, the world of daylight from which they have come, are all illusions. The sun, she maintains, is but an idea based upon the lantern hanging from her ceiling; and Aslan, the Great Lion, who is the king of the upper world in the story, is nothing more than a projected image of her household cat. Everything that they know to be true, in other words, the witch tries to convince them is a subjective extension of things that they have observed in her world. There is no other world; they have been deluding themselves.
They almost fall prey to her spell, but then Puddleglum steps forward and stamps out the fire which was producing the perfume that was making them all drowsy. As they begin to recover, he makes a statement:
‘One word, Ma’am,' he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. ‘One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one more thing to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things - trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's a small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say.’
The enchantment is shattered; the witch’s spell fails and she tries to subdue them by becoming a giant serpent and subduing them by force. Naturally, she is slain. The heroes go on to escape from the underworld and emerge into the light.
The past can act like that on us. Its patterns and procedures, schedules and customs can lull us into a lifestyle which makes our higher senses drowsy. Yes, we have realised that we are supposed to be writers - but then there’s the laundry or dishes to be done, and a job to go to, and appointments next week that were booked long ago. We have been ‘pre-programmed’ to behave in certain ways by - well, by ourselves, acting upon what we thought was the best at the time. The light of understanding that we are Supposed To Be Writers can seem as weak as a candle in front of the broad sunlight which lies before us, waiting to consume us, as soon as we look up from the page.
This is the gravity of inertia. If it fails to lull, it can swiftly become more forceful: the writer’s retreat we booked might have to be abandoned when illness in the family arises; the two weeks we set aside to write might get swallowed up by an unplanned visit from relatives; the annual leave we had organised so that we could make s serious dent in our novel might get cancelled due to some disaster at work.
This is where, like Puddleglum, we must be brave enough to stamp on the fire, despite the pain.
And we have to keep our eyes on what lies beyond the witchery of the present: a new life, orientated around doing what we love; a successful life, perhaps with some lowered expectations as far as material things are concerned, but with far greater satisfactions.
What can we expect next?
First, we can expect a false dawn.
We shrug off all of the above, apparently killing the snake of the past, and stride forward to write, having arranged the time and feeling stronger than ever before in our intention to do so. And for a while, we accomplish something. Perhaps our new schedule works and we get something written; perhaps everything seems to fall into place and it looks as though we will be able to go on writing, free at last from other entanglements.
Inevitably, though, the ‘old ways’ will return. Something will happen - I can’t possibly guess what it might be, we all have different circumstances - and our apparently secure new writing-centred existence will falter.
It’s because, in striving to climb the ladder, we have begun a longer process than we thought. At first, it seems as though we just have to shift things around to fit a writing timetable in for real; we only have to procure some cooperation from those around us; we simply have to make sure that our living costs are low enough or arranged in such a way that nothing is going to leap out at us and pull us off track. That’s all we have to do, it seems, and it appears to be enough. It might have taken us months to do what has just been summed up in a few sentences. Surely now we are free to write?
There’s one more avenue down which trouble will come unless we are prepared. This false dawn will not last, though it presents a much better scenario to us than anything we may have managed before.
To close off that road means that we had better take even more seriously our goal to be a full-time writer.
Because that road is ourselves.
In the next article I hope to be able to explain exactly what I mean by that, and to give you concrete steps to take to help you move upward even further on the ladder to success.