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What Zeus Taught Me about Cutting Through Crap


One of Zeus’s greatest battles was against Typhon, the “father of all monsters,” a horrible being as large as the Earth, with a human upper torso, a bottom half of vipers, and a hundred dragron heads. Ticked off over Zeus’s defeat of the Titans, Typhon attempted to destroy Zeus. The sky-god defended himself at first with his famous thunderbolts, but later with another weapon: His adamantine sickle. 

Although the thunderbolt is Zeus’s signature weapon, it’s the sickle that interests me most. Thunderbolts—symbols of might wielded at a distance—are useful to us defenseless, vulnerable writers. But the sickle is indispensible.

The mythical substance adamant was believed to be the hardest stuff in the universe, and the adamantine sickle comes up in several Greek myths. The Titan Cronus deposed his own father with it, thereby ushering in a mythical golden age, and earning himself a lasting place in Greek belief as Lord of the Harvest. Later, Perseus used it to decapitate the Gorgon Medusa. In all these cases, the adamantine sickle had the same role: it cut away the unnecessary, the excessive, and the destructive.

I see my writing life as a constant cutting away. These days, I’m revising a novel—a process that is almost entirely one of pruning and removal. Editing always involves more deletion than development. 

But it isn’t only in editing that the sickle comes in handy. It can be wielded to get rid of all those things that hinder your writing—the negative thoughts, the distractions, the bad habits, the wasteful practices. Right now, I’m using it to cut away at ancient grudges and regrets. And to trim the time I waste diverting myself with Facebook, YouTube, email, news sites, and whatnot online. Not to forego them completely, of course. Just to stop using them as an excuse not to write. 

Unlike the thunderbolt, the sickle is wielded at a close distance. Toss a thunderbolt casually off Mt. Olympus, and you’re bound to strike something. But the sickle requires close observation, skilled execution, a sure hand. You have to be careful what you’re cutting away—you might discover you need it after all. 

The adamantine sickle works for me. I see it as one of the most useful symbols from any of the mythic archetypes I work with. Zeus, with his bossiness and bad temper, is not my favorite god, but what I’ve gained from wielding his sure, true sickle is invaluable.