Keeping out of the Swamp (Or How NOT to Treat Your Muse)
By Margaret McGaffey Fisk
So, Valerie asked me to come here and talk to you about my muse. She should know a lot about that little girl, since she named my muse for me.
Come over here, Megan, and wave to the nice people.
I swear she isn’t usually this reluctant. I guess she just doesn’t like crowds. Or waving. Or me. Who knows?
My muse and I have a rocky relationship. Like Valerie, I started out unable to personify my muse as an object–umm, I mean character.
I read Paradise Lost in college and even wrote a book centered on an inside joke about just who John Milton’s muse was. The question that inspired my novel? Who would come whispering in a blind man’s ear about angels and God and forgotten promises?
But even that didn’t sway me on this muse idea.
Part of the problem is in how I write. When I went from omniscient point of view to close third, I did it in the only way I knew how. I went from global narrator who sees all and knows all to sitting in a very small head (in comparison only characters; you can calm down now). What that meant was that I became the characters, lived and breathed within them.
Now don’t go all psychological on me. I know full well this isn’t a balanced, stable thing to do. But heck, aren’t all writers at least a little crazy? So I’m on the outer edge of that scale.
Anyway, it was each individual character who unfolded the story, who let me see through their eyes, who brought me into their world. I couldn’t see a muse. I never heard the whispers of another voice. And therefore, the muse didn’t exist.
I took an unplanned break from writing for a number of years (the first since I started at seven or younger), when work and family crises, and having two wonderful boys just became too much for me to manage with writing tossed in there as well. I say I took a break, but when I go back and look, I can see that I was writing short stories, I even wrote a novel, and there is hardly a year when I didn’t send at least one thing out. However, in comparison to the previous focus, I might as well have been sitting on my hands.
My muse (though remember I didn’t characterize her as such) certainly thought I’d fallen by the wayside. Night and day, sleeping or waking, I was pestered by so many characters that sometimes I had trouble focusing on anything else. But I didn’t write them. No, I crushed them down into the swamp of “I’ll get to it when…” and thought I was doing well.
She wasn’t very pleased at the waste. She did her best to drag me in by slowly undermining my ability to be anything else. And when I was laid off, she jumped on the opportunity, convincing me that what I needed to do was become a kept woman and try to make something of this writing thing. Sure, I thought I was making the judgment call, but I knew darn well what not having writing in my life was doing by that point. I could see the bubbles rising out of the swamp filled with poisonous gas and dreaded things to come.
So taking the safer (coward’s?) path, I allowed writing back into my life.
The ideas hit me like a sledgehammer. This was still in my omniscient phase, but before I’d had much exposure to the concept of modern muses. Muses were Greeks all done up in fancy drape dresses with ribbons lacing their curls. They certainly had nothing to do with me.
But whether I personified my muse or not, she certainly knew her job. Ideas came at me from every side. I kept notebooks everywhere, in the car, in my purse, in the bathroom, in my nightstand, and even in my pockets. I filled them with snippets, plots, titles, what have you.
To find out what Margaret does with these notebooks, check back tomorrow for Part 2!
Margaret McGaffey Fisk developed a love for different cultures when wandering around archeological sites as a Foreign Service brat in the Middle East and Greece. A combined anthropology and creative writing degree continued that focus, but a healthy dose of science fiction and fantasy warped it in ways most of her teachers would never have imagined.
Her speculative fiction has appeared in Cloaked in Shadow by Fantasist Enterprises and Triangulation 2004 by PARSEC. Her nonfiction can be found in Vision: A Resource for Writers and The Author’s Grimoire by Dragon Moon Press.
As an active member of both Forward Motion and Online Writers Workshop she has been honing her ability to craft tales while helping other writers pass the hurdles between writing the first word and publication. Visit her website for more information.