Why do storytellers ever portray characters triumphing over the creative process with a single, ejaculatory blow? Especially storytellers writing about storytellers? Some revelatory moment occurs and the character’s eyes light up and the words start flying off the fingertips and in a matter of hours/days the character has created the perfect novel or screenplay or whatever. Like: “You see? It’s that fucking simple; once you find your muse, she writes this shit for you.” It can’t be true, can it? I’ve never experienced such a triumph.
I write stories like I play chess: I hold my own, but it takes me a long, long time to make a move. I find it difficult to keep the “big picture” in mind while I’m plotting out a strategy, so I consider and reconsider my moves several times till I decide it’s the right one. In story writing, I think they call all that consideration the drafting stage. I’ve written three novels now and each required 4+ drafts. If a novel averages 70,000 words, and I wrote a lofty 5,000 words a day, that’s still two weeks per draft, eight weeks per novel. What’s the Benzedrine dosage to sustain fifty six straight days of inspiration?
In reality, I’m more of a 500 word/day guy (yeah, that slow). So when I see these writers writing about writers experiencing writer’s block, writer’s block, writer’s block, then blammo, genius novel written, I’m thinking: “What a farce.” But then I hear true Cinderella stories about struggling waitresses who write at the diner after their shifts and blammo: bestseller. Or, “You know, I had this idea floating in my head for a few years, so I just buckled down for a month and blammo: here I am talking to Terri Gross.” Or, “I went on this amazing spiritual backpacking trip across Europe, and at night I jotted down my thoughts in the margins of Rick Steves’ Guide to Romania, and when I got back to the States I just mailed the guide in with my old resume to Books a Million and blammo: David Foster Wallace rose from the dead and proclaimed me Hemmingway Junior w/cheese.” One more success story like that and I’m putting my brain in a blender.
So back to my initial question, sticking with the premise that such prolonged/intense eureka moments are purely fiction, why do writers write them? I’m guessing for a couple of reasons:
1.) Every writer wishes the creative process was so easy; he likes the romantic notion that there’s this secret formula or spell to unlock creativity because he’s so fucking tired of digging for it. There’s got to be an easier way, right?
2.) No one wants to read a story as tedious and grueling as real-life story writing; readers want pay-off, readers want power, readers want triumph…readers want their writer protagonists to be romanticized.
3.) The muse, or divine inspiration, or true-callings, or whatever, they carry a supernatural weight, an aura of forces bigger than ourselves. Writers want to believe that writers are destined to be writers. They’ve never worked so hard at anything else in their whole life so their novels have be good, right?
Anyway, six years of reality checks have trampled #3 in the dirt; there are no true-callings or destinies. There’s only hard work and ambition. And a good Benzedrine hook-up.