I used to say my muse was my little green notebook. But that’s not quite accurate. My notebooks are more like partners. I actually have a series of retired notebooks, the way old British aristocracy would have a series of beloved hunting dogs, generation after generation, who had served them well and faithfully over the years. First there was the blue one; then the green; now the white flowered; soon another green one. These little books are treasure troves of ideas and information about all of my projects.
I know people who say their children are their muse; or their gardens; or their spirituality. None of that stuff works for me. There is no way anything that barks as much or as loudly as Winston could possibly be any kind of muse.
So when (confronted with this week’s topic) I sat and tried to pin it down, only one thing made any sense: time.
There’s so much pressure in every single aspect of our lives to do things faster and faster. This is also the case in publishing today–the ideal thing is to strike while the iron is hot, to release book after book, year after year (or sometimes faster), to keep hungry readers interested.
I’m not saying I couldn’t write a book in a year; I’m actually pretty sure I could. But I marvel when I hear authors say, “Well, I sat down to write it June 1, and on June 15, I sent it to my agent.” It boggles my mind.
I tried this approach last year, with the book I’m currently referring to as Project X. I spent six weeks writing every day, hours and hours, sacrificing everything else in my life for the project. At the end of six weeks, I had a first draft, but something wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t my kind of first draft. It was full of my characters, my plot, my story, my dialogue… but it wasn’t right, and I knew that instinctively.
Now, a year later, after pondering and percolating and switching main characters and renaming just about everyone who had a name, I’m rewriting that book. I’m cutting scenes that, a year ago, I didn’t know what to do with. I’m expanding characters and situations because it’s right for the story, not because I’m in a mad rush to finish.
But the most curious phenomenon is what happens with the little issues, as I revise. And here is where my muse, who I guess would be the female version of father time (don’t muses have to be women?), follows me around and surprises me.
Because I’ll have some little problem in my head, a thorn in my narrative side, and I’ll sit and stare at the computer screen and scratch my head and sigh (and make lots of notes in my little notebook). But it’s only later–a day later, a week later, maybe two weeks later–that I’ll be doing something completely random, and my muse will strike, and an answer that had seemed unattainable is dropped in my lap.
And then I’ll be struck by the fact that I have just experienced a writer’s miracle–a story-changing burst of inspiration that often accompanies something as mundane as running on the treadmill or sorting the clean socks.
It happens, again and again (and might I say, I hope to God it keeps happening), and I finally had to give up and face the truth–as a writer, I need to take my time. And trust that if I make a place for her, she’ll take care of me.