Writing

Starting Over

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“I can’t do it.”

The Sacred Library had been silent save for the quiet whisking of a thousand pens in a thousand notebooks, each lying open before an acolyte in training, and the words bounced around the cathedral-style building before fleeing down the halls and out of earshot.

Wendy had her own pen, but unlike the others, hers wasn’t moving. Instead, she was looking down, watching the world inside her notebook tear itself apart.

“I can’t do it,” she said again, quieter this time.

It was one thing to take a book off the shelf, gaze at the words on the pages, and read the world that was etched between the lines. It was another thing altogether to become its author. A successful reading required great skill, but even that level of talent was a drop in the ocean compared to the otherworldly challenge of Creation.

Wendy had survived three years of training, but now, after constructing her own world piece by piece, it was unraveling. She peered through the symbols written in her notebook. She watched the sea levels rise, the winds gain speed, the ground begin to shake, and all she could do was sit and allow the apocalypse to unfold.

“What’s this now?”

Wendy turned to find Randal, one of the Library’s oldest disciples, standing behind her.

“I can’t do it, sir.”

Randal took the notebook from her trembling hands and started from the beginning, flipping through each page and reading her world just as Wendy had learned to read a dozen others.

“Mmm,” said the old man with the utmost gravity. “I see the problem.”

“There are so many variables, so many loose ends. It got off to a decent start, but now as I approach the end, I’m afraid it’s a lost cause.”

The disciple’s robes swished as he took a seat beside her. He turned back to the last empty page, and after looking her in the eye, returned the notebook. He leaned in close, and in a conspiratorial whisper, said, “I’ll tell you a secret. No creation is ever a lost cause.”

“But I’ve already written so much, and every line at the end depends on another line from the beginning. How can I fix something that rests on such a faulty foundation?”

“By going back and rewriting the foundation.”

“But then the rest of the world will collapse.”

The disciple nodded.

“And in its place, you can build something better.”

That was a possibility Wendy hadn’t considered before. She bit her upper lip in thought.

“No acolyte,” the old man continued, “has ever gotten a new world right on the first try. Nor, for that matter, has any disciple. But if you love something, you don’t give up on it. You return to the forge and you try again, as many times as it takes. You examine your world through the critical eye of a surgeon. You determine what it was that lead to its demise, and then you pluck it out. You revise, then revise again, until someday, somehow, your world finds its soul and can live apart from you, as all great masterpieces do.”

Now, for the first time, Wendy turned the pages backward. She traced through her world’s evolution, from its birth at the core of a primordial star to its violent and premature end. There were, she realized, a great many things she would have done differently.

“It’s really okay to start over?” she asked.

The disciple flashed her an enigmatic smile.

“As many times as it takes.”

He left her to check on the other acolytes, but Wendy, knee-deep in the storms of Creation once more, hardly noticed.

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I Only Had To Bleed

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This post was originally published through Patreon on July 12, 2017.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
—Ernest Hemingway

I huddle over my desk beneath the soft light of an incandescent lamp, brow furrowed, and stare down at the empty pages of my notebook. There’s a world out there somewhere, waiting for me to give it life. But I cannot find the words, and without them this other world can remain only a pale shadow, suspended in the half-life of the imagination.

I hear a thousand screams, a million, all from denizens of this other world. “We want life,” they say. “Please, give it to us.” Their cries have become a fire that burns me from the inside out, until my soul can bear the pain no longer.

“All right,” I say. “I’ll try,” and the screams die down to an expectant whisper.

I tremble. I know the words will come if I ask them to, but they require a sacrifice, an offering as old as humanity, and I am afraid. I glance around the dim surroundings of my study, bite my lip, and turn back to the notebook at my desk. Resolved not to stall any longer, I pick up the pen, and in a single practiced motion I stab downward and break open an emotional artery.

The pain is tremendous, and at first, the words come in fits and starts. I have to drag each of them from my head kicking and screaming, sharp, sticking barbs that tear skin and flesh as I pull them out into the light. I want to stop and lick my wound. But if I do then it will heal, and my sacrifice will have been in vain.

So I toil through the night, through ice and fire, dredging up the best and the worst of myself as an offering, a vessel into which that other world might enjoy the coveted fruits of existence.

Just before dawn I finish, bloodied and bruised. The inhabitants of that world whisper their thanks. Tears well at the corners of my eyes.

It was nothing, I think. I only had to bleed.

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Birth of a Soul

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Fingers working. Pen scrawling. Mind racing. A cascade of symbols. An avalanche of thought. A word emerges, followed by another. Ideas burst in Jaiden’s mind like the birth of stars.

A singular voice echoes through her head, begging for life. The sound is faint but clear, and Jaiden tries harder, forces her wrist to move faster. But a dull throbbing pain has blossomed in her left temple, and after a while, she decides she’s had enough for the night.

The words stop. There’s a single agonizing cry from a soul desperate for release, then silence. The universe in Jaiden’s head is still once more.

She caps her pen and sets her notebook on a dusty shelf. Tomorrow, she thinks with some trepidation, will be the day she finally finishes. Her work has been slow going until now, and until today, she thought it would never be finished. Now, she’s afraid of what will happen when she commits the last few sentences to paper.

Never mind. Not something to think about tonight.

She ascends the darkened staircase leading from the basement to her kitchen. She brushes her teeth, turns out the light, and slips into bed.

Tomorrow, she thinks as she drifts into the cold, black void of sleep. Tomorrow, the struggle will come to an end.

*               *               *

Light. It pokes her in the eye, startles her awake. She glances at the clock. 9:37 a.m. She gets out of bed, pulls a robe tight against her body, and ventures back to the kitchen.

The house is quiet. She’s lived alone for as long as she can remember, has never known any other kind of environment. She finds the silence contemplative. It speaks to her more loudly than words, impresses upon her truths that are inaccessible to her when she’s downstairs working.

What was life like before she started writing? She asks herself this question often, and can never think of a satisfactory answer. It’s as if she was born into the world exactly as she is in this moment, forever static and unchanging. The idea unnerves her, and she refocuses her thoughts on other things.

Before she can rest for long, she hears the voice inside her head. Its invisible feelers twine through the crevices of her brain, making itself known, making itself understood. Jaiden can feel its eagerness, its desire to be released into the world at last, and she can deny it no longer.

She glances at the basement door, afraid. Down in the basement is where her notebook and pen wait for her to return, where they wait for her to finish what she’s started. She takes a deep breath. Sighs.

No peace, Jaiden thinks. No peace until she gets this thing done. She opens the door and works her way downstairs.

*               *               *

Once more, the words flow. They form an electric current that hums inside of her as they surge toward the pages of the notebook.

The voice, once a whisper, has grown louder, closer. It urges her to hurry, speaks of pain and suffering as it awaits its incarnation.

Jaiden’s forehead beads with sweat, and her heart pounds like a race horse, until her chest has constricted and it’s become difficult to breathe.

She has to rest, has to take a moment to catch her breath. But the soul that occupies the space between her mind and the notebook will wait no more. It’s just a hair’s breadth from life, and it won’t be denied.

There. Just three more words. Jaiden scribbles the first one down, but has trouble lifting her pen to write the second. She feels faint, lightheaded. Her head falls to the surface of the desk, but she won’t give up, not when she’s so close.

Like a child learning to write for the first time, she grips the pen in a tight-balled fist. She places the next word down.

Only one left.

Jaiden’s head is pounding, and her vision has blurred around the edges. A stroke, or a heart attack? She doesn’t know, only knows that she has to keep going, that she has to push the last word out before it’s too late.

Only three letters. She can do this. She lifts the pen. Writes an E. Stops. Winces. Lifts the pen once more.

N.

Light bursts behind her eyes like a camera flash in the dark, but she forces her fingers to work, forms the final letter of her opus.

D.

Just like that, the pain climaxes. There’s a moment in which Jaiden teeters on the edge of excruciating agony. Then her eyes close and her head smacks against the surface of the desk.

No more words, no more pain.

Only darkness.

*               *               *

She opens her eyes to the dull orange light of a nearby lamp. She squints. bobs her head. Looks around.

She is not Jaiden, but the soul Jaiden worked so hard to release. She marvels at her newly acquired body, flesh and blood rather than thoughts and ideas. She flexes her fingers, her arms.

A miracle.

She does not know what has become of her creator—where she’s gone, or if she’s survived. Her only clue is the vague notion that all of this has happened before, that in the fullness of time it will happen again, an endless procession of life and death, of creation and annihilation.

An idea—a soul in need of life—will come to her one day, she’s certain. When that day comes, she’ll have to write it into existence and sacrifice her own life in the process. That is how it was always done, and how it will always be done.

For now, however, she will live. For now, she will drink in the miracle of consciousness. She rises to her feet, bows her head out of reverence for her creator, and climbs the stairs.

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