sacred cow pies

One of my pet peeves among the writing world are those writers who like to think (or make you think) that writing is some sort of ethereal experience wherein the writer is subjected to the whims and fancies of a muse. I’ve heard countless writers claim that, in order to pen anything, be it a short, a novel, or a greeting card, they must first coax “the muse” to alight upon their shoulders and whisper the words into their ear.

These people speak of their muse as being fickle, not always willing or able to come to them. Or perhaps they feel they must coax said creature by setting the mood just so. That they cannot write unless the moon is full, the tea is perfect, the proper music is playing, the right incense is burning, they’re secluded in a quiet room. And then, when all the proper conditions are met, their muse appears on faerie wings and the story possesses them completely, to the point of no longer washing or shaving or remembering to eat. These writers will then claim they are taken away by the story, consumed by it, transformed into some otherworldly being who must write and write and write and become so devoted to their characters and story that their spouses no longer recognize them, or their friends and family will no longer see or hear from them until they are finally, with great purging of their souls, released by their muse at the end of the novel/short/greeting card/cereal box.

You may ask one of these authors “Where did you come up with this plot?” And you’re likely to hear how they had nothing to do with it, other than holding the pen whilst their muse dictated delicately into their ear. And they’ll explain to you how fickle the muse can be – if frightened or bothered or not fed properly. As quickly as the muse comes, it can easily vanish, leaving the author fretting and bemoaning their unfinished work as they wait, hoping and praying, for it to return.

It’s all bullshit.

Not only is that so much bullshit, it’s offensive and insulting.

Writing is work, and it takes talent, skill and effort. To suggest it’s the product of some ethereal muse who poops faerie dust is to say writing takes no talent and requires no skill. That it’s simply a matter of who can coax the little creature in the window.

Writing is sometimes hard, sometimes easy, sometimes frustrating, mostly fun, always rewarding.

It’s a mysterious process at times, and difficult to explain, but no more so than any other art or form of expression. A painter, a sculptor, a pianist. Anyone who has an innate talent for an art you haven’t mastered yourself, is going to seem mysterious and have a difficult time explaining how they come about their inspiration.

The difference is, we writers love words. We can take hours of your time and expound on anything. We’re bullshit artists, who tell lies for a living, and we’re in love with the printed word.

Ask me, for instance, how I resolved an issue in an upcoming scene I’m about to write, and I could say:

There I sat, on the verge of despair! My novel had come so far, and had so far yet to go, and I found myself trapped by logic and on the verge of total collapse. I’d obsessed over my characters all throughout the week’s end, asking them to resolve the issue, but to no avail. They’d grown weary of my pleadings, and had gone silent. I was at a loss, and could go no further. But then, just as I was lamenting my fate and bemoaning the loss of my muse, she returned! Low and behold, she came back to me, appeased and placated by what means I remain unclear. I know only that she did forgive me my trespass and returned upon my shoulder, speaking to me the words with which I am now able to surpass my block, resolve the plot issue that had my stymied in logic and burdened with impasse. Low and behold, my novel can now move forward, and I am saved again, alas!

What really happened? I was sitting on the toilet this morning, trying to wake up, and it hit me.

There was no muse involved, just years of experience and the knowledge that I’d figure it out, eventually. Usually these things resolve themselves while you’re concentrating on other things. That’s why the best inspiration for novel writing is doing something else. Be it long walks in the woods, or beach combing, yard work or knitting.

But wait a minute, you may say. Isn’t your NAME Midnight Muse? How can you suggest there is no muse and yet you have it right there, in your title?

Muse was my cat, and I used to get a lot of writing done late at night.

Besides, I’m not saying there is no such thing as a muse – a source of inspiration – but if you try to tell me that in order to write, you have to be secluded in a special place, with the music just so, ambient lighting all around, a sense of peace around you, with the incense burning in the hopes of attracting the proper mood, so that your muse may alight on your shoulder and whisper deep plot issues into your ear – if you suggest that the story must possess you to the exclusion of all else, that you cannot eat or bathe, that your characters haunt you with their deepest desires, taking over your mind, body and soul. If you even hint to me that writing is indeed your very life’s blood, and you would die – literally cease to exist – if you could not take finger to keyboard and exorcise your demons. . .

I’m gonna have to call Bullshit on you.

Leave that crap for the wannabes. The plethora of “writers” who spend their days on writing forums debating with fervor the right or wrong of using prologs. People who spend more time talking about writing, than writing.

If you take thirty minutes just to set up your notebook, get your desk cleaned up, arrange your chair and your coffee cup and set the music just right, before you can even take the cap off your pen and write down the title – you might be fooling yourself.

If you spend more time reading How To Write books instead of a crapton of fiction in and out of your preferred genre – you might be fooling yourself.

If you’ve started seven novels over the course of seven years and haven’t finished a single one yet – you might be fooling yourself.

If you start a sentence with : “When I get time…” – you might be fooling yourself.

If you write whenever you can sneak a few spare seconds, adding sentences, scenes, chapters during lunch, breaks, when the boss isn’t looking, while the house hold sleeps, sitting in a waiting room, in the middle of traffic – you might be a writer.

If your story is always in the back of your mind, during meetings or while you’re watching the news – if you suddenly realize the answer to a plot issue while giving a Powerpoint presentation to a crowded conference room, and don’t even have to quickly write it down to remember it – you might be a writer.

If you’ve started, and completed, a novel or short of any length – be it crap in need of heavy rewrites or a pristine first draft – you might be a writer.

If everything you write comes out better than the last thing you wrote – you might be a writer.

If you start up your own fan club on Facebook, begin Tweeting as a character in your novel, or lose entire weeks to an online forum arguing about First Person being an automatic rejection – well, you’re just a doofus.

Power to the People!

Make Love, not War!

Is that Faerie poop on my sweater?

4 thoughts on “sacred cow pies

  1. Geez. Its just writerly fun. Who shit on your sandwich? I doubt that any writer actually believes there’s a muse, but it’s fun to say. We writers know it’s crap, but to me it’s still fun to talk about. Like Santa Claus. Or the Easter Bunny.

    But you know what? If you ask me where my plot came from. I have no idea. Sure, my subconscious. But I often have no clue when I sit down, what I’m going to write. Oh, I’ll have a vague thought of a scene, or a snippet of dialog, so I sit and write that. I just start writing. And I keep writing. When I can’t think of what else to write. I stop. The next day, I return, with a vague notion of what to add. And I write that. Then keep writing. And there it is. When I’m finished, what I wrote is as new to me as it will be to the reader who picks it up. I don’t plot, I don’t pre-plan, I don’t even know how to create an outline… because to do that, I’d need to know before hand what I’m going to write.

    I don’t.

    Is it Muse?

    Or is it just the way my mind works?

    Me, as a fantasy writer, I love the thought that maybe there is still magic in the world.

  2. I know where all my plots come from. And when I boil down the explanations, they ALL come from “deductive logic.” Or, if nothing else, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?”

    It seems to me that one should know where the creative stuff comes from. I don’t think that makes it any less magical or powerful. Writing is, at the same time, magic…and brick-laying. And it’s important not to forget the second bit.

    As for writers who actually believe that stuff…well, I’ve met more than a few. Mostly, it seems to be a get-out-of-jail clause for having to sit there and gut it out.

    I liked something Alan Moore said. “Most writers have an instinctive superstition about looking at their own creative process too closely, as if it’s prone to vanishing. It seems to me that if you make your living as a writer, you should know how the process works. If you made your living driving a car, you would probably want to have some idea what went on under the hood, in case it all broke down.”

    Knowing where my ideas come from and where my stories appear doesn’t magically stop me from getting stuck. But it does tend to give me a good starting place to think about what’s sticking me. (So often, it’s that I’ve come at a scene from the wrong angle, like starting a song in the wrong key. Sometimes, it’s that the scene is bigger than I thought and needs some thought and logic applied to it.)

    Mostly what I hate about the floaty, mythy-mountain muse stuff is, it’s just an excuse to be aloof and arrogant without actually doing any work. Nine times out of ten. (And as LeVar Burton used to say….you don’t have to take MY word for it.) Go read Stephen King’s “On Writing” again, and he expresses the same mislike.

    Actually, nearly every writer I admire does, come to think of it. Harlan Ellison most perfectly (he could actually cause someone to burst into flames over it).

    Hear hear, Kristine. I’m buying this round of beers. 🙂

  3. I understand the superstition of analyzing it too closely and worrying it will disappear. There was a world-class golfer back in the 20s — forget his name — but he was the best, on top of his game, then someone convinced him to write a how-to book. He sat down, started to analyze his game, his swing, what made it work, and you know what? He OVERanalyzed it and it screwed up his game and he faded into oblivious.

    Pete, if you understand where your ideas come from, and how that all works. Great. I don’t. I swear that all I have is a vague idea when I sit down to write. Its like there’s a veil over my imagination, I can see shapes and shadows through the veil, but until I start writing, the veil doesn’t lift.

    And I have NO idea how my car works. I just drive it. The same with my writing. I have no idea how my mind works. I just write it. If that’s a sign that I’ll never become Stephen King (and I’ve read “On Writing.” It seemed mostly autobiographical) or Harlan Ellison, then I guess I’ll have to live with that.

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