“Muse” is a convenient way to talk about the part of me where the writing lives. Most of the time I picture her as a dominatrix in thigh-high boots and a very short red skirt. She’s very confident and very competent and I’ve never had issues with the internal editor because she would eat any such feeble creature alive.
Sometimes the muse is a foul-mouthed professional snowboarder, a spinoff of the main character of one of my novels. This aspect of the muse is more about being the best I can be, working hard, having fun. There’s also a dragon who swills vodka and blows fire under my chair when I haven’t been working hard enough.
When people talk about muses, they usually seem to mean some fountain of ideas and words, some internal or external source of words and ideas. And it’s true that when things are going well, ideas are everywhere. Maybe they aren’t quite as common as pebbles on the path, but certainly as common as coins dropped beneath a parking meter or recipes in the Sunday paper.
For instance, my muse gave me three possibilities in ten minutes on the T into Boston this morning.
Three teenagers got on. Obviously a brother and sister, but who is the third girl and why does her body language say she dislikes both of the other two?
They were talking about the environment. My muse wonders, What would the world be like if you could hug a tree — and the tree hugged you back? Mobile, sentient trees are one possibility, but what if there was a shapeshifter who could become trees instead of wolves? And how could you make a beech tree as sexy as an alpha wolf?
Their music too loud. An imagined voice saying, “The trouble with boy bands is that boys grow up to be men, wanting the things men want instead of the things boys want. But how do you give up the money?”
I could turn any of those into a story, some long and complicated, others short and bitter. Some of them might combine with other ideas. The man who has outgrown his boy band is very like another musician in my files. If I can combine them, maybe I’ll get a more dynamic story. My muse is good at combining things. She’s good at figuring out how incompatible incidents and characters can be made to fit in a more resonant whole.
But her work is just getting started. Putting together words is one thing. Putting together an effective, coherent story that builds to a dramatic climax and a resonant ending is quite another. Even if the initial idea is clear, the way it plays out might not be. Maybe she’ll have to research, develop, flesh out, ask questions. Maybe she’ll rearrange things. She’ll tear it apart, line the pieces up, and stitch them back together in a whole new way, like a patchwork quilt — or like Frankenstein’s monster.
Editing, polishing, plothole-patching all fall under her inspiration and perspiration.
I’m beginning to think the tasks of publication are her territory too. It’s a different way of looking at the world, but it’s about the story and she concerns herself with everything related to the story. She did some of her best work on the three-sentence “nutshell” for a recent contest. Queries, synposes, the art of building an audience and a web presence, all require creativity, insight, and hard work.
And creativity, insight, and hard work are what the muse is all about.
Bonnie Randall Schutzman was born and raised at a wide spot on the road near Yellowstone Park, with cows across the highway and lumber trucks hauling rack after rack of lodgepole pine to the sawmill. She moved east to go to graduate school, got a job in the computer industry, and eventually decided writing novels was more fun than writing computer manuals. She enjoys travel, hiking, and throwing together a great meal for her family.