The Fantastically Normal Life of a Writer

July 15, 2015 | 2 3 min read

Is the writing life as strange as people think? Not at all. I wake pre-light to the piercing cry of the Dawn Bird, a phosphorescent creature whose species I have not yet identified, and witness its meteoric flight toward the eastern horizon. Then I check Twitter while the coffee brews.

The holy water is kept in a crystal vial, hidden inside a hollowed-out copy of The Astral Visions of St. Ignacio the Blind, a 12-century mystic who was found, upon his death, to have grown a third eyeball in the center of his heart. I add a generous splash to my coffee and gulp it hot, and once my hallucinatory seizures have subsided, I perform my ablutions outside at the well of vapors. There I must concentrate my strength against the devilkins — malignant spirits that emerge from the trees and speak to me with forked, enticing tongues. “Return to sleep,” they say. “No one cares what you write, this day or the next. Eat, be merry, and think no more of your illusory endeavors.”

I weaken their influence with ritual incantations, tug the axe from the gnarled stump, and wait for the morning’s first rays to penetrate the mist. Once the sun has warmed my flesh, I stride into the forest, catching glimpses of my fellow writers — or do I only imagine their presence in the distance? — until I find the sacred tree and cut its tenderest branch for use as the day’s scrawling implement.

Back home, I gird myself for the labor ahead. Another cup of coffee, music on the phonograph, and sometimes — I am ashamed to confess — a brief nap to settle my nerves and cleanse myself of doubt.

Non-writers often believe “the muse” is a friendly spirit who whispers ideas into warm, receptive minds. This is a charming misconception. The muse is a muscular, nude hermaphrodite with tentacles, wings, and the antlered head of a stag. I start by tearing up the floorboards to reveal the hard-packed earth below, grasp the protruding antlers, and wrest the muse from its subterranean slumber in a violent struggle that lasts one or two hours. After the beast has submitted to my will and I have tended to my wounds, I check a few news sites, play some more music, and begin the work at hand.

What can be said of the experience that follows? Look to the wizards of mountaintop caves, the priestesses of primeval goddesses, infants in the womb, lovers in the grave. Consider the lives of alchemists and orchardists, of masons laying brick and plumbers plumbing pipe. Think upon the tax accountant tallying her columns! The beetle with his dung! The child with her paints! I pace, I sweat, I puzzle over mysteries and harmonies and lies. Throughout the day the devilkins return, slipping through the wattle and daub. The muse impales me with its prongs, seduces me with visions and erotic apparitions, and often — in the moment when I feel most drunk upon its power — burrows underground and forces me, again, to drag it into the light.

At close of day, wearied from my trials, I lay the work aside and dwell on my accomplishments. What good have I achieved? What pridefulness or sloth has hindered my success? I know my words, like those of St. Ignacio, will soon be cast into the world to be embraced, rejected, or lost to moldering time, and I fear my bloody tears and deranged, melodic laughter has all been for naught.

But then I focus on my wife, newly returned from her own diurnal struggle. We welcome home our son, with his talon-headed spear, from his daily rites of passage in the labyrinth of his elders. Together we eat and talk, finding comfort in the details of one another’s days, and I remember my vocation is a job like any other, and the work — like that of a baker, or a sentient termite gnawing symbols into trees — is only what I make of it. All that remains is feeding the moon cow and nailing shut the doors, and then we all go to bed. I sleep and dream stories.

Image Credit: Flickr/Azel P.

is the author of Fellow Mortals, a Booklist Top Ten Debut in 2013. His second novel, Bell Weather, is a July 2015 Indie Next Pick. He lives in upstate New York with his wife, son, and dog. He can be found online at and @Giganticide. Read the first chapter of Bell Weather here.