When the muse hightails it

The muse. I feel like whenever writers write about her, it’s to say you don’t need her. I’ve read half a million blog posts saying a version of this: you can’t wait for the muse; you just have to write. She doesn’t rule you. If you let her, you’ll never have the kind of artistic output that can produce a living. You can’t afford to wait for her to sprinkle her fairy dust on you and make the world shimmer in that special way–you put your butt in a chair and just start writing (drawing/painting/composing/etc) in the bleak, shimmerlessness that life can be and through discipline you will achieve your goals and WRITE THAT NOVEL! And by the way, stop being such a wimp because work is hard and writing is work and if you thought otherwise it was because you romanticized the writer’s life and it’s time you grew up and put on your big girl panties, because you’ll never become a real writer unless you’re wearing them, and they only come in a size large, because that’s what writing does to your butt in case you hadn’t noticed (I had).

I’m sure it’s true and I just have to find the right underwear store that sells these elusive ‘big girl panties.’ But I have to say that since the muse walked out of my life some time in November, leaving me high and dry as I embarked on my first YA fantasy project, it’s been a real challenge.

(See? Only people who are wearing big girl panties use classy words like ‘ a real challenge’ when they really mean ‘apocalyptically difficult at a zombie-slaying level when your only weapon is the raw chicken breast you were about the sauté for dinner and everyone in the world is dead except you.’)

(Which begs the question: why are you sauteing a chicken breast when your death is imminent? And what happened to the pan, which would be a much better weapon?)

Ah, Miss Muse. She fueled my last three projects, and it went something like this: as soon as I was done with whatever I had to do work-wise for my pay-the-bills job, BEGIN TO WRITE. Write, write, write. Get slightly upset that I have to stop to eat lunch, or pee, or answer the phone. There aren’t enough hours in the day to write as much as I want to write. 5pm has arrived and I don’t even know where the past three hours went. Got to stop writing and get back to husband and kiddos. I love them so, but . . . it’s so hard to stop. [drags herself away from keyboard] Go home, play with kids, have dinner, get kids to bed. Kids are in bed. Innocent grin at my husband. What do you want to do tonight, sweetums? Oh, what do I want to do? Well, I don’t know . . . I mean, I was thinking, maybe read a little, maybe, like, hang out, I don’t know . . . okay fine, WRITE, WRITE, I MUST WRITE. [make like a lightning bolt for my favorite writing chair and lose myself in a storm of typing]

(yes, my husband may not love the muse like I do)

Anyway, spouse-abandonment aside, that’s my life with the muse. Even when I hit tough spots with each story, I had the inspiration/drive/urge to power through, and I did.

Oh, muse, muse, you fickle, wonderful, passionate, cruel being/thing.

See, with my pay-the-bills job, I don’t have to feel anything in particular to get stuff done. Blue or over-the-moon, peppy or lethargic, I can open a spreadsheet or an invoice or whatever and enter information. I can compose an email and draw up an account summary for a customer. But this writing thing–it’s different. The kind of energy it requires comes from somewhere in the region of my soul, and when it feels empty in there, it feels near impossible to write.

But writing with the muse? She sucked me into her vortex where I wanted to spin forever. In her grip, time slipped away as easily as wind through open hands. Words wrote themselves. Characters demanded to speak, and my obedient fingers clacked away just trying to keep up with them and kill them at the appropriate moments and with the appropriate amount of blood.

I wish I knew why the muse left. Maybe the muse is like a drained battery and just needs some recharge time? Maybe I’m working on the wrong project? Maybe the rest of my writing life will be an empty, museless wasteland?

The thing is, regardless of the reasons for her infidelity (and this is the scariest thing to face), I need to learn how to write without her. I need to learn how to start when it’s incredibly hard to start, keep going when it’s incredibly hard to keep going, and keep typing even though I can’t wait to be done and 5pm seems as distant as my 115th birthday when I will gum at a piece of overly-frosted cake with my toothless maw and smile blearily at a child that may be named Clarence, or Mary-Lou, or might actually be a cat instead of a child.

This is my New Year’s resolution (and even as I type this I can feel a foreboding sense of failure)–to learn to write muse-less.

Oh crap. I’m half-certain I can’t do it.

But aren’t the best goals the ones that stretch you?

(I hate stretching)

The ones that make you work hard?

(I hate working hard. In the deepest part of me, I’m pretty sure I’m essentially a lazy slug whose chief delight is to lie in a pile of her own goo)

The ones that you climb like a hiker attacking Mount Everest and reaching for the summit?

(Sounds a little dangerous. Have you considered sitting on the couch and watching someone else climb Mount Everest?)



Hike ’em up! Snap them into place!

Get out of the slug-goo and KILL THE ZOMBIE WITH THE CHICKEN BREAST!

And by that I mean, as soon as this blog post is published, I’m opening the scary Word document and facing the gritty part of being a writer. Because I want to be a writer. No–I am a writer. And this is part of it.

Expect an update at some point–but in the meantime, how do you handle uninspired stretches?

The choices a writer makes

  1. You decide to Tweet for the first time in over 4 years because, well, it’s something to do other than facing your manuscript.
  2. You obsessively check your email, certain that one of the agents who has your previous manuscript is going to contact you today. You imagine the yes, the no, then fall into a roller coaster of emotions that is completely detached from reality but takes a toll nonetheless. Phew! This writer’s life is exhausting, lemme tellya.
  3. Emotionally spent, you look at the clock wondering if it’s lunchtime yet. Because you and your coworkers are getting tacos today and, well, YES. Unfortunately, the clock tells you that it’s 9:22am.
  4. You open your new manuscript (or WIP = Work In Progress). Huh. There it is.
  5. You minimize your WIP and stalk a few agents on Twitter. Oh my gosh, we totally have all the same opinions and are DESTINED TO WORK TOGETHER.
  6. Oh my gosh this perfect agent is NEVER GOING TO LOVE MY MANUSCRIPT. EVER.
  7. Life is tragic.
  8. Tragedy. Yes. You should kill off a couple characters today, maybe.
  9. You really don’t feel like killing any characters.
  10. What you really need is another cup of coffee. That will kick you into high gear.
  11. Fresh caffeine flowing through your veins, you open your WIP.
  12. Wow, look at that. I have no idea what to write next.
  13. [you stare into space]
  14. Oops, coffee got lukewarm. Time to reheat.
  15. Get to work!! you scream at yourself. Stop being an unmotivated pile of lethargy!
  16. But I love being an unmotivated pile of lethargy. It fulfills me.
  17. This novel is never going to get written. You’ve known it all along–you were a one-trick pony. You will never complete anything again. The last story was a fluke. And the last one too. And the one before that. Three complete flukes. This fourth beast is where you discover you’re not really a writer, and if you’re honest you always knew once you read Tana French that you might as well give up because you will never write like her and her writing is the most searingly beautiful, achingly sad, stupendously–
  18. Stupendously?
  19. See? Tana French would never use that word.
  20. You lift your fingers onto the keyboard. They might as well be barbells. It would be easier if they were barbells. Maybe you should become a professional weight lifter instead. Seems simple: pick up something heavy. Lift it. Repeat. Make it to the Olympics. Wear Spandex on TV. Pose for the back of the Cheerios box. This writing business is TOO DANG HARD and it does nothing for your body anyway.
  21. You write a sentence. It sucks. Doesn’t matter. Keep going.
  22. – 30. And going and going and going.
  23. You are writing and you never want to stop.
  24. YOU ARE A DEMIGOD! YOU ARE WRITING THINGS INTO BEING! You are powerful, and you bring suffering down on your characters like the hammer of Thor, and it feels good, and that probably means you’re twisted, but it doesn’t matter, this is everything, and you’re probably a genius, definitely a genius, and fame and glory await and this book WILL MAKE SUCH A GOOD MOVIE, you just worry slightly about whether they’ll choose the right actress for the lead, but maybe there can be a contract that gives you veto power, surely that’s a thing, right?
  25. And it never would have happened if you hadn’t started writing.

(later we’ll cover the part where you realize you’re probably not a genius, and your book will probably not be made into a movie and you will never get veto power over imaginary casting choices–but that’s for another time)

Today, my friends, just start writing.

Butt in chair, manuscript open, Twitter closed, fingers on keyboard.

That’s what I’m going to do.

In about five minutes when I finish writing this post and reheat my coffee.