A to Z of Things Writers Should Know About Writing: Muse

Okay. Now I’m finally back. Obviously, I’m ridiculously behind, so I’m not really hoping to finish the A to Z Challenge in time.

Someone suggested that I just drop in on today’s letter, but the thing is… I just don’t want to do that. I was really enjoying writing these posts, so it just feels a bit off for me to skip like half the alphabet in an attempt to conform to some sort of arbitrary expectation.

Sorry if I’m sounding like I’m being all faux academic. Really, I’m not. I’m really just pulling words out of the ether as I’m writing this. And the post will go live as soon as I’m done. I know, I know. I wouldn’t even be in this pickle if I’d just scheduled posts ahead but… You know what? I like living on the edge even if I fall off every now and then.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaanyway.

What I’m going to do is change the name a bit and call my posts for the A to Z Challenge (and Beyond) the A to Z of Things Writers Should Know About Writing and then I’m just going to keep going on my own time until the posts are done.

Maybe, when I’m done, I might decide to start another A to Z series, because I’m enjoying the mental acrobatics involved, but we’ll see. In the meantime:

Today, I’m at M, which in my mind stands for Muse.

No, not the band – although they’re EPIC.

I’m talking about the muse. Your muse. My muse. Different muses.

I used to write about mine (even in passing) much more than I do these days. Mostly, it’s because someone ALWAYS comments that “Muses don’t exist and you should just write”. And although this is sort of true, it’s a bit tiring to keep explaining that I’m not really all airy fairy in my approach to writing. (I think my recent monthly posts on my writing progress might have convinced people of this. But there you go.)

I suspect, from those “Muses don’t exist” comments that not all writers have the same experience as me. Or if they do, they’ve shoved their muse into some faraway corner of their imagination in an effort to simplify their writing process. Which is, of course, just as valid an approach to writing as mine.

This is still important for everyone to know, though, so even if you’re rolling your eyes, shush a moment longer and pay attention.

See, whatever you think, you as a writer need to make sure you have a healthy relationship with your writing. Your muse, if you will.

The way I look at it, my creativity in general and my writing creativity specifically comes from some place other than my writing thought. So I’m a very intuitive writer, I suppose, writing words down literally as they come to me. (Although the words do sometimes come faster than I can write them down.) There is, however, not much along the lines of conscious thought to my writing efforts. Especially when I’m drafting fiction.

So for me, the muse idea works, in the sense of it’s a psychological embodiment of my creative efforts. So to me, it’s not a question of muses existing or not. Mine (both of them) exist because I called them into existence the same way I call my characters into existence. (In fact, one of my muses is one of my characters in my fantasy series.)

However, you might prefer to call a muse your creativity, or your dedication to a story, or your desire to write a story down, or the million little moments of inspiration that go into creating a story. That’s exactly what a muse is.

I just call them my muses because it’s a bit catchier.

Now that I have that sorted, let me get to the important things you should know about muses.

1) Muses are very erratic creatures, so you can’t sit around waiting for them to inspire you to write.
2) Muses can (and will, if you let them) bury you under new ideas. In a sense, that’s their job. Your job is to finish ideas one at a time so you can actually call things done.

That’s pretty much it, really. Muses give you ideas, but they don’t give you the determination or dedication to your story that you’ll need to finish it. You will, however, find that if you show dedication and determination, your muse will be kinder to you.

Not always, mind you. But if you commit to finishing a story until that commitment is part of your process, your muse will give you the inspiration needed to know what you should be writing down.

But read this and absorb it:

Muses don’t make us want to write. 

That comes from our dedication to and love of our story. It took me a while to learn this, which is why I’m putting this bluntly. The sooner you learn this, the sooner you’ll become an efficient writer.

Do you believe in muses? What’s yours like? What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about your creative process? 

A to Z Challenge: Ideas

Usually, the whole writing journey starts with a single idea. You’re probably going to get that new idea while you’re innocently reading a book or watching a movie. 
Maybe you already have the first beginnings of an idea forming in your mind. That stirring in your soul when you close the book. That thought about: This can’t be the end. What about so-and-so? What will happen to them if something or the other happens? 
And then, the next thing you know, you have an idea. Some people dismiss that idea and open a new book. Some of us, though, are consumed by that idea until we just want to write a few pages to get it out. 
But a few pages isn’t enough. So you write a few more. 
You fall in love with the idea. With the characters. With the sheer joy of exploring your newly created scenario. With the joy of pure creation. 
At this point, my friend, you’re screwed. 
The muse has you hooked, and she’s a cruel cruel mistress. You’ll be grumpy and agitated when you don’t write. And often wracked by fears and doubts as you do. And yet somehow, you’re still simply not happy unless you’re writing. 
And then, as you settle into the routine (you know, the way people who ride a roller coaster again and again eventually can sleep on it.), things become complicated. 
Because while you adore the story you’re working on, a new idea comes to you. 
Now suddenly you have a choice. Most new kids (me included when I was there) let my inspiration and ideas carry me from project to project. But the thing is, it’s a real risk that you’ll end up getting lost in your million new ideas. So lost that you won’t know which one to pick up and which one to let lie. 
That’s when the new kids start crying something along the line of: “Oh I just can’t finish projects!” 
Well… no. You haven’t taught yourself how to see anything through. Trust me on this: your muse is a terrible enabler. She will give you five new ideas for every single one you start. And five for each of those. And so on. 
It’s your job to say: “Thanks muse, but can we please finish this story first?” 
It’s always a choice you’re making, even if you don’t realize it yet. But if you ever want to get done, you need to commit to finishing one thing. Then the next. And the next. 
Or, you might be like me and you’ll learn how to actually work on seven projects at any given time and still finish all of them in a year. 
But that’s a skill I learned first by learning how to finish one book, and then two. So focus on that first. Focus on finishing your stories, or your ideas will remain ideas only. 
Where did your first idea strike you? How soon after that did the second idea hit? 

A to Z Challenge: Discipline

So… I know this might be the way to madness, but I never (ever ever never) schedule my A to Z Challenge posts. I really do, and always have, write all of them off the cuff on the day they’re supposed to go live. (Or, in this case, as soon as possible after.)

It’s a system that works for me.

Usually. Yesterday my internet connection went just as I was preparing to open my editor page to get this post written. Luckily it’s on now, though. So I’m quickly writing this while hoping that the connection holds.

Continuing my theme of Things Writers Should Know About Writing, I’m back to my old habit of destroying dreams and sharing unwanted reality checks.

This one’s a biggie.

A lot of people (and I will, if the internet holds, devote an entire post to them) think that writing a book is this wonderful trail with bunnies and unicorns and inspiration and stuff. They think that every morning, writers hop up out of bed saying:

“Oh boy! My heart is all a-flutter because I am inspired to write! I love this book to death, so fa-la-la-la-la write writerly write write write. Oh look! I finished another story. Query!”

The reality, I fear, usually is something closer to this:

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” 

Dorothy Parker

Not very bunnies and unicorns, is it? 
That’s because the rest of humanity thinks of muses as these smiling kind creatures. And they think that writers are blessed among men because they get to have a love affair with their muse. 
The reality… 
Very. Very. Different. 

Writers’ relationships with their muses tend to be more love/hate. We love them to death, but sometimes we’d really just like to kill them. 
So no, it’s not inspiration that gets us through the story. It’s not love either, I’m sad to say. (Although writing without loving your story sets your story up for failure anyway.) Even if you love your story idea, it’s not going to go anywhere if you’re going to wait for some sort of magic moment when all the stars align and your muse decides s/he likes you after all. Trust me. That is the road to madness. 

No, dear. Discipline is what finishes stories. Sitting down and writing even when you’re suddenly in love with a new idea (because your bitch of a muse has seen it fit to “inspire” you with something different. Don’t do it. It’s a trap.) Even when you feel like watching cute kitties on YouTube. Even when you don’t see bunnies and unicorns on your writerly road today. (Because let’s face it, you won’t for most of your writing days.) 
Have you written lately? No? Then what the heck are you doing on the internet? Go now. Go go go. 

Every second you don’t, I’m shooting a plot bunny. 

On finishing a manuscript…

So… Doorways is done… for most of a week now. Feelings about that: Mixed.

On the one hand, I’m thrilled and enjoying the freedom of not having anything to finish.

On the other, I’m… bored. After all, I’ve spent a very long time working on it. It’s basically framed my life for almost six years. Now it’s gone. Sure I might, and probably will do some final polishes, but nothing that requires my immediate attention just yet. On the contrary, if I’m going to do some more polishing even though it’s good enough now, I need distance. Which means I need to do anything else but work on Doorways.

In fact, I’m thinking I might take a bit of a break on writing, since it had taken up a substantial part of my life. You know, to experiment with new hobbies, catch up with friends, read more…

*snort* Yeah. Right. My muse is already back on my case with a variety of options as to what I can work on.

So… maybe my writing holiday will come to an end soon.

What do you do after finishing a manuscript?

Others have said: Unsought thoughts mean the most.

Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable. 

Francis Bacon

Sometimes we spend hours in front of blank pages, searching and searching for the right thing to write. And then once we wrote what we’ve thought of, we’re critical. Some of us tend to spend hours editing and changing every. single. thing. we’ve written.

I know I do, if I don’t watch my internal editor like a hawk.

But here’s the thing. Those thoughts and ideas that I actively go looking for always have something lacking in them. Which is why I edit the writing that comes from those thoughts to death.

There are other thoughts and ideas, though. Unbidden ones. If I spend too much time on thinking when I write, those ideas are rare. Or maybe they pop up as often as always, but they’re drowned out in all of my forced thoughts.

Those jewels appear, seemingly out of the ether. They’re the ones that are the miracle cures of writing. More often than not, they’re brilliant. All of my original inspirations, plot problem solutions etc. come from unbidden thoughts.

I could be wrong, but from my own experience, unbidden thoughts and ideas come from the subconscious, after my mind has taken into account more aspects than I could even have thought of and untangled the mess. The result therefore is more complex than the one I consciously could have thought of and yet simple to apply.

And usually, it solves more than just the issue that got me thinking in the first place.

Because of this, I never worry about a writer’s block. It’s just my mind working out some issues in the story that I haven’t even perceived.

It’s also the reason why I zone out when I write. I don’t want to consciously decide what I’m writing. Because those conscious decisions have led me astray time and time again. To me, conscious decisions are for revisions and edits.

They have no real place in my creative process. Which is why I always refer to my muse, or to my characters making the calls. I don’t really believe in muses. But for me to write, I have to keep my writing mind (one dependent on unbidden thoughts) as far from my conscious mind as possible.

Without that, I would never have been able to create something as complex as the Doorways series.

While writing, do you consciously decide what you’re going to write? Or do you also try to disconnect your thoughts as far as possible?

I’m getting there.

Despite all my efforts, all my pep talks and all attempts, I have been stalled in my writing for some time.

At first it was fear.

I was paralyzed by the scope of the story I’m writing. But I slowly talked myself out of the frenzy. While my story is terrifying, I am the writer. As such, I am the one that gets the story told. So the Beast may snarl at me all it wants. I am its boss. I own it.

It is my pet.

But just as I settled into this new perception of my relationship with my writing, my muse upped and left me high and dry. I think there is a very good reason for this. Namely: Apple season. I get so bogged down in my job that I haven’t any consecutive hours available. Those I have are spent on other commitments.

Of course, my muse returned after she realized that her little tantrum was going largely unnoticed.

This means that I feel it stirring. That desire to sit down with my characters and just talk. I want to know more about them. What makes them happy? What makes them angry? What made them what they are today?

I am becoming painfully aware that I let up right after the start of the adventure. The knowledge that my one storyline is largely unexplored is niggling at me.

In short… it is a matter of time before I open my word processor and start writing.

In fact… I can feel the coming of a flood.

Anyone else expecting the dam to burst after a while spent not writing? Do you see this as a good or a bad thing?

Contradictions in my muse and me.

My muse is a wonderful lady sometimes. Yet somehow, she manages to be a complete bitch at the same time. 

For example, she believes that pressuring me to write during a time that I’m down is a bad idea, so she just doesn’t give me anything to say. Of course, the one thing that can get me out of the doldrums would be… yep you guessed it. Writing.

She hits me with the most wonderful ideas.

When I’m too busy to do anything with them.

Then she leaves in a huff because I didn’t get back to her quick enough. Leaving me with nothing when I do have time to write.

Sigh.

 She got me though the first draft of Doorways. And promptly started ignoring me when I wanted to get stuck into the rewrite.

Now she’s nudging me towards writing again. Except that the idea floating around in my head has nothing to do with the rewrite. 

Charming.

I’m actually contemplating putting my rough draft aside for a month so that I can approach it with an open mind.  I think a big reason why I’m getting so stuck is that I’m co close to the current version that I just can’t possibly imaging changing anything to the storyline. Even as I realize that huge changes are necessary.

But even as I say so, part of me is completely balking at the idea. After all. I spent so much time on Doorways that the idea of doing something else for a while is completely alien. Sigh.

My muse is refusing to give me any advice on this one. So now I’m asking yours. Do I take a break or don’t I?