Icarus is a cautionary tale. Father Daedalus builds wings of feathers and wax to fly with – warns son, don’t go too close to the sun. Son flies too close and falls to the earth after his wings melt. Usually connected to the term hubris. Also connected to the term Icarus Complex (Psychiatry – A constellation of mental conflicts, the degree of which reflects the imbalance between a person’s desire for success, achievement, or material goods, and the ability to achieve those goals; the greater the gap between the idealized goal and reality, the greater the likelihood of failure.)
Sometimes I feel writers, all of us, are like Icarus, testing out our wings of wax and feathers, flying as close to sun as we can. The difference is our failures (those manuscripts we gave up on, or move on from, or let go of because we realized they just weren’t good enough – I have three of them that sit in my closet staring at me when I open the door and wondering if, when, I will go back to them, please, they say – take me out again!) we learn from and grow stronger from because we tried to see if they would fly. Testing out my work in the market place is the way for me to see if the wings are strong enough this time. If not, perhaps I just need to go back to the workshop and build better wings?
Notice when you’ve built better wings. It will carry you through the times the wings aren’t built good enough, cushion you on the nasty falls.
What does the writer wield? Here’s my equipment inventory for a session on the battlefield of words:
- Pencil (I don’t use one, I just like having them around because you never know when the electricity will go out and pencils will be back in the game)
- Pen (I prefer any pen from Levengers – expensive but worth every penny because, as Steve Martin says in Roxanne, “I need just the right pen…” – especially rollerballs) with refills…
- Computer (iMac 27″ screen especially helpful when comparing two versions of a manuscript or looking at my manuscript late at night in big bold letters, or just not having to use my glasses or squint because I’m too lazy to put them on)
- Comfortable chair (or wooden hardback if I’m feeling especially spartan) with wheels so I can roll back and forth in endless patterns of procrastination – but not too comfortable so that I easily fall asleep.
- Notebook or pad of paper (yellow legal or white – again not necessary to use very often but in case something comes up I always have one handy.)
- Writing software (Word, Scrivener, iA Writer – these are my big three – I use Scrivener now for first drafts of novels then shift over to Word when I’m approaching a third or fourth draft and I use iA Writer on my laptop or iPad when I’m traveling and want to write without thinking about formatting.)
- WiFi connection (a direct connection to the oracle of the internet)
I have other things to distract me like drawing pads, colored pens and art markers, a bulletin board that collects dust, a pile of folders I don’t use but that seems to get higher as the weeks go forward – I don’t know what’s in the pile but it keeps growing. Reference books to the right on the shelf and some underneath the pile of folders (I think).
What are your warrior writer’s tools of the trade?
Phobos is the Greek God of Horror and Fear. Interesting. It’s also the name of one of the moons of Mars. Ph is the sound of F in Greek and there is no letter F. I didn’t know that until a few moments ago. Onward.
As a writer what do I fear? What makes me wake up in a cold sweat, shivering? Here’s my list – writer specific:
- Not getting published.
- Getting published (I know, I know. But sometimes when you get what you ask for its scary. Hey, I’m a neurotic New York Writer. What can I say.).
- Having writer’s block.
- Not having writer’s block. (because I’m thinking… when will I get writer’s block?).
- Getting a bad review (I’ve gotten rid of my Goodreads bookmark from my toolbar. I had worn it out from obsessively checking it. It’s like crack for writers.).
- Red pen marks (this is a hold-over from high school).
- Having to do social marketing (I’m getting over it but only slowly. I’m still not friendly with Twitter but at least we’re acquaintances. And I’m starting to know Facebook on a first name basis.).
- Letting go of the need for publication (if I let it go will it be more likely to occur just like the old tale that says if you want something let it go?).
- Not letting go of the need for publication (if I let it go will it not occur in which case this is a catch 22 and I’m screwed.).
- Losing my electronic manuscript and not having backed it up.
- Sending out emails that get lost in the electronic maelstrom of computer generated life and not knowing that they never reached their destination.
- Having to look for an agent again (don’t have to, it’s just a fear…)
What’s on your list?
Archimedes is taking a bath and he notices the level of the water raises when he steps – in so discovering that the volume of irregular objects could be calculated with precision (Wikipedia, List of Greek Phrases). He was so excited he ran out into the street, naked and dripping, shouting, “I have found it!”
I was never good at math so the volume of water thing is beyond me (though I can do budgets – work budgets, not home ones as my wife will remind me). But there are moments in writing when something clicks in your work and you want to run out of your home, naked, dripping wet, and shout, “I have found it!” or “Eureka!”
After my seventh attempt at writing an ending to Open Wounds I outlined my whole novel on electronic index cards (in Scrivener), noting the characters who were in each chapter, the purpose of each chapter (what needed to happen), and one sentence synopsis. I spread out the cards across my screen and stared at them for three months.
One day I saw it – the ending that had eluded me for so long. And it was right, and good.
I didn’t run out into the street naked as that would have caused a bit of a scene, and it was winter. But I did have on my phiz a huge shit-eating grin for about a week.
– If drooling counts as dripping wet, then I covered all bases.
When you do have your eureka moment, enjoy it. Allow yourself to be. They don’t happen that often and should be savored so they can get you through the long stretches of hard work in between.
This is my first post on the A-Z challenge and I’ve got my own theme for the month that comes from the book I’m working on now that takes place in 1914 England where Greek and Latin ruled as education in the “classics”. How each of these sayings deals with writers today will be my own stretch. So stop by and see what I come up with.
Api tou heliou metastethi (Stand a little out of my sun.)
So replies Diogenes the Cynic when asked by Alexander the Great if he had any wish he could fulfill. You gotta love that with a rim-shot for punctuation.
Something I recently overheard from a writer at a conference who was published with a big house when asked about the kind of support and publicity campaign she was receiving: “Oh it’s great except they always put me next to the (choose your megastar writer – there are only a few) so I might as well not even be there.”
Me I like being next to the megastars. At Charlottesville, being next to Alma Katsu (The Taker) on a panel meant people on her line (long line) sometimes drifted over to my line when they finished having her sign their book. Hey. You gotta start somewhere. Alma is a very cool writer whom I’ve had the pleasure to meet twice at two different conferences. I can stand in her shadow any day, ’cause one person’s shadow is another person’s sun.
Where is Diogenes when you need him?