Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Meet My Muse

Here she is.
(My muse, not Michelle.) 
I wrote the following article about authors and writing inspiration for author Michelle Howard's first newsletter, which was published about a week ago. I thought this might be of interest to Spacefreighters' readers, so I'm positing it with Michelle's blessing. (Thanks, Michelle!)  

I met Michelle after she read my second book, THE OPHELIA PROPHECY, and emailed to share her thoughts about it. One of the topics she proposed for the guest article was how I come up with my ideas. This is something I enjoy talking about because I find the whole creative process mysterious, beautiful, and exciting.

But it can also be very scary. As authors, we load ourselves with some pretty heavy expectations. It seems like what we do is never quite good enough according to our internal critic, and sometimes the external ones as well. A hundred or a thousand or a hundred-thousand people can tell us we’re great, but one nasty review can throw us into a funk for days.

Author Elizabeth Gilbert (EAT, PRAY, LOVE) gave a great TED talk about this and offered some very interesting advice. The gist of it is that we shouldn’t internalize our creativity so much. That we should think of ourselves as vessels for conducting creativity from wherever it comes from, out to the rest of the world. That can help us to ease up on ourselves. I particularly appreciate what she said about just showing up at the desk every day. She spoke of sitting down and saying to the universe, “I showed up. I’ve done my part. Now you do yours.”

I confess that though I found a lot of wisdom in this, I also had mixed feelings. Another author who gives great writer advice is Chuck Wendig. His is more of the tough-love variety. He advises authors to “own that shi_”, and to act like the writing gods and goddesses we know we are. And I confess I find those kinds of affirmations empowering.

I try to meditate every day, and I often start by setting an intention. Usually something like, “I have a clear and focused mind.” But sometimes, inspired by Wendig, I set the intention to “be the writing goddess I am.” Silly as that probably sounds, somehow it does seem to work for me. I think because it dovetails nicely with some advice Neil Gaiman gave to a woman who was anxious about something she was trying for the first time: “Pretend you’re someone who can do this.”

Though on the surface these two approaches seem opposite, I think they work for the same reason. If you assign the source for your creativity outside yourself, it takes off the pressure. If you refuse to doubt you can do something, it takes off the pressure.

Still, when I become frustrated because I can’t quite get the words on the page, I do tend to reflect on Gilbert’s advice. It can be very cathartic to blame the muse.

This was perhaps the longest introduction to an article I’ve ever written, but I think I’ve finally come back around to the topic of where I get my inspiration. My muse has some very specific needs. [No, I did not just call you needy.] And some very predictable behaviors. [Nor did I call you boring.] And a tendency to leave me staring at or talking to people who aren’t there at all. [Go away! I’m trying to write an article!]

First of all, she *loves* science. If you ask her about this, she’ll deny it, because she believes that muses are supposed to be shimmering and majestic and not quirky little geeks. (It has something to do with being related to fairies and ancient deities.) But all of my worldbuilding unpacks from the science talks I take her to, and books like SYMBIOTIC PLANET (symbiosis research for GHOST PLANET), FRANKENSTEIN’S CAT (biotech research for THE OPHELIA PROPHECY), and ENTANGLED MINDS (psi and quantum physics research for ECHO 8).

Beinecke Digital Library:
Also, she has a thing about titles. Muse *crack*, at least in my creative world. Back before I wrote my first published novel, GHOST PLANET, I was trying to think up ideas for a story to enter in the Writers of the Future contest. I had already tried a few fantasy stories that made it to “honorable mention” but no farther. I thought trying science fiction might give me a boost, or at least some new ideas to work with.

I remember the title “Ghost Planet” popped into my head. I started noodling on what a story with that title might be about, and the little dear was off to the races. It has played out exactly that way with just about every story I’ve written. Here lately she’s tossed a couple awesome ideas at me with nothing more than a color. (I have an experimental story in progress on Wattpad called RED.)

Clearly it makes no sense that a whole story should erupt spontaneously from a couple of words. But it happens. In my case, A LOT. And that’s what fascinates me about the creative process. It’s also why the ancients came up with the idea of muses — they couldn’t say any more than we can today *where* those stories come from. It’s so much like magic, they must be coming from some outside source, right?

It’s nice to have a partner, and it’s also a relief to have someone else to turn to (or blame) when things go wrong. Even if they’re only in your head.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Sharon!

    "As authors, we load ourselves with some pretty heavy expectations. It seems like what we do is never quite good enough according to our internal critic, and sometimes the external ones as well."

    Boy, you said it! Authorly/Writerly Angst is the worst. And sometimes our muses are great helps, but at others...they're like little devils on our shoulders. We have to learn to tune out the tiny naysaying voices that whisper, "You're not good enough." Cuz, yes we are! Take that, little devil.


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