Thursday, April 22, 2010

"Oh, For a Muse of Fire..."

With humble apologies to William Shakespeare, I'm afraid I don't believe in divine inspiration when it comes to writing. If you're someone who firmly believes that you must wait for an ever-fickle muse to visit before you're able to write anything worthwhile, then you may want to stop reading this.

Look, I'm not trying to offend anyone; I'm only speaking for myself here. External inspiration can come from many sources, but true inspiration—the kind writers are really talking about when they mention a muse—comes from within. There's no fairy godmother or magic wand that will produce the kind of results we all want as writers—to be paid to publish our books.

I don't believe in a muse in the same way I don't believe in the Tooth Fairy or writer's block. Heresy, you say! How many of you believe that writer's block is real? Come on, raise your hands. Don't be shy. Okay, you can all put your hands down.

How can I say I don't believe in writer's block? Does that mean that writing always comes easy for me and that I've never struggled to. Get. Each. Word. Out? Oh, pshaw! Of course I've struggled and will continue to struggle. I just don't believe in attributing my struggles to something I can't control.

What do I believe in, then, if I don't believe in muses or in writer's block? Well, I believe in hard work; in writing as often as possible. I believe in fear and doubt—emotions I can recognize and do something about—and in powering on through when I feel them, writing whatever comes to mind just so I'm writing something.

The other thing I believe is that we make our own luck. Just consider the terrific things that have been happening recently for my fellow writers of this blog and in our RWA chapter—all of it the product of their own hard work and determination. Now that's something I can really believe in.


Paty Jager said...

Debbie, Hear! Hear! I've never been a believer in muses or writer's block. I agree that there can be outside influences that make it hard to write at times and those may cause what people call writer's block or their muse taking a hike. But if they dig deep and find the problem they can begin writing again.

I more or less did that this week. I discovered I was over researching because I felt I was lacking in the writing department. Once Lori validated I needed to keep my voice and not try to be something I wasn't, I gushed out 4000 words yesterday and the book is steam rolling.

I'm happy to find someone else with my sentiments about both the muse and the writer's block. Thanks!

Deborah Wright said...

Congratulations on figuring out what was blocking you, Paty! You're right, sometimes it's hard to figure out what's causing the "block." It's easy to panic and doubt our abilities--we're writers, after all, prone to under (and over) confidence!

Yay for forging ahead!

Genene Valleau said...

Interesting points, Debbie!

I've found that when I'm "blocked" or avoiding writing, it's usually because something has gone awry in my story. If I sit down at the computer and deal with it, the block dissolves.

I'm not a person whose writing freezes when I hit life crises. Instead, the writing seems to be therapeutic at those times. It doesn't seem to be that way for everyone.

As for the "muse," I'm still undecided about that one. I don't wait for the "muse" to strike because that wouldn't happen often with my former tendency to procrastinate. (Yes, I'm a recovering procrastinator. :)

However, I can also schedule a time to write, and invite/order the "muse" to show up. And at that time, plot twists, resolutions to problems, insights into characters, and much more show up in my head. A muse? Several muses? Don't know. Don't care! As long as it keeps working that way.

Paty, congrats on the gushing words! Go, go, go!

Katie said...

Hard work? Making your luck? Hey, I believe in that too, sistah! Your words are empowering and responsible. Taking control of your life, and your writing, is the only way to be successful. You have to be proactive to get anywhere, not just reactive (e.g., waiting for a "muse").

Power through and make it work for you! XD

Alice Sharpe said...

I believe the terms "muse" and "writer's block" were coined to give a name to the mysterious processes of creativity that defy rational explanation. Early on, artists of any kind must have noticed how different they were from the majority of people around them. Sure, Bob could doodle a nice stick figure, but Bob didn't wake up in a fever, driven to interpret the sun or a building or his mother in a way so inspiring (off-the-wall, spooky, enlightening, mystical, beautiful) that other people would gather 'round to pay homage. Sure, Bob could hum, but Bob hummed tunes everyone knew, he wasn't driven by the noises in his head, he didn't "see" whole stanzas of notes and hear them mingling and cascading in ways no one else had ever envisioned or heard in the inner ears of their heart.

How to explain these forces? How to explain hours passing without notice, how to explain something coming from nothing? Sure, Bob could could take leather and a needle and a bit of sinew and create something to protect his feet, but that was taking raw materials and recrafting them into useful items. Not the same.

And then how to explain when the inspiration that surely existed inside a creative soul seemed to dry up and blow away? The devastation of being without that with which the artist might have grown familiar or perhaps even taken for granted?

Of course it all comes within, but does that make it less real? I've related this before: when Stephen King was hit by a car as he walked down the road, he stopped writing and thought he might never write again. I heard him say that he couldn't remember HOW to write. I was struck by this because I was going through my first terrible block and that's exactly how I felt. Try this on -- it's like knowing how to play a sonata on the piano, sitting down at the keys and not having the slightest idea how to position your hands or even a memory of what the sonata sounded like.

Is that a pissed off "muse?" No, that's your creative self in pain. That's like trying to walk with a compound fracture of the leg. You have to wait for the leg to mend.

Paty, your block was self imposed just like all blocks are, but yours was a sprain. I've had several of those. What King went through was not a sprain and no one could accuse him of being a slacker. He was broken internally and he needed to mend and that takes however long that takes.

I have rambled on and I'm sorry. Actually, I think we are talking apples and oranges. I don't believe in nasty or benign little entities that run around sprinkling fairy dust on us either. But I do understand that when a true block hits, it's like a catastrophic earthquake. You might be able to write through a tremor but a true earthly upheaval is going to take awhile to fix. From the inside out.

Genene Valleau said...

Alice, as usual, something "clicked" for me when I read your comment.

I think that writing is a fairly new gift for me--something that I get to learn in this life time. I wasn't born with it already embedded in my soul. So when my "blocks" come, it's not like losing part of myself. But the more I write, the more natural it becomes and the more it is integrated into who I am.

Thank you for sharing your experiences and for giving me more "food for thought." Interesting!

Elisabeth Naughton said...

I agree and disagree. I agree that there is no such thing as a muse. Inspiration has to come from within and no magical "muse" can give that to you. You're either internally motivated to write when things are hard as you are to write when things are good, or you're not.

I will disagree with concept of "writer's block", though. Because, I've been through it. Like Alice mentioned regarding Stephen King, physical trauma can severely limit or impede your creative self. Last summer there was absolutely nothing happening in my brain. Four months of nothing. No stories, no voices, not even a hint of an idea. I had several moments where I was absolutely sure I would never write again. It slowly came back, but it was a major struggle. it wasn't until October that I had flashes of scenes, heard muffled voices, thought I could *maybe* finish a book my editor was waiting for. But...the months before? That wasn't an excuse. There was definitely a "block" there that had nothing to do with my drive or desire to write but was directly related to my body putting effort into healing other areas.

Deborah Wright said...

You guys all bring up some very good points! I love it when I'm forced to re-examine my thoughts and beliefs.

Alice and Eli, I see what you're talking about -- the deeper kind of things that happen that can create almost a void of creativity within. As if that part of you from whence your writing comes is suddenly silenced or just...gone. That has to be a very scary and devastating feeling! It's something that I hope I never have to experience first hand--and that I hope never happens (again) to any of us.

I honestly wasn't thinking about that kind of "block" when I was writing this post. I was focused on my own garden-variety, yeah it's hard, but do it anyway personal kind of block. That happens every time I sit down to the keyboard. That's something I believe I can just push through--and that I have to push through if I'm going to get anywhere.

And, that's me rambling on! Anyway, good comments, all!

Paty Jager said...

I don't consider the kinds of "writing blocks" Eli and Alice talk about as writing blocks. They are unexpected life happenings that would zap anyone of their creativity or drive no matter who they are. It's the people who don't have the drive to start with that use the writer's block as an excuse that I don't believe in.