In the end, it was the Sunday afternoons he couldn’t cope with, and that terrible listlessness that starts to set in about 2:55, when you know you’ve taken all the baths that you can usefully take that day, that however hard you stare at any given paragraph in the newspaper you will never actually read it, or use the revolutionary new pruning technique it describes, and that as you stare at the clock the hands will move relentlessly on to four o’clock, and you will enter the long dark teatime of the soul. — Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe and Everything
I can’t claim to know what Adams was talking about with this passage, if anything at all, but I do know what it reminds me of: the time between submitting a piece of writing and hearing back from your editor. To be fully honest, I can be something of an arrogant ass when it comes to writing and can feel a distressingly sneering contempt for those who can’t write a decent line except unintentionally. And unlike my fully justified pride in my spelling, vocabulary and accuracy—which, while imperfect, are a hell of a lot more quantifiable—might be motivated by the fear that what I’ve just written might suck.
That the magic might be gone.
I understand why ancient poets tried to entice the muses to visit and modern football players thank god for their touchdowns, and despite not believing in either and having a fairly good idea whence these skills come, I can’t fault either. You see, writing (and all creative work, really) requires a weird blend of unselfconsciousness and critical review, and part of the first really requires faith that you’re going to pull something that might be useful from a sort of black box in your head. I’m a firm believer in Anne Lamott’s idea of the shitty first draft (or the idea that I need to take care of the quantity and dumb luck will take care of the quality), but I know from experience that getting the hell out of my way results in far more decent writing amid the dreck. And that results in the appearance of decent writing that comes from nowhere.
If it comes from nowhere, if it happens without conscious intervention, if you are unselfconscious during the creation it is entirely too easy to believe that it really does come from without. So you invoke the muse or thank god for the touchdown, and you live in fear that one day it won’t appear. And one day it won’t, temporarily or permanently, and all the whistling past the graveyard that is writers (and others) denying the existence of writer’s block can’t dispel the fear that thought brings.
So there’s a gap between sending a piece in, when you think of all the things that could be wrong with it, when you imagine that the muse has finally tired of you, where you dread not hearing from the editor (or audience or whatever), but of never hearing from them. For what form of contempt could be more complete than silence?
“You’re a jerk, Dent. A complete kneebiter.” — same book, two pages before the quote above
Sure sounds like the editor that lives in my head.