Tomorrow, I will sit down and spend hours writing my current work in progress. I’m not sure right now if it’s going to be a hit, if my readers will love it or loathe it, or if it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. I don’t know if it will be a nail in the coffin of my writing career or if it will shoot me to the very heights of critical acclaim.
What I do know is that day, that very day, one thousand other people will also be writing their books. In order to make sure mine stands out from the crowd, my mind must be clear so I can write better than them. So, forgive me–I have to kill a bear.
Look, I’m not going to mince words here: Of the thousand other writers, 800 won’t have been blessed by Ursinetha, Goddess-Hunter and Queen of Skulls (may she reign in blood). Ursinetha love them, Ursinetha, be with them, Ursinetha, show them the mercy of a quick death beneath your dripping claws, they just are not as talented and dedicated to her glorious worship as I am. And that’s why they’re not going to be able to write a book. Because the Forest Spirits are in them, and once they’re in there, there’s no getting the out. Not without the appropriate sacrifices. For that same reason, I will never know a night’s sleep undisturbed by vivid memories of tearing hide and the steaming, fetid stench of an animal already decaying between my frenzied jaws, not matter how much I may want to.
So, that only leaves 200 other writers to compete with me. Sure, they may be smarter or more photogenic. They may have never taken the life of a man dressed as a bear in ceremonial combat. If they were writing this piece instead of me, you would like it a lot more, because it wouldn’t have so many parts about mysterious bear cults. They probably don’t have mystic runes tattooed on their back that ward them from the attacks of the Wolf Mages. You wouldn’t be embarrassed to bring them to parties.
I will conquer them all, however, and I will do it because I am willing to do what it takes to please the Forest Gods.
I will eat the still beating heart of a bear, and they will not.
The two most important tools at your disposal as a writer are your natural love of the written word and the dedication required to wrestle, subdue, and kill a bear. Somewhere along the line, all those people competing with me just lose their drive. I’m in too deep to stop now. They might lack the faith necessary to put their lives on the line for Ursinetha’s blessing, but I don’t. Maybe they’ll make some new friends; mine are all dead now, perished between the crushing teeth of an angry bear or smote to ashes by a Wolf Mage. Their books will wither like so much bear meat left to rot in the undergrowth.
I know about bear meat. And books. And I know that without one, the other cannot survive.
I get it. You’re working hard on your book, doing your thing day in and day out until your brain gets tired and you think, “Man, I have to quit before I burn out.” Maybe you start taking a weekend off here and there. And that’s when the call of the wilderness touches you, draws you from your computer and into the night. You strip naked, you run on all fours. When you wake up, you don’t know where you are, but the rows of sturdy RVs and screaming campers give you an indication. Somehow, you’ve wound up in the KOA, wrapped in a black bear’s hide. And there’s blood. Oh god, there’s so much blood. But you didn’t finish the ritual.
I’m not a quitter. I don’t quit. When I start a mystical journey to conquer the raging forest spirits that haunt my dreams, I finish. So, let me give you some advice in your own quest.
The most important thing is to eat the heart.
If you don’t have the will to bring that steaming, still pumping organ to your lips, you are in the wrong business. Once you’ve broken the covenant with Ursinetha, she will offer you no protection. You have to make daily bear sacrifices a part of your routine. It has to become second nature, like making coffee or burning the appropriate herbs at a crossroads. It’s not a triumph of the muse. There’s nothing noble or dramatic about it. You do it because you have to, and because the moon has reached the zenith of its darkness. If you’re having to force yourself to take that first bite, you’re doing something wrong. Ever consider just not being a writer? We have plenty of those. Ones who don’t balk at consuming a bear’s heart.
Easy enough, right? Here’s how you do it: you murder a bear every day. Obviously, I don’t mean every day. Words don’t magically start meaning the things everyone understands them to mean just because I’m a writer telling you to murder a bear every day. Not knowing what words mean is an integral part of authorship. What I meant was: devour the heart of a bear every day.
The most difficult part of an author’s life isn’t the hours spent meticulously plotting a story or improving their craft, but their ability to constantly be thinking about ways to please Ursinetha and prove your devotion to her coven. You have to get into the mind of the bear. You have to make yourself become the bear. It will help you find the bear you’re meant to kill, until it becomes second nature to you. But if you stop, if you don’t do this every day (despite the fact that I’ve already said “Obviously, I don’t mean every day.”) eventually, you won’t remember how to take a life at all. Then you’ll have to go back to the Cave Of Waking Dreams and start your training all over!
The sad reality is that in the end, no matter how many hearts you’ve sacrificed to Ursinetha in shared feast, you may never fully defeat the Forest Spirits. You may be eaten by a bear. But you’ll never know what you can do until you’re free from the call of the still woodland night. So you get out there, and YOU EAT THE GODDAMNED BEAR HEART.
This piece was inspired by an insipid and self-congratulatory piece of nonsense by Pulitzer Prize winning critic Stephen Hunter, titled, “If You Want to Write a Book, Write Every Day or Quit Now” for The Daily Beast. It is only slightly more nonsensical than the above satire.
Do not fret over the advice Hunter dispensed in his piece. You can finish a book without writing every day. Almost every writer does. And other writers aren’t your competition (though they’ve apparently been unknowingly competing with Mr. Hunter for years). You do you, and fuck anyone who tells you that you should quit. Especially if they’ve just admitted to wanting you to fail in the very essay in which they claim to want to help you succeed.