Tag Archives: muse

Solitary Words

17 Jun

Solitary Writer

When I write nonfic, I don’t really care who’s in the room. I can type away, stop to have a conversation, and then return to my thoughts without much trouble or angst. That’s not the case when I write fiction. When I’m working on a novel or short story, I guard my time and space like a dragon guards its treasure, because if I’m interrupted, all is lost. I lose my train of thought completely, poof, and it takes a supreme effort to get it back. And after the third or so interrupt, it’s utterly gone, dead, kaput. It’s bad enough that if I know I won’t get very much alone time during a day, I won’t even try to write, because it makes me more cranky to be stopped from writing than to not even attempt it at all.

I want to be one of those prolific fiction writers who can write in between changing babies or dashing off work memos, but it seems I’m just not wired that way. While my nonfic muse is much looser and free, I need mental space and complete autonomy to commune with my fiction muse. She’s very fussy. So fussy, in fact, that this rule doesn’t even apply across the board. If I’m in a studio with other writers, I can chat about our work every once in a while and then get right back into writing. It’s only when people want to talk about something mundane, like insurance or plans for the weekend, that my muse flees into her deep dark cave and refuses to come out.

I know what you’re saying. You’re pointing to my own previous post and telling me to just give my muse the space she needs, right? And you’re correct, to a certain extent. That’s why I’m setting myself work hours and arranging my office so I can be the most comfortable and letting everyone know I will not text back until I’m done writing for the day. But there is a very fine line between holding something sacred and letting it morph into a temperamental, demanding deity, or even worse, using that sacredness to make it untouchable.

Which is exactly what I’ve been doing. Ever since I began this blog, I’ve been making strides towards writing fiction fulltime again, which is great. Except I’m still not writing. I had one productive period a few weeks ago. I wrote every day and had brilliant ideas and it felt wonderful. Then I was derailed by life, and I haven’t been able to get back into the groove since.

I realize now that, more than anything, it’s ME that’s stopping me. I’m treating my fiction writing as something precious, not just in a protective way but in an avoidance way. I’m holding myself to extremely high standards and using my need for space as an excuse to not even try. My fiction muse demands utter devotion and focus, and when I can’t guarantee that completely (which is always, because, you know, life), instead of fighting for my space or dealing with the problem and then getting back into the work, I immediately throw up my hands and step away from the keyboard, whining the entire time about how I can’t write because people won’t leave me alone. While this may be true a lot of the time, I’ve noticed that even when they do, I can be really creative finding ways to not be creative. I’ve mastered the art of excuses.

And I think I know why. When one of my novels was published last year, there were some…hiccups. Overall, it was not the best experience. So now I’m using every defense I have to avoid going through that again, the most effective being not writing at all, and I’m blaming the distractions around me for my lack of productivity. Conversely, I have a very intense need to prove myself because of that same situation. I must be the most talented writer I can be all the time now, to show myself and the world that I can succeed despite that ordeal. In other words, I must be a perfect writer  (which is a sure way to instantly stifle any creative flow I may have), and I must never write again (because that’ll save me from all pain, ever), all at the same time. Are you starting to understand the twistedness that is my brain?

The solution, I think, is to both go easy on myself and to push myself. As I’ve read in writing books for years (but never needed to hear until now): I must let go of perfection. I have to let myself make mistakes. It’s part of the process. I need to approach my writing as play, like I used to, and enjoy myself. And there’s another lesson I need right now as well: I must show up at the page day after day, despite everything going on around me. I have to make writing fiction a part of my routine again. I need to practice, both timewise and playwise, instead of worrying and fussing and not doing anything for fear of everything.

It’s sometimes hard to see the distinction between protecting a muse and indulging it. I’ve been letting mine act like a spoiled child, buying it off with excuses but not giving it what it really wants: boundaries and the safety to explore that comes with them. I’m learning that without both a firm hand and a nonjudgmental place to run free, my writing just won’t ever happen.

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Latchkey Id

30 May

I’ve been abusing my muse. Well, it’s not so much abusing as neglecting. I’ve been leaving my muse alone for long stretches of time and putting everybody else ahead of her. It’s a symptom of a bigger illness on my part, a neurosis, but like a small child, my muse neither knows that or cares. All she knows is I’m not giving her the time she needs right now.

I feel like a bad parent.

Making time for my creativity is such a scary and emotional endeavor for me. If I give myself over fully to my muse, I run the risk of tuning out everybody and everything else in my life. When that happens, ‘you’re being selfish’ starts in on repeat in my brain, which eventually ruin my connection to my writing anyway. Wait…I guess that’s a self-regulating process, actually. If I get too far in, my guilt pulls me out. Good. I can stop worrying about that, I suppose.

So what about the other end, where I am now? I’ve been not writing at all this week, due to health issues and social obligations, and it feels as if I’ve stopped doing something vital, like eating vegetables or getting enough sleep. It feels dangerous and unhealthy. Not this-will-kill-you-instantly levels of unhealthy, but you-will-regret-this-later levels. To use yet another metaphor, I’ve been on a drunken bender of not-writing and the hangover is getting bigger every day, so I just keep drinking, in the hopes I can keep it from walloping me in the face. And the thing doing the walloping? My muse. My very lonely and ignored muse, with a baseball bat in her hand and angry tears on her cheeks.

A few years ago, I looked around at my writerly friends and took stock of where they were and where I was. I did this not out of jealousy or a need to compare myself (ok, maybe a little, yeah), but to see what I could be doing better. The thing I realized was that my more successful writer friends did one thing that I did not: they valued their writing. This value was expressed by them in many ways, but the biggest was by protecting their writing time and space. They treated writing not just as a job and not just as a hobby, but as something really important. They set times for their muses to come play with them and they didn’t let anything get in the way of that happening. They treated their muses as inherently precious, as you would treat a child. Not indulgently, but with plenty of patience, a firm hand when needed, and by just being there to listen. They did all of this because they believed that their muses were priceless. With this dedication, their muses grew strong and joyfully productive, giving these friends careers and writerly happiness.

This was, and still is, a revelation to me. I have a very hard time giving my muse the respect it deserves. As a result, my muse is still a dysfunctional toddler. It throws tantrums and refuses to speak to me, all of which is entirely my fault. If I were not neurotic, I would devote time to my muse every day and make sure it knew it was the most wonderful thing in the world to me.

Instead, I do everything I can to show it how little I think of it.

I know what I have to do. I have to step up and make the effort. I have to set a schedule and stick with it, through thick and thin. I have to read books that inspire me and I have to talk about writing with my friends. I have to edit and submit and research and be quiet enough to think. I have to show my muse and the world that I value my creativity.

But when the dog is barking and my parents needs help moving and I haven’t hung out with my boyfriend in days and my back hurts and the house is a mess…it’s really hard to take that time. Really hard. Like stop eating a pint of ice cream in the middle kind of hard. Like don’t think of polar bears kind of hard (you’re picturing a polar bear right now, aren’t you?). Like…well, like writing kind of hard. Sigh.

 

Writing Under the Influence

25 Apr

I’ve recently made a rather unsettling correlation: I write better, faster, more often, and with more enjoyment when I eat junk food. I used to joke when I was younger that I couldn’t write while I was in a relationship or on a diet. Well, I seem to have overcome the first, but the latter is still persistently and disturbingly true.

In the past year, I’ve made a lot of discoveries about how I should treat my body if I want to be healthy and happy. I won’t go into all of them here, because I hate blogs about that sort of thing, but suffice it to say, I really can’t eat a lot of the things that people commonly eat. OK, so just stop eating those things, right? The problem is, when I do eat them, along with the nasty side effects, I get this nice creative surge. I connect with my muse and, boy, does she express herself! She sings from the rooftops like a teen girl in love when I eat a pizza, for example. And don’t get me started on milk chocolate. Or jelly candies. Or ice cream. Oh, man, ice cream…

But when I eat what I’m supposed to eat? Nada. It’s like I have to find just the right hair on my head, yank it out, and repeat, one for each word. I inevitably give up.

I’ve thought about this a lot, trying to figure out exactly why this is happening. I think it’s the same reason that artists and writers over the centuries have used intoxicants of all sorts: simply put, things that numb you out out also let you be creative.

When I’m being healthy, I am very aware of the world. I am in the moment, in touch with my surroundings, and at one with the universe. It’s all the things that people say you should be. I should be blissfully calm and serene and happy, right?

Nope. I can’t stand it.

If my body is running on all cylinders, I feel like I’m living in a box made of glass. I can’t get away from anything. Everything in my environment is a distraction, an intrusion. I can’t get to the place where I’m creative, that dark secret place where ideas bubble up from my subconscious and percolate into stories. I’m so completely conscious and aware that my muse is left standing on that rooftop in my deep brain, alone and forlorn, with no one to hear her sing. I literally can’t utilize my internal processes. It’s as if I’m cut off. All surface, no depth, makes Alexandra a blocked writer.

Whereas, when I eat junk, I get a wonderful buzz. I zone out, not enough to be impaired, but just enough to disconnect from the world and access that place where my muse lives. Suddenly, the box is opaque on three sides and I have room to hide a bit, to ignore outside stuff. Then I can get back to that rooftop and hear the song. (There’s a lot of imagery in this post, huh? Yeah, I just had a bowl of tortellini alfredo. Sigh.)

I don’t want to be in pain and lethargic and all the other things that happen when I don’t take care of myself. But I also want to write. So what’s the answer? I’ll let you know when I find it. Or, if you’ve already found the balance, please please please, leave it in the comments. My muse would be ever so grateful. She’s sick of singing to nobody.

My Own Worst Enemy

11 Apr

The worst thing about being an editor is (surprise!) reviewing your own work. As Alexandra delved into in her Psyche Fiction piece, if you try to write while you’re in the wrong frame of mind, you will screw yourself up. A lot of writers that I know have the same problem: their Editor is louder and has more control than their Muse. I am sadly, no exception.

I have often characterized my muses as hard drinking, morally delinquent, unforgiving and cruel mistresses. This is profoundly unfair of me, I know. It’s okay to have a love/hate relationship with your creative process. Hell, it’s better than no relationship, right? But if I step back and really look at my creative head-space, it’s much more playful and innocent than all that. My muses just want me to play – to let go of my worries, stop being so uptight, and just fucking CREATE. They assure me it’s a simple thing. Ha.

photo by David_B

photo by David_B

I try not to take myself too seriously. It helps that I’ve gone down that road before. Yes, I have written lots of poetry and angst-filled love letters. Of course, I have set out to pen the very finest prose the world has ever seen. In other words, I really tried to show the world the colors of my rainbow. Once you’ve done that – and come back down to Earth for a bit – it’s easier to laugh at yourself. We all must breathe the rarefied air of the highest self sometimes. But if you can’t poke fun at your own over-inflated ego, you’ve got real problems.

That’s really what it comes down to, for me. The proof is in the pudding. “Did you get any work done today?” I’d rather write five thousand words, only to throw out 4/5ths of it, than only write a thousand to begin with. And it all starts with shutting up that goddamn editor. The editor stops me from writing in my journal, keeps me from trying out new perspectives and narrative techniques, and experimenting with style. The editor is all business and no fun. And you had better not screw up on the easy stuff, ‘cuz the editor will never let you forget that time you published “form” when it was supposed to be “from” – ‘cuz the editor is a world-class JERK.

But just like a bad habit, the editor serves an important role. You can’t just “fire” the damn fool – you’re going to need a jerk when it comes time to get serious. My own creative process is a bit confusing these days, but the editor stays in his freaking office most of the time. I trick him, with busy work and simple distractions. Anything I have to do, just to let my muses out to play.

Maybe it’s a holdover from when I studied early childhood education. We learn through play. And we’re a lot like our primate cousins in that regard. Games with rigid rules help us sometimes, but unstructured play is when we expand our minds. Whether it’s writing haiku, or playing surrealist games, or coming up with the silliest flash fiction we can come up with, it’s all good. It rewards us – immediately – which is pretty damned important in this line of work. Rewards are few and far between. You have to count your successes and fudge the results from time to time.

So that’s my takeaway from this week: Let your brain out to play. Have some fun for a change.

On Misinvention

30 Mar
this is what happens when you let your demiurge drink

this is what happens when you let your demiurge drink

We may well be the ones to set this world on its ear / We may well be the ones / If not then why are we are we here? / Why the hell else are we here?

According to Wikipedia:
“An invention is a unique or novel device, method, composition or process. It may be an improvement upon a machine or product, or a new process for creating an object or a result.”

And according to my dictionary:
mis- is a prefix, meaning: Wrong; bad; erroneous.

You do the math. You put two and two together and see what kind of sandwich it makes. Oh, you don’t like sandwiches? What the hell is wrong with sandwiches? I put together a perfectly cromulent word-salad like that for lunch and you don’t even want to taste it? Damn, that’s cold.

Fine. I’ll spell it out for you.

We make ‘bad things’ sometimes. And since we can’t stop ourselves, we like to share them. From time-to-time, we actually make things that are ‘good’ as well. We share those too.

It’s not because we enjoy lying, or writing, or whatever. I mean, sure, it’s always fun when you get something nice out of it. No, we only do this for one, easy to understand reason: We cannot NOT do it. We literally cannot stop writing. If we could, don’t you think we would have normal lives? Normal jobs? Normal… brains?

This is the result of our weird, wrong, bad brains. Misinvention.

We will use this space to post stories, scripts, reviews, lies, slander, articles, code, numbers, formulae, minutiae, screeds, manifestos, heresies, anecdotes, rumors, gossip, love letters to dead gods, cover letters, death threats to our pets… and whatever else strikes our fancy.

What do you do, when you feel compelled to do terrible things? When your muse has been drinking? When you mentor is on a binge of crack cocaine and violent artistic urges? Well, if you’re anything like us, you make art. We sincerely hope you enjoy how we do it.

-US