The Myth of Sisyphus and You
Yesterday, we spoke about IDEALS vs IDEAS. I know it’s rather Platonic of me to do such a thing, but what has been done cannot be undone.
Today, we’re going to go Greek. Not in the toga and frat party sense, nor in any other sense you may be thinking, unless you’re thinking of myths, then you’re spot on. Since the title of today’s ramble is a not-so-subtle foreshadowing, odds are, you say this coming.
For those unfamiliar with the myth of Sisyphus, I’ll curse today’s educational systems or your lack of attention to such a classic bit of tale-telling by a teacher in your own, shadowy past, and proceed with giving you a brief recap.
There was this king, and he did bad things. What he did is not so important to our theme as his punishment, he was sentenced to roll a boulder up a hill. Okay, that doesn’t sound so terrible, does it? Not the worse thing the Gods can do you, certainly, but not a walk in the park either, except there was a catch. The boulder, while heavy, and the hill, while steep is doable. However, the gig Sisyphus got was to do it for all Eternity, which as we know is a mighty, long time. Every time, the protagonst of our tale nears the top of the hill after slaving away with this boulder, the weight was too much, and it rolled all the way back down, and he had to start over. You can certainly imagine you might give up this job, let the rock crush you, or some such, but this was his punishment for all eternity, no mulligans, no backsies, no reset button. Moral? Don’t piss off the Gods?
Now, you may be sitting there what this has to do with you? Right? Well, in the smattering of metaphors bandied about yesterday, I suggested your idea is granite, so it’s not so hard to imagine the granite as a large boulder and the execution, the work part is pushing it up that hill. The difference is you are not being punished. If you want to, you can leave the boulder right where it rests and go have lunch, enjoy a cocktail, catch the game, or whatever, and never, ever think about the boulder again. The hill before you is the hard work you’re going to have to do to push it up the hill, yet, there is one, other, fundamental difference. You can get to the top of the hill. If you steadily persist and stretch and strain, you can make it to the top. You can push it hard and fast and rush to the top, perhaps killing a few harmless dandelions on the way, but you can do it. Alternately, you can move incrementally, inch by inch, and push it up a little more each day, and you’ll eventually get there. If you stop, however, gravity being what it is, it’s eventually going to roll back down. If you’re lucky, it won’t roll back too far, if you’re unlucky, it will roll all the way back to where you found it, or shatter to dust (trust me, ideas can do this). If you’re particularly crazy, you’re rolling a bunch of boulders all at once. This is certainly not suggested for beginners, as the rocks can only get so much of your attention, and it’s hard to push a lot of rocks.
The best way to get the boulder up there is to do so with planning and forethought. You create an outline of the steps you need to achieve, and you can even scope out the hill, and place milestones along the way. You can put stakes into the ground or even flatten them out a bit, so the stone is braced when you reach there or at least not so inclined to roll back down. What’s the best way to do this? Well, I said it already, but I’m going to emphasize it now: the outline.
When I was youthful and brash and right out of college with my head swimming with dreams and fancy and full of literature, I KNEW outlines stifled creativity. I posited myself as an artiste, and I presumed the muse whose acquaintance I had met would certainly recognize the fact I had graduated, and descend from the heavens with buckets full of stories that would make grown men weep, women fall prostate before me, and publishers knocking down my door with bags of money. The muse did not come. She was a fickle thing, so I took a job, and learned that I still had much to learn. I started reading tons of writing books (which I’d being doing since junior high school), and revisiting them as a more educated man. Many of these cats spoke about OUTLINES. I rumbled and railed and resisted. Finally, after many years and mishaps, I finally, begrudingly began the process of outlining. Guess what? It makes things easier. It makes things work. Like anything else, outlining is a learned skill, and it doesn’t matter if you never look at the outline again (I do), the process of doing it enables you codify and clarify your ideas. It breaks down the work you have to do into palatable pieces. Most of all, it just makes utter sense. Now. It’s odd how I have functioned with to do lists, workout programs, and so much other regimentation in my life, but refused to concede a creative process could be helped by structure. Outlining a story/scenario/creative endeavor seemed as odd to me as mixing vodka with orange juice or putting onions on a burger. I do, and prefer, all three now, thank you, very much than their blander counterpoints. Once you’ve done this, it makes everything so much easier.
Once you have this outline, you can begin the earnest work, the heart and soul of your project or, in the immortal words of Cartman “What do you mean ? Now we can finally play the game.” *
Until next time, happy writing, gaming, or week-ending. As I depart, outline in hand, I bid you, adieu!
*The “game” in this case being filling in all the bits and pieces. You know, the fun stuff. ;)