How to be a Writer, Part 2
Now you may start again. Grip the pen in the ache of your fist and force it into the shape of words. Do not think. Think all you can. Think about not thinking. The stories will come, but you have worked hard to ensure that they are buried deep. Now it is your choice: you can look away while they gradually float up on the floodwater, or you can get in there with a spade and dig those motherfuckers out. This is the first decision that you are making as a writer. The next decision is what order the words go in. Do not worry about any other decisions: trust that the stories are waiting for you.
You have now been scratching at pages for a thousand years. Your beard has reached the creases of your lap and your breasts are as long and flat as rolled dough and your hand is a claw and your cheeks are sunken and pitted from an excess of caffeine. Your pen has melted into your hand. Your veins lie flat and pale on the backs of your hands from all those times you had to use your blood for ink. This is good. This is good. Now fold up those stained pages and cram them in an envelope and go outside and squint in the sun – it's summer again, and you don’t even know when that happened – and stumble to the fat red postbox and slot the envelope into its careful mouth. No need to write anything on the envelope; your stories know their purpose. Go home and lie on the couch and listen to the steady failing beep of the smoke alarm. Make a note to change the battery but fall asleep instead.
When you wake, your walls have become hedges of constellations and your ceiling a spyglass of thorns. Caterpillars have bivouacked along the arms of the couch. Someone is pounding at the door, and when you get up to answer it you will trip on your trouser legs. You have shrunk, you think, and then you remember the weight of the envelope you fed to the postbox. You reach up for the door handle and pull. Outside is an agent in a velvet hat with a huge cheque consisting only of zeroes. Congratulations! he shrieks, before picking a stray caterpillar off your shoulder and popping it into his mouth.
The next thirty seconds are an oil spill of activity. The art department pop out your eyes and squish them onto the cover. The line-editors make thousand of tiny nicks all over your arms and legs with kitchen scissors and pull the droplets into their fountain pen cartridges. The promotion department insert you into the doughnut-ring of a CT scanner and print photos of your innards. When they are done, they spill through the floorboards and you go back to the couch. The caterpillars have plumped the cushions for you.
Now your face is on magazine covers. Not proper magazines, of course; not ones that members of the public read. But ones for writers, ones only writers read, ones full of articles on how others can do what you have done, though somewhat differently. You are on one cover with your shirt off, holding a small and fluffy creature – this shows that you are badass yet sensitive, like all the great poets. On another cover, you are halfway through abseiling down a mountain while wearing black and staring at a lake – this is so that someone will give you a teaching job. You are photographed lounging on couches eating pomegranates, and wrapping an oiled bicycle chain around your throat, and slicing open birds' bellies with your fingernails. You are getting sick of the proportions of your own face.
Your book is the first thing customers see when they walk into a bookshop. There are so many promotional stickers and quotes and flecks of blood on the cover that your name is nothing more than a series of bumps, the letters puffy and gold-painted. Sometimes you stand for hours with a fingertip pressed to the cover, trying to absorb some of it back into you, leechlike. You are still not sure whether you dug out that story or whether it's still seeping up on the floodwater.
This is how it is done. There is no other way. Now go back to the start and do it again. You are little, so imagine being bigger.
(first published by www.metazen.ca)