Right now, I’m sitting in my unfinished basement because it’s 83° in my living room. I have my laptop on a folding table, facing a plain, black curtain that I put up to block the mess of half-full paint cans and plastic bins full of Christmas decorations. My thirteen-year-old son and his friend are playing on the Xbox above me, oblivious to the heat. They’re loud. Something exciting is happening. Something exciting is always happening.
I can’t help but think that if I were in my own little cottage, with a soft breeze and the trickle of a stream nearby, the words would flow more freely. If it were cooler or if we had air conditioning and I could be in my office upstairs, the writing would be easier. If I had noise-reducing headphones and a comfortable chair, I’d be infinitely more productive.
All of these things might be true (but probably aren’t.) As it stands, I don’t have a tiny writer cottage or a stream, the temperature is what it is, and I am where I am. I still have to write.
Several years ago, Elizabeth Gilbert gave a TED talk on muses and geniuses. If you haven’t seen it, the whole thing is worth a watch, but there’s one bit that I’ve thought of often over the past five years since she originally spoke. It falls between the tenth and twelfth minutes, but the important part is this:
I’m not the pipeline! I’m a mule, and the way that I have to work is that I have to get up at the same time every day, and sweat and labor and barrel through it really awkwardly.
I think about this so much because I’m a mule too. No matter how much I want to be a pipeline for creative genius, no matter how much I want to be a winged, writing fairy, no matter how much I want to ooze brilliance out my very pores, writing is probably always going to be work for me. Fulfilling work. But still work.
Some days, being a mule is awesome. You get up, strap on your plow, and magic happens. Before you know it, the day is over and you’re looking back at a gorgeous, perfectly-tilled field. Some days, you hit a rock first thing and you spend your entire day pushing against rock after rock, until the day ends and you’ve barely inched forward at all.
Today’s a rock sort of day, but I’ll be back tomorrow. It will still be hot. I still won’t have a cottage, but maybe, just maybe it’ll be smooth plowing.