Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Denying The Muse

Like I've said a handful times before, I used to be the Queen of beginnings. For the longest time, I wrote stories I never finished. Beginning after beginning, start after start and nothing to show for it, except a truck load of half stories that I never wrapped up. I feel this is the curse of an overactive imagination.

A lot of writers talk about their 'muse'. This is basically what we call our imagination. Some people even name them, things like Bob and Flutterbutt DeBarnacle, and give them characteristics. The idea of a muse is a bit crazy if you break it down. A lot of non-writers don't understand why we have them. Well, a muse to a writer is much like an invisible friend is to a child. They keep us company when we're all alone, or in really boring, never-ending business meetings. In a lot of ways they keep us sane, while giving the world the impression we're completely off our rocker.

Writers, like fingerprints, are all uniquely different.

Some need complete silence while others need music. There are some people who can create under any circumstances. They have the luxury of being able to shut the world around them out. Others need to lock themselves away, burrowing themselves in a dank, dark cave as far away from humanity as possible. Some even write with their laptops precariously perched on the arm of their couch with the television playing the latest episode of something they can pay little attention to, a cat laying across one arm and a dog's head in their lap. The later might be close to what I experience on a day to day basis.

But that's all physical environment and, in reality, there is another environment writers are tested with every day. The mental environment. Humans are moody bastards. We allow the people around us to dictate our moods, as well as the weather and trivial things like how many dishes are in the sink. There are some writers out there who can write no matter what mood they are in. I hate them with my whole heart. Just kidding. Well, sort of. I just went through a very tedious couple of months where I was unable to write a word. Even the outgoing dirty emails I like to send screeched to a halt. (That's another joke.) For me, I need a mental environment like a soothing rainy day, calm, slightly gray and a total sense of not caring.

The key to becoming a successful writer (which I gauge by works completed and not books sold) is to know what environment you need in order to utilize your muse. A lot of writers will agree, if something is off in their house or mind, they won't be able to write. You hear writers talking about 'writer's block' and, if I am being blunt, I think it's a crock of crap. (Sometimes my way with words shocks even me.) As I am not one to state anything without telling you why, here's why:

No matter what a writer says, they are never completely blocked. Never. They can stream out a paragraph of complete dung if they wanted to. The thing is, they have a standard of writing they like to craft. It's when they feel their standard isn't being met that they lean back in their chair, throw their hands in the air and say they have writer's block. Creativity isn't like the heart. The arteries to the muse are never clogged with fat. There is no surgery to get you back on track. Doctors can't stick a shunt in your imagination to clear it out. The truth is, your imagination is always there, but sometimes it doesn't function the way you want it to. 

This is when you have to step back and take a look at your environment, physical and mental. I can almost guarantee you a hundred percent that something is off. Did you move your furniture around? Is the season changing? Got a headache? Did someone annoy you at work? Irritating song stuck in your head? Even something as insignificant as changing your haircut can mess with your mojo.

The key is to not despair. You can adjust your environments to get your muse talking to you again. And sometimes, it speaks a bit softly, so you really have to listen. Oh, and you might notice it strikes when you least expect it. Usually, for me, late at night when I have to be up in a couple of hours. Know when it likes to deliver its message and wait for it...it will come.

Most of us are accustomed to jumping to attention when the Muse graces us with their presence. But I believe in denying the muse. It's something I've started doing in the last two years. I don't sit down to write a novel until I've allowed the idea to fester for awhile. Unlike many writers, I don't plot or draft or outline. No. I mull. I turn the idea over and over and allow my imagination to run rampant until I've sorted the ideas out in my head. Then, and only then, I sit down and writer 'chapter one' at the top of a new word document.

Denying the muse is important for me. It has stopped me from being the Queen of beginnings and allowed me to actually end a few things. Don't get me wrong, I have a vast array of twenty page stories that I don't know if I will ever finish. But I also have a few completed novels under my belt as well. And that's all because I had the guts to deny my muse. To cultivate my idea. To water it. To let it grow until it was ready to be put on paper.

Much like a lover, the muse needs to be wooed and teased. Sometimes playing hard to get can work wonders. After all, it is the thrill of the chase. And do you want your muse thinking you're easy? Heavens, no! It's okay to make it work a little for your attention. Toss things up a bit. As we all know, variety is the spice of life. And it's always good to try new things.

Take that as will.


Mockingbird said...

I have six muses and none of them are me. Five of them are male. I observe them damn closely out of the corner of my eye, and use a heft dose of guesswork while they sit around all innocent and unsuspecting. It has been said that I torture my male characters, NOT TRUE… I love them all to bits. This is not to say that I don't make their lives full of complication and misery.. and my five unsuspecting muses provide the framework. They are mostly middle aged, but interesting, their dreams have not yet been crushed out by life, I find this utterly fascinating. I also have a number of part time muses, part time muses need to be handled a little more carefully, they tend to be more excitable, and go off like a roman candle if you light the blue touchpaper.

Jillian Brookes-Ward said...

Muse is so difficult to define, so let me give you my interpretation. My muse is a real life, living, breathing soul. He came to me by accident who became a delightful, dear and darling friend, and it is his encouragement and support and belief in me as a half-baked writer that keeps me going. He takes me out, we walk and talk, he treats me to dinner, he takes my moans and grumbles and whinges and launders them clean, returning them like freshly ironed shirts. He is my inspiration, my raison d'etre. And when he's out of town or out of touch for a while, I feel my enthusiasm drain right out of me and I not only don't want to write, oftentimes, I can't. When I have spent just a few hours in his company, I feel renewed and reinvigorated, like my feelgood batteries have been recharged. Without him, I would crumble into dust and blow away. He will never be denied.

T.L Tyson said...

Sounds like he is your inspiration, Jillian. Which I actually consider different than a muse. But, good on you for finding it.

Lord knows I haven't. x