I’m sitting at a desk. My hair is tousled because I’m creative. I have a faraway look in my eyes because my mind is a universe of possibilities. Stacks of books, some by French authors, adorn my desk, because I bought those books and put them there. I’m at this desk because I’m trying to be a writer. I’m also at this desk because I want to look like I’m trying to be a writer.
I suppose if I wrote more, I’d have a better chance of being a writer, but that seems hard.
I don’t want you to think I’m lazy. My planned detective novel, Guns in the Dust: A Tom Brick Mystery, stalled after I began to have real doubts about the writing process. In fact, I began running into problems right away.
I’ll tell you what I mean. I recently concluded that it is impossible to write a story. Consider an example from Guns in the Dust: “Tom Brick picked up the gun. It was heavier than he remembered.” Did Tom Brick ever pick up a gun? No, because Tom Brick is not real. I made Tom Brick up. How am I supposed to decide if the gun he didn’t pick up was heavier or lighter than he remembered? He doesn’t even have memories. Since he’s not real, it follows that he can’t have picked up a gun, and therefore he can’t have any opinions about its weight. After that sentence, I couldn’t get any further.
Sometimes when thinking about writing, I imagine how many other people out in the world are sitting down to write at the same time I am. Consider all the writers in the world with the equation f(x)=1/x, where I am 1, and all the other writers in the world are x. As x approaches ∞, or infinity, which is how many writers there are in the world, it gets closer to 0, and that 0 is the chance I have for being a successful writer. Do you know what that is? It’s calculus. It’s an irrefutable proof that I’m going to be a failure.
I’m not a competitive person. I’m not trying to beat out the writers of the world. All I want is for the other writers to get other professions so that people who read will have no one to turn to other than me and maybe like seven other people. If all the other writers could drop out and get a life, maybe do something worthwhile like design bridges, cook wood-fired pizzas, or pave over potholes, my path to the literary pantheon would be wide open.
The most painful aspect of this situation is that I’m so close to achieving renown. Besides my inability to write, there are a few things in my way. Think about it: if I had been born with money, talent, empathy, powers of observation, and discipline, I’d be much better at writing. In other words, there are only five things standing between me and a place on your bookshelf.
Do you know what else I realized? New writers show up on the scene every day. A week ago my friend Joe sent me a short story he wrote. I read it, and thought, “This isn’t bad. Joe is not a bad writer at all.” The fact of it not being bad, of it crossing the threshold from bad to that vast, indefinable category above bad, means that I am now in danger of being eclipsed by Joe, and I didn’t know Joe was a writer.
I believe it was the great Irish novelist Samuel Becker who wrote, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” That quote speaks to me, from one writer to another. Of course, I haven’t tried or failed, but I like the idea of doing both. I see myself honing my craft, mining the depths of my fascinating soul; I see myself talking about that struggle in erudite yet accessible interviews. Finally, I see another struggling writer reading an interview and gaining inspiration from it.
Isn’t that what it’s all about? The writer’s job is to inspire, and I see myself inspiring a whole generation of new writers. I’ve got the hair to be an inspiring writer. Look at history: Bob Dylan, Arthur Rambo, Susan Sontague, and Margaret Atwood all had great hair. I figure that’s half the battle right there, getting the hair right.
Now, to the second half of the battle: writing. Here goes: the writer sat at his desk, sunlight streaming through the window. Or maybe it was overcast. He held a pen in his right hand, or perhaps it was a pencil in his left hand. He looked in the mirror. He ran his hand through his hair. It was tousled with only the slightest hint of madness – or brilliance. He’d gotten it just right.