Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Muse, a ruse?

Do you believe in the power of the muse?

You're looking blankly at a white page, or the digital recreation of one, for hours, not knowing what to write. You begin to contemplate your grasp of the english language, how much caffeine you can guzzle, and your sanity.

Then a light bulb. A eureka! And you want to go sprinting through the streets naked praising the name of whomever flipped the switch in your brain. Inspiration has struck, the muse has seen fit to reach down her(his) hand and grace you with intelligence for one brief second.

Is it only me who thinks this is bullshit? Like, utter and complete bullshit.

Can I say bullshit on this blog?

Whatever, I'm doing it. I'm calling bullshit on the muse.

Classically speaking, the muses were ancient greek godesses who inspired artistic creations. Be it music, literature, dance, drama, or visual art. The best was all chalked up to the muses and their favourite humans.

Also, as in most Greek myths, these women were fierce. Nine sisters once tried to challenge the muses and ended up being turned into magpies. Uck.

Now (I'm in no way an expert!) in a lot of early religions (not commenting on modern religions at all) spirits and gods and goddesses were created to explain things people didn't understand. Like, they couldn't explain lightning like we can (er, not me...I honestly forget...something to do with clouds...and electricity, but I KNOW we have figured it all out, and that's what counts.) so they just said, "O.o Zeus is angry today."

I think we can all agree to be more intelligent than that. Not more awesome though. I would LOVE to have that be my reaction to lightning...every time.

In the words of the amazing Maureen Johnson:

I mean, if you opened your oven and found a loaf of homemade bread, you wouldn’t say, “THE BREAD FAIRY HAS COME!”* Because you would know that you spent the morning buying ingredients, kneading the dough, letting it rise, and baking it properly. You also took the time to learn how to bake, and probably burned a loaf or two in the effort.

When writing goes well, it feels magical . . . but there is no magic to it. Writing goes well because you have done some work. You have spent MANY MANY MANY HOURS sitting at your desk, written pages and pages and pages of useless crap, read piles of books, done a lot more wrong than you have right, questioned your sanity and talent . . . and just kept going. No muse involved.

Now, I am the first person to admit that sometimes writing is hard. Sometimes you know where the story and the characters need to go but the words you type are all "and" "the" "she" "he" etc. All those ugly words that are needed but no fun to write.

And it is so easy to say, "the characters aren't doing what I want them to do." Or "my muse just isn't with me, I need to go look at some Rob pics." Or, my personal one, "this is such an off day, I'm going to youtube."

It may feel like life is against you, the characters you created (and have complete power over) aren't listening to you, or Rob is just better than anything else that day, but those are just excuses. Believe me, I use them all the time. You are doing poorly and you want to blame something, ANYTHING else.

An example from the publishing world that angers me, in a recent Q&A Stephenie Meyer had the following to say about Midnight Sun:

So why the hold up? Because it’s not finished and lying in a safe. It’s not done, and finishing it is not a simple matter of sitting down in front of my computer and typing out the words; the words have to be there in my head to type out, and right now, they’re not. I have to be in the zone to write any story, and trying to force myself into that zone is a waste of time, I’ve found. I’ll get back to Midnight Sun when the story is compelling to me again. Just because people want it so badly does not make it more write-able; kind of the opposite, actually. I need to be alone with a story to write, and Midnight Sun feels really crowded, if you know what I mean.

People write for different reasons. I have always written to make myself happy. If I’m enjoying a story, feeling the creativity flow, engrossed in a world, then I write and I write fast. If I’m not into it, I can’t write. I’ve never been someone who writes on demand and I can’t imagine working that way. As cool as it would be to say to my favorite author, “You know, I’d really like to read a great book about a narwhal mafia. Write that for me, ’kay?” or even “I’d love a sequel to that last one,” that’s not how it works. How it works is that my favorite author writes a new book about whatever he/she is interested in. Maybe it takes a year, maybe it takes five. If it’s something I want to read, I buy it or I check it out at the library. If not, I find something else to read. The end.

Now, there are only two authors in the world who could get away with this attitude. Stephenie Meyer and J. K. Rowling.


Because the words they write are worth so much money in the publishing industry, their agents and editors would literally dive to the bottom of the ocean to find their manuscripts with a flashlight and one of them asthma medication tube know, like Bart in that episode of the Simpsons? You know...?

--Side note, it has been brought to my attention that some other authors are similar, eg, Stephen King, Dan Brown, etc. But I didn't include them because, while they are popular and I'm sure they don't need to write to make a living any longer, they didn't change the publishing world. They are, if you will, what everyone hopes to be when they publish. JKR and SM are completely different. No one hopes for what they have because no one believed it was possible before them.--

Well, the point is, that most people who make a living writing need to continue earning money. They need a yearly income that can sustain their level of living. Writing is like any other nine to five job for them. Except it's one they worked very hard to get and if one day they are doing a crappy job, well, they have to just keep on truckin'. Like all of us non-paid-writers do.

Do these moments of crap make you a bad writer? Absolutely not. Sometimes, you're going to write crap. That's just the way it is. What makes someone a wonderful writer, in my opinion, is the ability to see the crap, move on, and trust that they can fix it in editing.

And then, you know, actually go back and do the editing, no matter how painful it is.

If Stephenie had already sold Midnight Sun to Little Brown (who are probably kicking themselves about this) she wouldn't have a choice. She would've already gotten her advance and would have to write the darn thing, no matter what mood she was in. And I'm sure it would be fine. I'm sure it would be just as good as her other work, however you feel about that, as well. I honestly think Stephenie is selling herself short about this. Although, she was a success before really having to live in the industry so it isn't surprising that her attitude is different. J. K. Rowling is the same way.

Not that I'm saying they didn't work for their success, I'm sure they did, I'm sure they had days where they wanted to quit and didn't. I just mean, success, like they've had, in the publishing industry has never happened before, so obviously their attitude is going to be different.

Now, obviously, we don't have to write fanfiction. It's a hobby. But, I feel, that this makes the subject of muses even more important. Criticism and compliments are the only payment we get. Writing is work, it takes a lot of work and I am amazed that so many of us are willing to do it. And it hurts me when people don't take responsibility for the amazing work that they do. And it makes me roll my eyes and discount someone when they blame their mistakes on the lack of a muse.

My own advice for the difficult times is to do one of two things. Or you can do both...whatever works for you.

1. You can work on a different part. Type in a line in red that says something like, "This scene gets finished, and then the characters go HERE" and continuing writing from there. Sometimes, you just have other scene's more clearly in your head, and you need to do those scene's first before you can finish the earlier ones. Writing is seldom a linear process. Don't be afraid to write all over the place.

2. Outline it. Write the whole scene out in point form. Figure out exactly what each character is thinking and feeling and saying. Choreograph it if you have to. This way, even if feel you are technically writing poorly, which is a very subjective thing anyway, at the least you can write out the scene so that it makes sense. So that the story can continue.

What do you do to get past the hard parts?


  1. SMeyer just sucks. But I worship J.K. Rowling. Such a lame lame excuse for Midnight Sun. The more she lets it sit there, the more it's never gonna get done, 'cause all her inspiration's going to be gone. I just hate her sometimes... I think JK Rowling will go on to write more amazing things, but SMeyer will never be able to compare to her.

    I have blamed lame chapters on lack of a muse (aka writer's block) before. *hangs head in shame* I've also done the line in red thing before. Though most of the time when I'm stuck, I go read something heartfelt and amazing, whether it be a book of FF. And then I get inspired to keep writing.

  2. Great article. I agree with everything you said about Meyer and the Midnight Sun situation. One credit I will give her though, is she must not care about money at all.

    I've always written my stories out of order. I usually start somewhere in the middle, then work on the beginning so I can actually start posting the thing, then the end works itself out. If I ever get bored by some chapter I just switch to another section and the story gets done much faster that way.

    My favorite movie of all time is about muses. Xanadu. Best. Movie. Ever.

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  4. SMeyer, I don't believe her excuse to stop writing MS to be honest. It kind of sounds like she's too lazy to write.

    I think J.K is a gabajillion (that doesn't even make sense as a number) times better. HP for the win! Also, I have to praise her charity writing. The Tales Of Beedle The Bard - all royalties went to charity, and I loved that.

    When I'm stuck, I do something fun or mindless, or sometime both. Occasionally reading a book or watching tv makes me inspired, but lately I've found that reading manga works way better. Seriously, it's an amazing discovery on my part. Maybe it's because manga isn't as descriptive as novels, so the describing words just flow into my head - the environment, the situation, the way the characters are feeling, etc.

    Not that anybody cares about my opinion... Haha.

    I liked the article, btw. Should have pointed that out earlier.

    Oh, but I do believe the best moment for ideas/inspiration is just before and after you go to sleep. I heard an author interview, can't remember who was being questioned, but she wouldn't talk to anyone for an hour after she woke up. She'd just write.

    I get ideas before I sleep (which is bad 'cause I'm now partly insomniac). The author said a possible reason for this is because before and after you sleep your mind is relaxed, and the connection between the logical part of your brain and the creative side, get stronger, meaning the best time for an idea.

    Just food for thought.

  5. Great commentary on the muse. Recently, I've had many hard days and the white screen has become dreaded, but while it never feels good to force writing, it can happen. I go to WC's and make myself write or I've even asked my beta what day she can edit and get a beta imposed deadline. That last one works much better than a self imposed deadline.

    Getting away from writing all together helps me too. In fact, finding a place where writing is impossible: driving, working out, riding my bike.

    But honestly, the best thing in the world for me is talking to my best friend, who I actually call my muse. She is willing to sit and talk to me about the craziness that is my story and help me get past the hard parts.

    Some times I write a lot of shit in a document and if I'm not satisfied, rather than deleting it, I open a new doc and start over. More times that not, I end up using a lot of what was in the original doc.

  6. Yeah, sorry Caitlin, my cutesie little Uranus Snuggiebear.

    I disagree with you.

    Sometimes, shit just kills it. IDK if it's a "muse" but for me, "muse" is just a way of saying, "a passion for continuing." Be it because of a Eureka moment, or just the want to go on. Sometimes that dies. Sometimes people murder it.

    I can't blame SM for not continuing MS. If Angel leaked my half-completed WA epi, I'd be like... fuck it. Half of you are going to just flame it anyway and I garner zero enjoyment out of hearing it all while I'm trying to finish the other half. It's just the way it is.

    It'd kill my spirits.


    The end.

  7. I can see both sides of the issue. I believe it is absolutely true that sometimes the inspiration is with you and sometimes it's not, and when it's not it is hard to come up with something good. That is the essence of a creative endeavor. Working at a "creative" type of career is not the same as going to work as a banker or any other 9-to-5 office job. You can't just phone it in. That said, IF you choose a "creative endeavor" as your career of choice you will have days when it does become a "9-to-5" job and you must create on demand. I know someone who writes romance novels and she has literally taken work with her on a cruise vacation because she is on a deadline to get her edits done for her publisher.

    In RL I work in a creative profession (NOT writing) and there are times when no matter how hard I try I can only come up with something "so-so" because I'm just not feeling the project or I'm just not inspired. Yes you do have to keep going and plow through and come up with the best you can at that moment.

    One of the things I love about writing FF is that it has given me those "Aha!!"moments back that I rarely get anymore in my RL profession. Those moments when inspiration literally strikes and you come up with a new scene in your head, or the next plot twist in your story, or the "ooh what if the characters do and say THIS next!?" moment. I sometimes get giddy happy when I know I've come up with something good.

    I love what tellytubby said about coming up with ideas before or after sleep...I do that so often!! On the weekends I like to sleep in, but sometimes wake up earlier than I want to. While half-asleep and trying to will myself back to sleep (which never usually happens) I'll start thinking about my stories and I have literally "written"most of my stories in my head that way. Or something will hit me just as I'm trying to go to sleep and then I will be awake forever thinking about it in my head.

    As for SM I can totally understand why she would be tired of vampires and would be wanting to write some other things. I loved MS too and would of course buy it in a heartbeat if she wrote it. However the series is also quite complete (IMO) as-is and if she adds no more to them I'm okay with that too. If she IS serious about some of these other book ideas she has talked about in her interviews (including more for the Host) I think it is going to be a very very long time before she gets back to MS anyway, if she does at all.

  8. *smirks* Guess I'm just a brat, 'cause like SM I can't write when I'm not in the zone, when I'm not feeling the characters and the world they live in... And it also doesn't help that when I have no inspiration at all I'm like: Whatever, I'll get back to it. I wrote a fanfic once and it went pretty smoothly, until I was reaching the end and just couldn't get anything done. I tried to write and rewrite and just stare at my computerscreen and try to force the words out, but eventually I gave up and pulled my story from FFn (and felt like a total douche for doing it, but what's worse? To continue failing your readers for months and months or just giving it up all together, I dunno, but I just didn't like the story anymore that I was writing and actually felt like rewriting the whole thing so...). Anyway, what I'm saying is: I totally get SM and I don't blaim her for not wanting to continue MS at the moment. If something like that happened to me (half of my book leaking out on the internet) I don't think I could continue quickly afterwards either, 'cause it wouldn't really be yours anymore... Everyone would be anticipating it and it would put a lot of pressure on you and I'm guessing that already happens when you're writing a serie of books that became immensly popular, but it wouldn't be YOUR project anymore you know? I can't explain it right... But anyway, I think most writers can get that and some can't, but everyone's different and everyone goes through the writing process differently. Currently I'm trying to just write random chapters of this idea I've had for months and see what comes out, maybe that'll work, who knows... What I do agree with you is that muses are kind of a myth, I don't need a muse to write, I need to WANT to write. And yeah, you do need inspiration, but most things I write are just weird things twirling around in my brain that were inspired by movies, books, tv shows, things I saw on my way to school or in the mall. Can't really call all of that muses, right?


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