Lashing the Muse

So I have a problem. On one hand, I want to write, and am delighted when the muse awakens and sends tendrils of stories out into my head so I can write them down. On the other hand, when those tendrils become tentacles of the kraken and threaten to take over my brain… that’s a problem. I need to find a balance. A way to bottle up the muse, so to speak, and only let it out when I can actually write, because there’s a fair amount of time when I can’t. Or at least, when it’s highly inconvenient to have the muse tickling at my backbrain while I’m supposed to be concentrating on something else.

So, what I need to do is lash the muse to the bowsprit, and stick wax in my ears, and only once we’re past the sirens, let her go again to infect me with the madn… er, stories. Unfortunately, so far my attempts at this have yielded a sulky muse who tends to plop down on deck and fold her arms and stubbornly pout when I remove the lashings. This is less than ideal.

I can’t let her loose all the time. When it’s a particularly loud story, with a bright voice to the main character (and if it were that voice on the side character, I’m writing the story down wrong), it’s hard to keep my mind on the day job. As much as I enjoy writing, I can’t afford to make it my day job and give up science (for many good and complex reasons, not just because Science!) Look, you, being a Mad Scientist requires a higher degree than I’ve got. And more madness. I’m just.. I dunno. I’m an aspiring Mad Scientist. Maybe someday.

So the muse needs to be locked up, at least some of the time. I mean, it would be easy to lock her up and throw away the key. Um. I think it would be easier. I will admit I’ve not tried to actually do that. I have enough trouble with my brain wanting to explore all the shiny interests, trying to force it to focus on only one thing at a time usually backfires. So stopping writing altogether might be like that. It would leak.

The stories leak. I find myself wandering around work, with half my brain off in another universe. It’s not safe. So I write when I can, which is less than I’d like. When I finally get to the place and time where I can sit down to the story, I’m too tired to string together coherent words into anything other than, possibly, vogon poetry. I’m pretty sure there’s no market for that, except possibly as an interrogation method, and even then you’ve got Geneva Convention violations, inter-Galactic war crime trials, not to mention the interrogators whose brain has leaked out their ears. It’s no use.

So I keep steering through the straits of Charybdis, with Scylla sucking on one side and the whirlpool of distraction on the other. And the damn muse keeps snatching the wheel when I’m not looking and pointing us at those story sirens. Spoiled brat.

(Header image ‘Clown Pong’ digital art by Cedar Sanderson)


25 thoughts on “Lashing the Muse

  1. I’ve had an interesting and productive November so far. Unfortunately I did not follow good scientific procedures and changed several variables at once and I’m not sure which factor has led to the increased productivity.

    A meme has been going around to the effect that in October all of our artists friends post a drawing a day for Inktober, but in November all of our writing friends drop out of sight for NaNoWriMo.

    A writer friend of mine decided to organize an alternative to NaNoWriMo that would work more like Inktober–a challenge for writers to write and post one piece of flash fiction a day.

    Now, since I have a goal (maybe unreachable) of writing one story a week in 2019, I’ve been doing what I call “story seeds”. A hook, a character, a scene–something that I could save in a file to call up later when I’m looking for something to build a story around.

    Now, the first change in my habits is that I started writing first thing in the morning (for me that’s about 4am, since I start work at 7am.) I get one snippet out of the way before I do anything else. Then, if I have the energy in the evening, I do another.

    But the other change, which I suspect is more significant, is that I only write the “good parts”. Every day I start out fresh (I actually made 30 blank documents named 1-30 and saved them in a “Seeds” folder.) I open a blank document and just write. This way I’m harvesting the new project energy, that burst of enthusiasm that you get with a new idea. And I’m able to do it guilt-free, since that’s what I am supposed to be doing.

    For me the first 1-2k words are always the most fun (yeah, even my flash fiction tends to be wordy) so I’ve been able to write more this month than I may have ever done in a sustained effort before.

    As of last night, I had written just over 16,000 words for the month.

    Now, here’s the kicker. Even though I have given myself permission to strike out fresh every morning I seem to be focusing on one particular pair of characters. Over half of my little snippets (and nearly all of the recent ones) are forming a continuing story about Ivor and Amanda. He’s a necromancer, she’s a shapeshifter, living in a world with open magic based on 1970s Action Movies LA.

    Anyway, the bottom line for me seems to be to give the muse a particular time and place, with hard limits (Like I say, I have to be at work at 7am) but inside that space, surrender completely and let the muse do whatever it wants. (My muse has the soul of a dominatrix and the attention span of a squirrel. I’ve requested a new one from the Muse office, but evidently there have been budget cuts and there aren’t any replacements available.)

  2. I am, in theory, trying to trying to put my time and energy into work that doesn’t require input from the creativity I have trained for storytelling. Since I’ve ceased work on my two or three really viable story ideas, I’ve had a plague of vaguely formed story ideas, that I haven’t worked on hard enough to make into viable ideas. I’ve also been distracted from main task by creativity closer to main task.

    I need to manage my excitement levels and focuses better.

  3. I’m very, very fortunate that I have a two hour block every week day for nothing but writing. Otherwise yes, the leakage gets bad. Dangerously bad, because I’ve had plot bits start working themselves out while I am driving. Do Not Want!

      1. When I had little kids underfoot with randomly timed demands, I got really good at holding ideas in my head until I could write them down. I also operated on the absent-minded level.

        Not what an aspiring Mad Scientist needs. On the other hand, learning the hard focus and shutting out distractions will probably serve you well, when you do find time to write and can focus _there_ and shut out the other distractions.

  4. Have you tried getting a little voice recorder? Then you could at least verbalize ideas while you’re driving or record your thoughts when you wake with an idea you don’t want to forget.

  5. Not exactly on topic: The best grades I earned at university were in a quarter where I had two jobs, and signed up for 26 quarter units. Insanity? Yes, but I could manage it, because every hour was scheduled: meals, recreation, study, seminars. It was a five-and-a-half day schedule, with Saturday through dinner Sunday free. Admittedly, I had no “littles”, with their impromptu needs. FWIW.

    1. I did a 21 credit term once, along with paid PT work and scheduled time with friends. It was one credit too many, IMO. Wednesday was my busy day, and I remember getting an opportunity for Big Bucks ($75) that required me to spend a few hours painting a banner with a business card design. (They’d found out about a job fair or something a few days before the event, and rush printing jobs were a lot more expensive than paying a broke college student to expand a design by eye.) I was SO tired, but damned if it didn’t look good at the end.

  6. If the Muse is on your doorstep
    And you’ve got no time to write –
    You gotta beat it,
    Beat it, beat it, beat it.

    ‘Cause the toilet’s overflowing
    And the baby cried all night –
    You gotta beat it,
    Beat it, beat it, beat it.

    You’ve got the itch to scribble ’cause you know it’s so much fun,
    So many stories in your head, not one of them begun,
    But the cooking and the cleaning and the laundry won’t get done –
    You gotta beat it,
    Beat it, beat it, beat it.

    If it whispers in your ear
    And offers characters and plots –
    You gotta beat it,
    Beat it, beat it, beat it.

    And you look into the mirror,
    And you’re coming out in spots –
    You gotta beat it,
    Beat it, beat it, beat it.

    If the Muse keeps on insisting that it wants to talk to you,
    But you have to work all weekend ’cause the project’s overdue,
    And the kitchen floor’s caved in and both the cats have got the flu,
    You gotta beat it,
    Beat it, beat it, beat it,
    Gotta beat it,
    Beat it, beat it, beat it.

    (I swear it’s not my fault, she made me do it.)

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