Writers talk about muses a lot.

I didn’t realize until this week some of y’all youguns take this literally and think that some of us have a critter that tells us what to write.

Those — for traditional publishing — are called publishers. And more often they tell you what NOT to write. Usually what you most want to write, of course. “No. Space Opera doesn’t sell. Write us some of those nice epic fantasies, like what’s his name.”


I want to reiterate I don’t have auditory or visual hallucinations. Speaking for myself. I’m sure other people do — I’ve heard them talk — but I don’t. I don’t hear things. No one comes from heaven with a scroll and says “write this next.”

Sometimes with my blogs, I wake up and the idea is there. And sometimes I’d planned to write about something else, but this one must be written now. Guidance? Perhaps.

Or perhaps the subconscious adding two plus two and getting aardvark again.

Look, we don’t understand creativity very well. None of us does.

You’ll hear two types of writers at cons. The ones who tell you that the entire story was there, in their brain, they just had to type it, and it had to be this way, as it arrived. And those that will tell you that they write exactly the story they intend to write.

Both lie. But the ones who tell you the entire story was there and had to be written exactly as delivered lie less. The other ones? yeah. I’ve known several of them. They’re friends.

All I can say is they BELIEVE what they tell you. Which doesn’t mean it’s not the greatest lie in history, second only to “We will never raise taxes.” Or “we’re servants of the people.”

I hear them at cons going “I write exactly what I intend to, and I know exactly what I’m going to write. I come up with the plot, decide who the characters will be, and I write x words per day.” And I crinkle my eyes and don’t giggle, not even inwardly, because as I said, they believe what they say.

But the ones I know, mid novel, struggling with the beast? Like the rest of us they realize they need one more chapter. The story must curl another way, the character slated to be a villain must have slightly different motivations, the hero–

“These are all rational changes. Once I got in, I realized more context was needed. I rationally made the decision–“

Sure they did. Pull the other one. It plays Moon River.

But they believe it, so that’s fine.

The truth is none of us understands how creativity works. Yes, part of it is rational. I tend to write about things/themes/ideas I’ve been worrying at rationally, chewing on them in the daylight hours.

The world celebrates great prison breaks. The French territories still commemorate the day in which the dreaded Bastille burst open before the righteous fury of the peasantry and disgorged into the light of day the innocent, the aggrieved, the tortured and the oppressed.

They forget that every time a prison is opened, it also disgorges, amid the righteous and innocent, the con artists, the rapists, the murderers and the monsters.

Monsters like me.

My name is Lucius Dante Maximilian Keeva, Luce to my friends, though I killed the last one of those fourteen years ago.

Did I slave over every word, looking for maximum impact? Did I even realize this was the opening of a novel? Well, no. I never slave over paragraphs, not in the word sense. Sometimes in revision I’ll sharpen a scene, usually action or a big dramatic denouement. By the time I had that paragraph down I had the feel of the character and the “heft” of the story, and knew it was a novel. But not what the novel was.

Does this mean a muse was dictating it?

We should all be so lucky. Mostly it meant that my subconscious was playing silly buggers with me again. That however my creativity plays out, whatever is broken in my head that makes me HAVE to write.

We don’t know how creativity works.

None of us do.

How the brains of creative people function is one of those things that no one has a good handle on. We just don’t. We know some people create, if not ex-nihilo, close enough as makes no difference.

And that other people can’t do it. Just can’t. If you try to make them do it and give primacy to their works — coffs in dahlings and promoted writers of most of the industry — what you get is either just so morality plays, or derivative bullshit.

People who can’t create wish that they could. They invent all sorts of attributes for those who can. They’re a little scared of them.

People who MUST create get tired of it. The thing is unwieldy and demanding. It’s never quite what you want, or as you want it. It blows hot and cold. it certainly doesn’t maximize for profit and comfort.

And it’s not just one thing. I must write, sure, but I must also cook. I’ll wake up in the morning, with a flavor, and I have to back engineer it and bring it into the world, because it must exist. Or I see a scene in my head and I must draw it. (Those are fluid. I can also write them.) Or …. I want to make the Bennet sisters as bunnies. Mr. Darcy too. Why? I DON’T KNOW. It’s not funny. Stop laughing.

And Jordan Peterson is right. If creatives stop creating they die. Or worse than die. They become something …. odd. They curl in on themselves. Bitterness slips in. It will eventually kill them.

Do you think they wouldn’t prefer to just work — 1k words a day, just as planned — make money, go home, watch TV?

But that’s not how it works. As far as I can tell it’s not how it’s ever worked. Which is why people invented muses as shorthand for “Those crazy people over there, who create new things. Sometimes useful things, sometimes ‘what the heck were you thinking?'”

People called it by other names. Hag-ridden. Cursed by the gods. Or blessed, but you know, those whom the gods love they first make mad.

And writers? Muse is a short hand for “I wanted to write the second one in the series that’s selling, but no, my stupid brain is demanding I write this other story, which is pouring out of me vivid and demanding. And I can’t work on anything else till it’s done.”

Muse is a short hand for “What now?”

Muse is a short hand for “I want to quit and become a dancing bear or something. Why in heck writing? Why in heck me? Why in heck now?”

No one knows. It’s mostly, I think, the subconscious and the spirit of the perverse messing with us.

Or it could be muses.

Yeah, let’s call them muses. Then we can name them, and call them bad words when things aren’t going properly.

Blame it on the muses. Even if (particularly since) they don’t exist.

Curse those muses.

37 thoughts on “Muses

  1. I can’t believe in muses. It’s why I spend time cussing out my backbrain. Because we don’t know how the subconscious works, and we can’t order it around, and it’s clearly extremely busy at things that are not the goals of our conscience mind…

    I know that stories are a way of processing things. That doesn’t mean I always know what my backbrain is processing, just that it is. No, I don’t “write to theme.” That doesn’t mean there’s no theme in there.

    Kortnee once told me, laughingly, that when I’m sitting there going “I have no clue where this is going, I can’t figure out what’s next, why do I want to tackle this diversion, arrrgh, stupid sodding middle…” She can actually see the story coming out beat by beat, laying down exactly where it should. I can’t see it, not until the whole thing is well behind me, but she can see it as it happens.

    I’d have so much more free time if I didn’t write. But, guess I’m stuck with this as a coping mechanism for something. Stupid backbrain.

      1. Heck. Some days it’s main brain. As in “I need to write a fight scene , NOW, or something Bad is going to happen.” It can be very therapeutic.

        But as Sarah says, it’s usually the back brain. When a certain sort of story starts to take shape, that usually means something unhappy from my past is about to get dealt with. It’s not fun for me, but writing’s a lot better way to cope than are a lot of other so-called solutions.

  2. The subconscious certainly gets a vote, even when it’s not stuffing the ballot box. It’s fun to read about other people’s personifications of the subconscious. I think what the more “rationalist” types of writers are saying is that, given characters X and situation Y, they can consciously extrapolate Z. If you’re writing a romance about a waif and a tough, then most likely the tough’s feelings towards the waif are tinged with protectiveness, even if you throw them into a situation where the waif’s skills are more important to their survival. Basic psychology even feral nerds like myself can recognize.

    Personally I use muse in more of a painterly sense: this image/concept of a human character, that piece of someone’s else failed plot, strikes some kind of creative spark in me, I don’t know why(1), but I use it anyway, until the flint is worn down to a nubbin and doesn’t spark anymore, and then the subconscious goes away and comes back with a different piece of flint, to which my conscious self reacts with a mixture of joy and dismay.

    (1) I mean, I can give you a rational account of how someone else botched the plot I’m borrowing elements from, or I can squee over the character concept, but neither of those address the why.

    1. The WIP. “That is such a horrible middle of the story! Ye gads, I can do better than that.” With a music video, no less. Now, why the story wants to be set in Lotharingia in the 900s? No idea.

  3. And then there are the characters who are like nailing jello to the wall with a spoon.

    The worst part? I think that’s actually part of the character…

          1. Now that I’ve read Through Fire, how did you solve Simon? Or is he still specializing in being ployfaced and cryptic?

            On a tangent, it is slightly terrifying how similar Zen’s head machinery is to the WIP’s female lead. Very different backstories and I swear I wrote her up before reading this. I suspect it’s because both had to essentially grow up immediately and skipped being children.

              1. My suspicion is Simon is an Enneatype Type 4, wing 5, social type.

                Type 2,3,4 are driven by shame. Type 4’s are driven by a shame of who they think they are and in particular fear having no true identity or having their identity set by someone else, so they tend to try them on like cloths, and have a very annoying tendency to switch identities whenever they thong someone has them pinned down.

                The wing mode is which nearest neighbor the personality leans on when the primary response doesn’t do the job. Fives are fear driven, and in that cased, the fear that the world is to powerful for them and will crush them into paste. They react by learning everything about everything in the hope of knowing enough the thread the needle.

                The thing about a type 4 is, while they hate being pinned down on anything, when they are truly on, they turn into a full on honest to god paladin with immense moral discernment. Fives, once they come out of hm their heads discover they know enough to exert immense force (best parts of the 8).

                Put them together and when he is really on (jargon term: integration), he will have both the vision, discernment, and capacity to cause immense productive change. Basically what most normal paladin types (aka Type 1: Hall monitor) what to be but usually aren’t. And then he reverts back to the bohemian which annoys everyone around him immensely…

                At their worst and under pressure they can’t or aren’t managing (jargon term: moving towards disintegration), a 4w5 will tend to become emotionally clingy, obstinant, secretive, and scattered.

                Or to put it another way, a damaged 4w5 needs a certain amount of emotional support, some processing time/space, and something completely different and not related to get back together from a hit. (Apparently knowing how one reacts to a hard hit, and intentionally preparing to go there and recover tends to make the whole thing more go easier.)

                And he is in an environment where he basically gets to live in those core fears so he’s going to be ricocheting between levels of function on an almost moment to moment basis.

  4. I want to make the Bennet sisters as bunnies. Mr. Darcy too. Why? I DON’T KNOW. It’s not funny. Stop laughing.

    “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a bachelor buck in possession of a good warren, must be in want of a doe…..”

    On a more serious note, I know they aren’t literal creatures–or at least I don’t think they are–but muses are in some ways the most rational explanation for what goes on in our heads. I’m remembering everything Amanda wrote about Myrtle the Evil Muse. I don’t think Myrtle is actually some sort of spirit with a twisted sense of humor who lives in the back of Amanda’s brain and pokes her and prods her until she writes certain things–but if Myrtle were that, how precisely would things be different?

    1. At least in my case, it wouldn’t. Unless there was a way to properly propitiate the problem until I was able to finish what I intended to work on, then could obey the Muse’s demand.

  5. My Dad, the meat cutter advises me, daily, on cooking and decorating and “methods”. “Grate a little of that colorful radish on the salad, so it won’t go to waste.” “That bottle goes in the bedroom. where you’re headed. Take it with you.” “Move that candlestick. Don’t line them up like soldiers, soldier!”
    I’d say he is a muse for me.

    Regrettably, he only gives me this advice since he passed in 1985. Rationalists might say, “You unknowingly absorbed knowledge from your father. Now it is resurfacing from your subconscious.”

    I prefer to say, “Dad just told me to use more cardamom.”

  6. I can understand the idea of “muse” as something outside of me because I’ve had things where I “realize” a character did this or that *and it freaking works*.

    Like, months-to-years later I suddenly realized my super-clingy bad guys have a solid biological/cultural reason for it.


      1. And I just fridge logic’ed on settings where you only see adult males and wow is it scary.

        In short form: “this is a very dangerous place.”

  7. Beautiful wants to know if/when the Bunney Bennets will be written. She thinks it would be fun.

    1. I don’t know why your comments went to Spam, unless it is because of the lack of capital letters. There’s been a lot of Spam recently that was all lower case. Or it’s a case of WPDE.

      1. okay, me logging in to the site was being really really weird so i didn’t think it was actually logging me in. Thanks.

  8. It’s a handy metaphor.

    When I thought I had the heroine’s love interest in the outline, and then another man shows up and takes over, and dismisses the idea of a love triangle out of hand, and the original love interest calmly amalgamates with the heroine’s sister’s love interest. (Sister not having appeared yet, but the heroine needs she needs some, on account of — fairy tale!)

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