Saturday, April 3, 2010

Muses and the Magic of Fiction Writing

In Need of a Great Book Idea? Write a Book!

Seriously. It works. My hero Stephen King (ninjas like scary stories as well as middle grade fiction) says in On Writing that in order for your muse to find you, you have to show up to work at the same place at the same time every day. I don’t know if that’s really true; probably not, but it feels like it is. And King is the world’s best-selling novelist (and a god of literature), so his opinion has to count for something.

I can really only tell you my own experience. If I let myself fall slack on my writing, which I’m happy to report is not often, I can’t come up with a good idea to start a single project. Usually, I’m irritated and restless because I’m not writing. Now, thanks to Mr. King, I know that my muse is in my office looking for me while I’m playing my X-box. As I’m enjoying Fable 2, my promiscuous muse is giving all my best ideas that I haven’t had yet to some other writer who is diligently working, and therefore more deserving. And all because I wanted to level up!

But when I’m getting up early every morning and writing, I have ideas all the time. Just this week, after I had completed my day’s page count, while I was in the shower minding my own business, I had a BIG IDEA. It struck me full on and I forgot where I was and all I could think about was this particular image of a boy and his mother. I don’t know their names yet, but I will. And I know enough about their situation that it broke my heart to see them in my mind and I was just a little bummed out for a couple of days. Even so, I like them and am thrilled and honored they have chosen me to tell their story.

I’m aware that all of this talk of muses and characters choosing writers is making me sound more than a little flaky. But there is something just a little bit magic about writing fiction. Most of it is practical and straight-forward and thoroughly muggle. You read a lot of books written by better writers, study them inside and out, and then try and do likewise. You get up with a mug of coffee, curse the chirping birds outside, fire up the laptop, and crank out the days words just like the local pastry shop worker is cranking out the doughnuts. Fiction writing takes discipline, know how, some degree of skill and all of that, but it’s just a job that needs doing so people have something to read while they’re eating their doughnut.

Yet, once in a while, there is magic. Just a little.

The tricky thing about writing as writers well know is that our fiction has a tendency to betray us. Just a little. Most of us writers have had the experience of going about our jobs, writing a planned story about something not like our own lives at all, and then when we reread the manuscript we find that our own subconscious sneaked in an aspect of our lives it needed to work out on the page.

Other times, when we reread a manuscript, we may find that something else was sneaked in there by someone else (not us), something that also needed to get worked out. It’s sort of creepy and I haven’t got the words to better describe the experience. You non writers may well think that I’m a kook, but I’ll judge a fair number of you writers know exactly what I’m talking about.

I shall end on a more practical note. Let us imagine there is some merit to this mystical notion of muses running around with BIG IDEAS and they’re just hunting for writers to give them to. If you were a muse, who would you give your BIG IDEA to? A writer who is diligently making the doughnuts every morning, or the guy playing X-box who has aspirations to one day write?

Ever have a BIG IDEA that you later forgot, even though you wrote it down? Could be a muse was considering you for it, then noticed you weren’t showing up to write and whisked it away to some other writer with a stronger work ethic.


  1. Nice post, Robert. I love Stephen King's On Writing also. But I'm learning to cut myself some slack, if sometimes I don't show up to write every single day. I think my muse is always out there, waiting to help me, but sometimes life and other important things do get in the way. And I definitely get cranky and irritable, also, if I don't get enough writing time in. And the more I write, the more open I get to my creative muse. But I choose to think my muse is always there waiting for me, to help me along. It's a nice muse ;-)

  2. Right (write?) on MG Ninja. You seriously tell it like it is. Any idea why the best ideas appear in the shower? (Mine do too.) Negative ions? Aromatherapy shampoo? The slashing sound of water?

    Taking a walk is also up there for "Muse Strike Time."

    Glad to have found you--and looking forward to reading more of your good writing.

  3. I have heard that showers are great places for ideas because they are a womb-like environment. I don’t know if there’s any merit to that, but it sure sounds like a sophisticated notion. It could just be that the shower is one place where we are less likely to be multitasking. You can’t shower with your laptop or cell phone or even a notepad, so you have more time for uninterrupted thought.

    Walks are great for ideas! When I’m stuck on a manuscript, I take a walk and when I get home I’ve usually worked out whatever the issue was.

  4. I took up knitting for writer's block. It works!

    And I am noooo fun to be around when I'm not writing every day...

  5. Meditation helps me during writer's block. My brain feels refresh and new story ideas seem to come to me in bunches.


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