Listening to your muse

The other day, I had a conversation with a friend who accused me of sending Myrtle the Muse to visit her. She basically begged me to come take Myrtle home. She didn’t care if I had to drag Myrtle off, kicking and screaming. You see, she thought Myrtle was the one playing havoc with her writing by suggesting another story. I’ll admit to laughing, perhaps a bit hysterically, because I knew it wasn’t Myrtle. Why? Because Myrtle, my evil muse, was at home bothering me about a project that is finished and should have been out the door a month ago.

As writers, we are used to our muses being evil or stubborn or helpful or all of that at the same time. There are times we can’t get the muse to shut up and others when we’d sacrifice a virgin if we could find one if it meant our muse would finally start talking to us again. While the muse might not always talk to us, it is almost always there. We just have to learn to recognize it when she’s around just as we have to recognize what she’s trying to tell us.

I’ll give you two examples. The first is Witchfire Burning (Eerie Side of the Tracks Book 1). This is a book I never meant to write. No, that’s not quite correct. It is a book I had never even thought about. The characters were new, for the most part. The plot — until Myrtle dropped it in my lap — was not one I had ever considered. But then Myrtle decided it would be a good thing for me to be distracted from another work and she dropped the book straight from her weird imagination into my head.

I tried doing just a chapter or two and promising to go back to it when I finished the next couple of projects already scheduled. Except my muse had other plans. Wtchfire Burning was loud, very loud. So loud I had to put the other projects to the side and write the book. I didn’t understand why, at least not then, it was so important for me to write the book. All I knew was my brain wasn’t going to let me go back to any other project until Witchfire was finished.

However, now that some time has passed, I’ve figured out — or think I have — why I needed to write the book NOW instead of waiting until the other projects were done. I’d been going for a couple of years, putting out a minimum of three books a year, all in the same several series. I needed a break. That was especially true after the screw up with the release of Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3). The two weeks or so it took to get that worked out really took it out of me. Add to that the fact I had been limiting myself to a limited set of characters for several years and Myrtle knew what I didn’t — I needed new “blood”.

Of course, being an evil muse, Myrtle also gave me yet another series to write. Sigh. Such is the way of evil muses. But, by writing Witchfire Burning and then Skeletons in the Closet (Eerie Side of the Tracks), I gave myself a mental break from the three series that had been the driving forces behind my writing for more than two years. It also gave me the chance to try a few new things in writing that I hadn’t done before and, I hope, it let my craft improve by working in genres I’m not as familiar with.

But, and this is what’s important — at least to me — it has let me come back to the other books I need to finish and look at them with a fresh eye.

Which brings me to the second reason I said we need to listen to our muse. I’ve spent more time writing and editing and re-writing Dagger of Elanna than I have anything in a very long time. I’ve known something wasn’t quite right with it. But I couldn’t figure out what. I’ve fiddled with the opening. I’ve gone back and re-read Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1). I’ve looked at story structure and character development. But something just wasn’t gelling for me with the book and I didn’t know what.

I might not have known but Myrtle did. By making me work on something totally unrelated, totally different, she gave me the chance to let Dagger percolate on my back brain for a bit. That was enough for me to realize what was wrong. Fortunately, there had been an error in the print version of the prior “edition”, so I had not pulled the plug and taken Dagger live on Amazon and elsewhere before I realized what was bothering me. Now that I have, I am almost finished making the changes — and they aren’t anything major but they do make the book much better in my opinion — AND I know what not to do with the print edition now.

So, whether I want to give her credit or not — and believe me, I don’t. It will just give her a big head — Myrtle the Muse does help me. She might infuriate me half the time. She might take great pleasure in tempting me in the middle of one project with ideas for the next. She might also go silent for days or weeks or months. But that is usually because I’m just not paying attention.

The way I look at it, my muse is my writer’s gut. That feeling of whether something is going good or bad. That instinct I need to step away from something or go forging ahead. It is something I have had to learn to trust: something I still have problems with from time to time. But I am learning that, more often than not, Myrtle the Muse knows what she is talking about. If your muse is anything like mine, then learn to work with her instead of fighting her. The benefits will far outweigh the problems it causes.

And no, my friend, that isn’t Myrtle who has been plaguing you. Believe me. She is home and busy and wanting to know why I am not working on the next Nocturnal Origins book right now. Sigh.

21 Comments

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21 responses to “Listening to your muse

  1. Muses. Can’t write with ’em, can’t write without ’em. Right now, mine’s suffering from stress, so I’m letting her sleep it off while I catch up on edits.

  2. I’m fighting a Muse who tickled me into starting book 3 of the still-unnamed-series, then dropped a “Heh, you just THOUGHT you had finished” on me regarding the next Cat novel. Add in a serious case of pre-concert syndrome and I’m about ready to tell all nine of the Muses to go jump into the Great North Sea.

  3. I finished up the first book in a planned seven book series and set it aside to simmer while I moved onto a project I’d been planning.

    Except that project just felt wrong by the time I’d hit 10k or so, so then I decided to write a prequel of sorts to it. But that felt wrong too, after only hitting 18k.

    So, after having spent four months on those projects, tearing my hair out, what happens? I get smacked with the inspiration and push to write what would have been the third book in the aforementioned series (because that makes sense somehow) which I wasn’t planning to touch until 2018, and a push that I need to get that whole seven book series done as soon as possible.

    Even though the original plan had me finishing it years from now.

    Yeah, not nice. :/

    Thankfully this one’s gone well, and it ultimately wasn’t too difficult to make it the second book rather than the third. I should finish the first draft up in the next few months.

    And, after casual perusal of the two projects I was forced to drop, I’m happy to say I left them both with strong foundations to build on if I ever get released from this compulsion.

  4. There are times I am envious of folks with muses, then there are times I am grateful not to be so afflicted.

    • I don’t have a muse. I have a perverse sense of humor that decides to kick in at the weirdest times. I also have a brain that dreams in story, but unfortunately I usually wake up before everything plays out. Because of that, I have a freaking buffalo trickster with unfathomable motives. If I could figure out what he wants, I could get the story going somewhere…

      • Maybe he’s the evil twin (or second cousin by marriage, the one the family never talks about) of the Buffalo Man in Charles de Lint’s short stories?

  5. Arwen

    Does anyone have a non evil muse? I am genuinely curious.

    • Thus far mine has been stern, and probably far too patient with me. She expects me to be bright enough to pick up on what she’s trying to tell me and has often been very disappointing with how long some things seem to take. She an my inner editor (a capitol gentleman, most courteous and helpful) get along excellently. My inner consistency nut on the other hand… well I try and keep her locked in the basement. Doesn’t always work.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      Mine gives me sick leave before I get so ill that I’m entirely non-verbal.

      I’m doing better, because it just pointed out how Hollywood gets Jason Vorhees wrong. He’s meant to be heroic, one who protects us from the stoners who exploit defects in the law to torment us.

      Pleasant dreams all.

  6. I’m like B Durbin – I honestly don’t think that I have a muse, or if I do, I don’t visualize whoever as a personality. I just read something interesting, or a suggestion for a story comes out of a conversation with someone … and I think it over during a walk with the dogs, a solitary run, or a long commute to somewhere … and there it is. The story, or whatever.
    If that is a muse, then whatever it is, is pretty reclusive and non-interfering.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      In all seriousness, I strongly suspect that creativity, whatever the biological underpinnings, is simply trained habit.

      I think that what people describe as muses might simply be intuition, pattern detection, and so forth. Confounded by novel length fiction not being as straight forward as troubleshooting a jet turbine, designing a hydroelectric plant, or maybe even developing a novel means of enriching uranium isotopes.

      • Trained habit – I like that, actually. I’ve always been given to tell stories. Some of my best were to my little brother – about how the barely-seen chimneys of a power plant, seen along the beach near San Onofre were a factory for scooping the foam off the ocean waves to make detergent. And to my daughter – upon loosing a helium balloon. Darling, the balloon was just making it’s way to the Mystical Island of the Balloons, where all balloons wanted to escape to — yeah, I spun a long story to her about the Mystical Island of the Balloons …
        A reason to love small children; They are so gullible! 😉

      • Pattern direction plus a little bit of unique juxtaposition. For instance, I am utterly convinced that Terry Pratchett’s Wee Free Men came about because Braveheart and the Smurfs collided in his skull. And my best word creation joke came about because somebody mentioned a particular word just as we were driving past a shopping mall. (“Tuxidermy: the art of creating stuffed shirts.”)

  7. Draven

    I either have multiple muses or one that goes “Do this.. no.. wait.. this.. no… wait…”