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 things...you 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.--
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?