Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Some days, you don't want inspiration

My Muse came to visit me this morning. It went something like this:

Muse: Hi Doug. How's it going?
Doug: Shitty. I've been banging my head on this scene for days. It keeps dragging on and on, and I need to tighten it up.
M: (pouty) Aww, that sucks.
D: I don't suppose you could lend a hand?
M: Well, I do have...(reaches into a fold of her skimpy toga)..THIS!
D: Wait, isn't that....
M: Yes! An entire new beginning for your book!
D: But I'm already over thirty thousand words into...
M: But look how *sparkly* it is...
D: And I only have eigh..eight months...to...Sparkly...
M: And just think: you could restructure the whole opening...
D: Sparkly opening...
M: ...heighten the tension with a new setting, create new characters...
D: Sparkly characters...
M: ...and cover most of what you've already written through some tight exposition.
D:...Sparkly tight...wait, wait. Hold on a sec: a new beginning? Now??
M: Why not?
D: Because I have a deadline is why not.
M: Eight months. Pish! You have nights, right? The kids go back to school in September, right?
D: No.
M: But you could...
D: NO.
M: Well, poo. Fine. But you're stuck on this chapter, right?
D: Riiiight.
M: So maybe you could just, you know, try the new beginning? See how it feels. You certainly wouldn't have to keep it. Hey, it might even help get your creative juices flowing for this chapter, right?
D: Well...
M Spaaaarklyyyyy!
D: Spar...No! No, get it away from me.
M :Sparkl ---Waaaugh!
/seventeen minutes of gratuitous pummeling of the Muse later/
D:...when I said I. Have. A. F**king. DEADLINE!
M: (straightening hair) Geez, alright already.
D: Thank you! (helps Muse back to her feet) Now, if you don't mind?
M: Sure. (turns to leave, then turns back) Oh, hey, have you given any thought to any short stories lately?
D: ...

The above was originally posted on my LJ a week or so back (you can find a link my LJ on the sidebar under "Blogs and Journals"). Among the various comments made on the initial post, Naomi noted that this sounded like a visit from Lyda's Muse. Why? Well, this seems to be Lyda's S.O.P. when it comes to starting a book; so much so that when she bemoans that she isn't sure where the book is going and the beginning sucks and...we all just nod our heads, make some suggestions, and more or less move on. Not because we don't care, but because we know that she will pull it out and get it together after X many starts. It's just how she works, more often than not.

But every writer is different. So for me, this wasn't so much a, "Hmm, maybe you should start over" moment as it was a delaying tactic. I love beginning new projects -- books, stories, home repair projects, whatever. It's the follow-through that can get me. So when my Muse shows up and dangles a tantalizing new beginning in front of me, I know that, nine times out of ten, it's me trying to avoid working through a tough/slow spot. I've had more short-story and novel ideas part way through a book (or in college, through a term paper) than I can count. And each time, it's my imagination saying, "Man, I'm bored. Let's try...**THIS**...instead! C'mon, you know you want too..."

It took me years to figure this out. And, I admit, it was easier to resist this time around because, like I told my Muse when she came calling, I have a deadline. But Muses are tricky, and you can never be sure....

So, just to be safe, I took 20 minutes and a legal pad and outlined the new beginning. Very cool. And, it turns out, very much a logistical nightmare to write. Problem solved. But I had to get it out of my system: otherwise, it would have sat there, poking at me for weeks, likely at the worst possible times. (On the plus side, a couple of the scenes I outlined can be used later in the book, so it wasn't wasted time.)

Is there a moral to this story? If pressed, I'd have to say that you need to learn not only what works for you, but also how you tend to trick yourself as a writer. After all, it's our job to tell convincing lies stories, and we often make our own best targets.What makes it even harder, though, is that sometimes we aren't tricking ourselves. That same urge that is a bad idea nine times out of ten may be the right answer this time, which is why Lyda beats herself up over every new beginning, and why I ended up outlining the idea that dropped in my lap: because this may be that one in ten shot that takes you someplace better.

You never know. Which is part of the fun, but also part of the pain. And it's all part of the process.

So, what are some of your writing foibles? What mental packages does your Muse drop off that you make you wonder: Hmm...gift, or letter bomb?

1 comment:

tate hallaway said...

So THAT's why my Muse showed up with a black-eye the other day!!