How energy becomes another manuscript in the slush pile
In one of the writing courses I took as an aspiring science fiction writer the instructor told us something that I will never forget.
“The life of a writer,” he said, “is a series of vicious kicks in the teeth.”
Wow. It says so much and rings so true. This was years ago, and the weight of years just make his comment more powerful.
As a writer, you work hard. Most of the work you do is unpaid. You don’t just write, you also have to research, and edit, and promote, and find photos, and promote some more, and sell, (promote) and you learn computers, keyboards, social media and more. You post. Then you edit again. And, it just goes on and on.
It is even more exhausting work if you are courting a literary agent for a longer work, such as a novel.
What really sticks with you is that you do all this hard work, often, to be rejected. A lot. Especially if you are an unknown author, rejection becomes as familiar to you as your toothbrush.
It makes one wonder why we put ourselves through this.
The answer, I think, is magic. It is magic of nature, the light of the sun.
If you can have a neuron fire in your brain, you have a thought. If you can put that thought into words, you can move that thought into the brain of another living person.
We human beings are animals, but if anything (other than the garbage we produce) makes us unique, it is this ability to convey a thought to another human being. That is pure magic.
Think of it.
The sun shines. Photosynthesis allows plants to turn carbon dioxide into carbohydrates and oxygen. We consume the carbohydrates as food and we use the oxygen to breathe.
The oxygen flows through our bodies with blood, which when in the brain allows thought.
The thought that you have is a neuron firing because the plant made you the oxygen to breathe and carried it through your cerebral arteries to your cranium. The four lobes of your cerebrum do the rest, from sensory intake to a neighbor’s dog memory buried deep in your mind from when you were four years old.
Because sunlight has energy, those light photons became thoughts that you could then write down and send to publications.
There is a whole lot of other magic going on once the thought is tapped into a keyboard. There are complex systems, electronic signals, and ones and zeroes and programming that go into making an internet. There is both software and hardware. There are people and livelihoods, and mined resources, everything from petroleum, to aluminum, to silicon, to gold.
Other people’s energy, also made from sunlight.
If that is not magic, I honestly don’t know what is.
The sun is shining. Even during a pandemic, even during our dark night of the soul, and even when we may not really deserve the magic, it just goes on. One star out of many, many billions of them out their shining their giant hydrogen hearts out. Together, they light a vast universe too big for us to wrap our tiny minds around.
Yet, we try. Wrapping. Rapping. And keyboard tapping. See? Word play.
There are other writers out there in the universe beyond, too. I am as certain that there are hard-working writers out there on alien worlds as I am that I am writing right now.
What would you choose? To be the first confirmed and proven contact of extraterrestrial life, or to write a New York Times best-selling book? For most, if not all writers, the bestseller path would be first choice. Me? I would hope that my book about first alien contact would be a bestseller.
Perhaps, as I write this, you too, are writing.
You are creating and crafting and working hard to make a humble living.
We hope that the energy is not wasted. The inspiring energy of all those billions of suns, all those billions of worlds and all those billions of rejecting editors are out there, clattering away.
Is the life of a writer really a series of vicious kicks in the teeth? Yes, it is. We get older, our vision fails, our fingers are not as nimble. Our minds are distracted by the degradation and disease all around us.
There is existential despair in knowing that rejection means some of your very best thoughts are just wasted sunlight.
Many of us write to earn something entirely artificial, money to live on, which began, too, as a bit of photon fed thought in someone’s brain long ago. Sometimes I wonder if that abstraction, money — invented to make our lives more reliable than that of all the other physical creatures — is really making our species better off, or if it will be the death of us all.
Editors out there, I hope you are listening. We are putting our hard-earned everything into your capable hands and hoping, somehow, our creations won’t just die in the dark.
There is also existential despair in knowing that we all die, and many of us will die of COVID -19, climate disasters, addictions and accidents, and our own disregard for all the energy out there that is simply wasted.
Yet, there is a constant flow of sunlight, and thoughts, and our collected efforts to try to create something beautiful from the constant flow. We create the magic of learning, of life, of love.
I think we keep doing the work because of the magic.
As the sun fuses hydrogen into helium and passes that energy into our vast natural network of forests, plains, and oceans, we have to decide how best to use that energy.
We each carry an undying hope, a spark, that some of our thoughts will shine on, like the sun, long after we are gone.