The Ravencon panel where I substituted or impersonated Sarah – depending on your perspective – was called Finding the Muse. If Sarah hadn’t been suffering from travel-induced delays, I’d have attended it and been an official heckler instead.
It started with the question, “Where is your muse?” Well. Since my muse is on a complicated time-share arrangement where she keeps me and Sarah overloaded with ideas and sends us on weird chases for things we don’t get, and the bitch is prone to skipping off to tropical islands to lie back and enjoy the dancing boys while she sips from one of those fancy drinks with the little umbrellas, that’s more or less what I answered. Everyone else was more or less serious, but we rather quickly got into the idea of what “the muse” actually is, and how it works and all the rest of that fun stuff.
Yes, folks, I’m going to reveal a Writer Secret. It’s so secret that a lot of writers have no idea it works this way. That or they pretend they don’t because it’s more fun to tell people your muse has skived off to the Bahamas again and that bitch never sends postcards.
Seriously, the muse is nothing more and nothing less than your subconscious. What’s more, it can be trained. Reifying it and giving it a personality kind of helps, so long as the personality isn’t too objectionable – or too easily distracted by dancing boys. Training it helps more. Sitting down at a specific time and writing – not checking blogs, or browsing Facebook, or researching (damn you, hours on TV Tropes bloody well is research). Writing. Leaving yourself little flags to look something else up later and moving on with the story. Eventually this sets up a trigger for your subconscious that says “Sitting down at screen. Correct time of day. Switch on now.” Once that happens, the only thing you really need to do is get your conscious mind out of the way.
I’ll admit for me that last part can be interesting. Actually, the whole process can be interesting. See, I accidentally trained my mind that Writing Time is any time I should be doing something else. That’s my punishment for years of sneaking in writing in class, when I should have been doing homework, and so forth. I sit down with the notion that I’m going to write, and everything except writing will happen. When it’s time for bed, or I have something else that must be done, that’s when the words start to flow. I actually just had to put the damn story away so I could write this.
There are advantages: if I should be doing something else, it doesn’t matter what distractions are floating around, writing will happen. And because that’s how I learned to fit it in, I usually don’t have issues with not getting big uninterrupted chunks of writing time. I’m not all that sure what I’d do with one if I had it except possibly waste it. Unless I managed to convince myself I should be doing housework in which case I’d be melting the keyboard as verbiage poured forth.
It was kind of fun how everyone on the panel had been hit with something that jumped up and demanded they write it. Now. Yesterday if at all possible. All of them knew if they didn’t listen to that demand there was a damn good chance they’d lose the story. I think the underlying mechanism is the intersection of everything we see and experience in our lives being constantly sifted for the patterns we know would make a good story and our preferred way of expressing things (you know, how some folks are drawn to romance and others to westerns and us to science fiction or fantasy. Or me, anyway). Some action triggers the recognition that this combination is a damn good story and it’s one that suits us, and the next thing you know you’ve lost several hours and have several thousand words typed in. And – even though you don’t remember actually typing them – they’re good. Or they scare you because you can’t figure out if they’re good or not. Yup, you got your conscious mind out of the way and let the subconscious do its thing.
Creation – and everyone on the panel ended up agreeing here – creation isn’t a conscious process. We do stuff because it feels right. Sometimes we do it without realizing it. And when we’re done there’s something in this world that wasn’t there before. Editing, on the other hand, is very much a conscious matter. You need to think when you’re revising, think, check back and make sure that no, you didn’t change someone’s hair color or have them go from elfin to plump in a day of story-world time without the help of magic. Also if you’ve read and written enough you’ll mostly write grammatically, but rearranging words and hiding your most annoying linguistic tics needs to happen in an edit pass with the help of your conscious mind. Well…. maybe not my conscious mind because that’s rarely worth a damn anyway, but you get the idea.
You want to create, you bundle off the inner editor and bribe her with alcohol or something (or just chain her to someone else’s desk and make sure you gag the bitch because damn she’s a mouthy one) so you can let the subconscious processing take over. This is why touch-typing is an essential skill. If you can type without looking at the keyboard – or in my case, sleep-type (yes, I type a lot of these posts half-asleep with my eyes closed. But I check them with my eyes open and as much brain as I can muster) you need less conscious input to make things happen.
Some of the other things people do – all of them have the big YMMV flag up because this is a case where not only does the mileage vary, so does the vehicle, the method of travel, and often enough the destination. But anyway. Some people prefer music. Others need silence. I mostly work better with music that doesn’t have understandable words, although there are exceptions. Motion helps for some. Others it doesn’t matter. I still recall hearing about the gentleman whose writing corner included a modified sawhorse on which he’d set up a saddle. He’d get in the saddle and he could write. Whatever works. If you do your best work surrounded by people chatting, that’s where you arrange to write. Work with what you’ve got and train it to be there when you need it by being consistent.
All of which will help to convince yourself that you’ve got a muse who comes when you call. Me, I’m wondering if it’s possible to relocate to one of those tropical beaches. For some reason I have a fancy for sun, sand, dancing boys, and drinks with the little umbrellas.
UPDATE: This is Sarah. Because you crazies asked, here is a video of dancing boys. I hope it makes you happy!