You may know the old fable, Hercules and the Carter:
A man was carelessly driving his cart along a road when the wheels sank so deeply into the mud that his oxen came to a stop.
The carter slumped in his seat and called upon Hercules for help, crying louder and sinking deeper every moment.
At last Hercules appeared in a fury at being summoned for such a small emergency.
“Help me!” the carter cried. “I am stuck.”
“I will help you with these words,” Hercules said. “Get down from your cart, prod your oxen, and put your own shoulder to the wheel and push!” And away Hercules flew, leaving the carter in the mud.
And the moral is: Heaven helps those who help themselves.
That is a good old tale, but if Aesop were a modern slave to the written word, he might have called his fable The Muse and the Writer:
A writer switched on her computer, checked her emails, scrolled through her Facebook home page, read a few blogs, and finally opened a Word document and watched the cursor flash in the top left corner of a blank screen.
The writer got up and put on a fresh pot of coffee. “I sure hope my muse visits today,” she thought.
The writer sat down, got up again, and called a friend. “My writing isn’t going well. Want to meet for coffee later?”
The writer sat down, got up again, and went for a long walk to the bookstore. “I’m writing a novel set in Roman Britain,” she told the clerk. “Well, I’m about to write one. I’m waiting for my muse.”
The writer went home and read two chapters of Roman Britain. She wrote a long blog post on writer’s block. She posted her Facebook status as “searching desperately for my muse.” Dozens of FB friends commented and commiserated, and this kept her busy for a good hour.
Mid-afternoon, she met her friend at the coffee shop. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me lately,” the writer said. “I have all these ideas but they’re just not coming out on the page. My muse has left me. I need help.”
The friend was a little ticked off because the writer had been talking like this for weeks now, and the friend had a major funding proposal due in two days and she really wanted to talk about that instead of this stupid writer’s block business ad nauseum, because, honestly, it’s not like the friend woke up each morning with a burning desire to head to the office and make fundraising phonecalls, but you didn’t hear her whining about how she just couldn’t seem to talk to clients because the marketing fairy hadn’t been visiting lately, and if they were going to talk about things they weren’t doing regularly, there were more exciting things than writing that sprang to mind. Sheesh, these writers and their “Get out of work free” muse cards.
“Have you tried typing?” the friend asked. “Or picking up a pen? Have you tried switching off the internet and just sitting at your computer for maybe half an hour and putting something on the page?” And off she went, back to work, leaving the writer with her writer’s block.
And the moral is: Muses visit writers, so you’d better be writing when one passes by or she will continue on her way.
Let’s not forget those sage words of the poet William Stafford: “There is no such thing as writer’s block for writers whose standards are low enough.”
Roman Britain here I come.