Somewhere between the real and the fictional, sits an invisible pixie, satyr, yahg or platypus that feeds you ideas. The muse. She (or he, or it) is never around when you want them to be. It’s their fault when we have writer’s block, when we want to abandon the plot we’ve been thrashing through for the sake of the new one about the dancing robot with an elven girlfriend, and when our character decides to jump out of a plane we’re intent on killing them in.
My muse is a bitch.
I suppose it’s only fair. I can’t say I give much thought to the well-being of my muse. I’m not entirely neglectful, but we don’t have a great working relationship. I tried out the advice in this book, but alas, imagined slaps were incurred. There’s people in my real or waking life that matter a great deal to me, and there’s fictional characters that I care a damn lot about – both ones of my own, and ones in the works of others. If somebody starts telling me about their own story, even if I’ve never read a word of it, I start imagining what their characters would be like. Yet I don’t think about my Muse.
One could assume she doesn’t need the attention, but I don’t know now.
It’s not like I don’t feed her. I give her lots of things to break down into story atoms, whether it be the words of a song, the smell I associate with a cold breeze, or that strange contortion I feel my face do when I meet someone from my childhood again. I give her a lot of downtime. I might even ignore her a bit, but I reason it into her doing what she does for my sake, at my convenience. Just over the weekend, she gave me two new ideas. One came from a song I was listening to (and for a change, it was one with lyrics) that snowballed into a bigger, more emotive concept with each successive song. The other was in a dream, where there was apparently subtlety in the overall theme of morality vs conformity, and how the latter tends to give selective blindness about the former.
The problem I have is that when I need her, she’s never there. She doesn’t often come flying in with ideas when I’m in the midst of a blockage, and the select few times when she does, it’s been with a brand new idea that I should take on instead of the one I’m trying to finish.
It’s possible that in intangible Muse-land, mine has a blog of her own, complaining that I never use her ideas when she gives them to me, or that I’m begging for ideas when she’s all tapped out. I don’t know. She works on Muse-time, which seems to be the most ridiculous calendar I’ve ever encountered, but I need to make it work. Don’t mistake this post for a lack of appreciation about all she’s done. There’s been times when she’s stayed with an idea that I’ve lost the momentum on, giving me an alternate way of looking at things- be it a new character in a familiar setting, or a character doing something unexpected. Yes, at times it works against me, but I don’t consider it to be an overall problem.
No, I’ve never written for her. I’ve never given though to what she wants.
If I had to imagine her, she’s an observer trapped somewhere between me and the fictional universes that all these stories happen in. Most of the time it feels more like I’m transcribing events that’ve happened than deciding upon the fates of planets, cities and characters for myself. All these marvellous things that happen, and there’s no other way for people to find out about them unless I write it down. Some fictional historian I am!
I suppose maybe the issue is with me. I know that there are times when I’m stuck on what to write, I do try to take on the load. I can get better at that, maybe pushing her less when I need an idea. There are also ways in which I can give her more to work with, so that the inspiration isn’t coming from almost nothing.
- Look around at my surroundings. Not just the immediate, but the little details, right down to stitching or screws.
- Vary what I read, watch, or listen to. If I always listen to jazz, I shouldn’t be surprised if all my stories focus on beatniks.
- Think about the why. Why people do things. Why they want things. Why they everything.
- Explore, finding new places or sights in the world – not just in distant lands, but closer to home.
- Dwell on a thought. Savour it instead of devouring it, finding out all that it could be. There may be more beneath the surface than I see.
- Look at the rest of life with the same wonder that I do when staring at trees or sunsets or any aspect of nature like that.
- Examine the elements of the scene. I talk a lot about possibilities, but need to push it further. A character should always do something rather than nothing, unless the nothing is somehow a something.
- Go warm and cool. Not with the weather, but with surroundings. Look for the bright in the depressing, and the morbid in the happy.
- People-spot. Think about their motivations, history. Put them in a different place or time.
- Absorb more. Be in the moment, present instead of just there.
- Ignore the blank. Not a madlib! If the brain is blank, FIND something to say or write. It doesn’t even have to fit, and it definitely doesn’t need to be perfect.
- Enjoy the words. It’s still meant to be fun, even if it’s also hard work.
And of course, when a new idea is presented to me – use it, explore it, and see what could be done with it. Perhaps my gritty space drama NEEDS a romance, or something to drive it out of the realm of utterly depressing fiction. It might be against what is expected to fit, but it doesn’t mean it can’t fit either. It really is time that I carried my weight, not only giving my muse a better diet of story atoms, but also taking on more of what she gives me. Less one-sidedness about it, and maybe I’ll find she’s not such a bitch after all.