The demon at Mach 1 is you

In 1947, there was a demon in the sky. And it was guarded by an impenetrable wall.

Pilots and scientists alike called it the Sound Barrier, and pilots and scientists alike thought it a hard barrier. A wall in the sky. Hit the wall, and the plane will crumble. One after another, American pilots squeezed into tiny planes attached to larger ones, flew to a good altitude and were released to the chase. But the thing is, when you corner something, it often turns and attacks. So one after another, these pilots were fed to the demon and forgotten to history.

But they kept coming. And so did the funerals. Until one October day, when Chuck Yeager challenged the demon, armed with ribs broken the night before after falling from a horse and a broomstick to help his ailing body operate essential controls.

Looking warily toward the sky, the ground crew, family, and friends heard an explosion carried by the wind. Another pilot. Another victim of the demon, who must have thought this hotshot pilot got a little too close to his wall for comfort. Mournful moments later, Chuck was heard on the radio, and Mach 1 was behind him.

Writers chase a demon of their own: an impossible level of thought, one we once believed impossible before the time we each typed The End for the first time. Once we’ve proven a novel is attainable, we set our sights on the unreal. We arm ourselves with destructive diets, terrible sleeping habits, and the unrealistic belief that if we just go, go, go and push, push, push a little harder we’ll get there. We’ll find the perfect story. And people of all ages will love it … for generations to come.

We treat ourselves like the enemy. The impenetrable wall is in our brain, and we’ve clearly done something wrong to let it take such deep root. If I could get past myself, we think. If my brain would just focus and sort the millions of random thoughts into a clear, discernible path, we beg.

Taking a break doesn’t help, because the endless thoughts won’t quiet and we suffocate. Going harder doesn’t help either, because we wear ourselves down into exhaustion, insomnia, anger and depression. It’s quicksand either way.

And when we reach the end of our writing rope, the demon is there to prey on us in our weakened state. We hit the wall and lose our heads.

It’s ironic, as fiction writers, that we allow ourselves to suffer this fate. Because the most important thing Chuck Yeager taught us is that the demon isn’t real. There is no perfect story or process, there is no needle to thread, or impossible standard to reach.

Our words. Our worlds. Our way.

Don’t leave all your world-building for your pages. Build a sustainable writing life, and you’ll see the same thing Chuck saw when he reached Mach 1: nothing but blue sky.

Thanks for reading, and be good to yourself.

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