He looked it over, once, then shut down his computer and went upstairs to make his lunch. This experience was unfamiliar, the results so unanticipated, that he didn’t want to make too much of them too soon. First impressions rarely held against the more objective reading that came after.
Many times he’d thought what he was writing was the best thing he had ever written, that the breakthrough he had long desired and waited for had come, only to be disappointed when he gave the piece a second, presumably more objective, reading later.
He purposefully kept himself from thinking about the pages he’d written as he went about his business for the day – his swing shift at the library, his counter job at the used bookstore downtown. The next morning he read the piece again.
This time he recognized it as a work of genius. It was savage, succinct, and revelatory. It was old as fable, modern as the evening news. He went through it again, amazed. It wasn’t perfect: he found two awkward phrases, a poorly chosen adjective, a paragraph that would be more effective coming later. Otherwise, he didn’t see a single word that could be taken out. Every word was tied to every other: take one out and the story’s edifice would fall in on itself.
Clearly the work had come from some deep part of himself that he had hardly ever tapped. On a few, rare, occasions he’d produced work he felt was beyond what he was capable of doing, that the words weren’t his, but had come from somewhere other than inside him, that he’d merely been the instrument the Muse had chosen for that day. But that had happened only with particular scenes, a stretch of dialogue or exposition that stood out in the context of a longer piece of work that, ultimately, didn’t hold together.
Moments like these were what kept him going. He felt if he was capable of producing those few brilliant paragraphs, the occasional, near-perfect scene, then perhaps he had it in him, after all, to write. He kept at it, in the process becoming ever more diligent, more disciplined, and wondering if he might arrive, eventually, at greatness, or at madness. Or both....