BONUS: Kill the Muse

Via unsplash,com. Guess what? You don't need this place to write.

Okay, here’s a nice little bonus post for you. It’s not long, but boy is it EVER from the heart.

I’ve been paging through my Twitter feed, through my blogs and my writing pointers and my whole little virtual writing world. My fingers have been tappity-tapping, my brain running. Note the lack of adjective there; ‘running’ is about all I can say.

I see a lot about the writing ‘life’. Articles with grandiose titles such as ‘facing the blank page’, ‘obeying the muse’, ‘living in the world of your story’, etc. I even found tools–special plot-point dice, prompt books, so on–especially created for writers. And my question is–when in the HELL did writing become a lifestyle choice?

There is no ‘muse’. The blank page is just a piece of paper. While the world of your story should be concise and well-explored, and your characters close to you, you should, at no point, be ‘living’ in an imaginary place. (I think I’ve been guilty of this cliche too, I have to say. But still.)

Writing, like any arts-related activity, is a profession for some, a passion for others. I hope, for those lucky enough to make good money doing it, it’s both. But at the end of the day, it’s putting words on paper. It’s a mechanical process, and if it’s done well it’s a lot of sweat and labor and painstaking decision. Writing isn’t some vaunted mysterious art, there’s no burning incense or augury reading involved. Being sensitive, prone to exposition, and artsy doesn’t make you a writer.

What makes you a writer, in fact, is an assload of hard work. It’s seeing the word ‘agonized’ in a sentence and KNOWING, because you’ve studied what words sound like and their precise meanings, that really, you want ‘stressed’ there. It’s seeing a blank page and not giving a shit, because you’re over all that self-aggrandizing prove-yourself bullshit and you know, KNOW, that what you put down on it will either work or it won’t.

And it’s reading. Boy, is it ever a lot of reading. It’s reading in ‘your genre’ and outside of it. It’s recognizing good work when you see it. It’s reading SO MUCH that your grammar is awesome by reflex. After all, if you have a young dentist, wouldn’t you hope he’s learned something from other, older dentists, who might do things differently? You can learn, my dears, from the strangest places, in the strangest times. Whether or not you want to write LIKE Dostoyevsky, you should still read him. Because he did something good, and maybe he’s got some habits you’d like to steal.

So don’t piss your words away on things like ‘feeding the hungry Muse’ or ‘writing from your heart’. Inspiration will either strike or it won’t, and writing from your heart would be awfully messy.

Write with your two hands, as much or as little as you please. If you keep doing it, you’ll get better. If you don’t–I hear there are some marvelous opportunities in telemarketing.

9 thoughts on “BONUS: Kill the Muse

  1. Ah hah! You discussed a point I forgot to mention in my post: reading your genre. Wow, that’s such a huge oversight on my part. 🙂

    That being said, what’re your top ten favorite books in the scifi/fantasy bubble? Although I have nearly twelve on my stack I haven’t even cracked open yet, I’m interested in knowing more.

    Also, I like your voice. Irreverent and bold.

    1. Sorry it took me forever to reply to this. I saw it and The Intarwebs exploded. Minor catastrophe but we’re all right now, and no innocents were caught in the blast.


      Not as big on the other books in this trilogy, but I AM a fan of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. His subtle satire is much-needed in fantasy at the moment. Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword is, and will always be, one of the best in YA Fantasy, along with Patricia McKillip’s (dear GOD I hope that’s her actual name) dreamily-written The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.

      It isn’t fantasy precisely, but Umberto Eco’s Baudolino is a great lesson in the use of lie and legend in a fantastic setting.

      Dan Simmons’s Hyperion (only the first one, sadly) is one of my all-time favorite SF reads–while his allusions get a little overblown sometimes, his story is emotionally powerful. China Mieville’s (hope I spelled that right) Iron Council is a great example of making the world-rockingly strange relatable through character, though I sometimes find his style overblown.

      Iain M. Banks. Anything by Iain M. Banks, but especially Matter, Player of Games, or Surface Detail. Alastair Reynolds is also world-rocking. His Revelation Space books hold all the vast coldness of space inside them.

      Ursula K.LeGuin, obviously, both the Wizard of Earthsea books and the ever-incredible The Left Hand of Darkness. Margaret Atwood’s MaddAdam books are a lesson in how soft SF should be, especially the first two.

      Neil Gaiman has a large following because his books are incredible. Anansi Boys is my personal favorite.

      I would say Terry Pratchett is my guilty pleasure, but I don’t feel guilty about it at all. 🙂

      Was that ten? We can do more. We can do a LOT more. My favorites tend to be classics, but that’s because classics tend to be good.

      Whatchoo got for me? My reading list could use some broadening, too!

      1. Here I thought I was well-read. I haven’t heard of half these writers. –In my defense, though, I have a child-like obsession with Simmons. Currently the greatest single work I’ve ever read is his Drood, a historical fiction (fantasy?) first person of a drug-addled “friend” of Charles Dickens. Drood is a Voldemort-looking fantastic character that haunts both characters. I’m currently devouring every Simmons book he’s ever written. Some are mind-blowing. Some (as in the Fall of Hyperion) miss. But only just.

        Anywho. I know LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness, Gaiman’s… everything. Pratchett’s… everything. Mieville’s fantastic (in fact, I tend to have a solid amount of ‘New Weird’ in my writing–Lovecraftian beings, dream-journeys, etc). I have Atwood’s Handmaiden’s Tale, but haven’t opened it yet.

        I have a slight disagreement with one writer: Banks. He seems to be a character writer and not a story teller, like reading a D&D game, and I read his Remember Phlebas. Too little sci. Too much fi. IMHO. 😛 (but that by no means says he’s a bad writer. Just not my bag.)

        Alright. My list is a bit more gothic in placement. I currently have Washington Irving’s collection of short stories (Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Rip van Winkle) that hasn’t left my side in weeks. As Americans, we’ve lost so much English vocabulary in our writing it’s disgusting. If you’re wondering what I mean, read any single one of his stories.

        The Name of the Wind and Wise Man’s Fear are the two books written by Patrick Rothfuss, and I recommend both. Refreshing new talent. Speaking of new talent–The City’s Son by Pollack is an incredible new look at London fantasy. Highly recommended.

        Guy Gavriel Kay’s understanding of “psychic warfare” is phenomenal. His explanation of pagan history is pretty great too.

        Peter Watts’ Starfish series is a solid dystopic mindtrip, with the female Antagonist eventually cutting a swath across a police state USA as a disease carrier, followed by smart computer viruses hungry for popular opinion.

        Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game (I don’t care if they made a movie of it! The book has been a favorite since I was a kid).

        Charles de Lint’s Moonheart.

        Classics like Lovecraft and Shelley’s Frankenstein and Poe all have their place on my shelf.

        Dante’s Divine Comedy.

        Greg Bear’s Legacy. Greg Bear himself is a brilliant person, let alone his grasp of sociopolitical and environmental complexity.

        My guilty pleasure is Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. I feel sorry to say it, because I shouldn’t like it. But I love it. Like ice cream on a hot day.

        If I could let you in on a little secret. I don’t really care for a whole lot of fantasy/scifi. There’s so much of it poorly done, it hurts to read. I used to read Dragonriders of Pern and Goodkind’s Sword of Truth and the Wheel of Time, but they’re just fluff. There’s very little message to be gleaned from it, for me. I spent more time concocting through colorful Magic: the Gathering art and dreaming than anything I find in a book. I’m a strange bird, though.

        Wall o text. Hopefully it doesn’t break your internet’s tubes again.

      2. Shit, Orson Scott Card! How’d I forget him? I loved Ender’s Game, and Speaker for the Dead. After that I started losing interest, but those two books were awesome. And don’t even mention that movie to me, uugh. Spoiled my childhood a little bit.

        Also, don’t totally knock Banks until you try Matter or Surface Detail. He’d learned how to handle plot and not overextend himself by that point, and those two books rock harder than Keith Richards riding a troll after sunrise. You’ll like Matter especially, a little more ‘sci’ in there.

        It’s funny you say what you do about sci-fi/fantasy. I have the same problem with it, and, ironically enough, about the same thing to say–especially about Anne McCaffrey (did I spell that right?). It’s rare to find fantasy especially with heart and skill and message as well as magic and glitz. This is why I was so happy to see Lev Grossman’s Magicians books out there. His books are very human, in addition to everything else, and feature one of the most dislikeable likeable narrators you’ll ever meet.

      3. Consider. Banks. Knocked. *drops the mic* …if I find another of his works on a bargain rack or garage sale, I’ll buy it. Maybe.

        I’ll have to go hunt down Grossman. I’ll read him if you read Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind. Deal? Full report required in two weeks. No joke. I’ll probably read him anyway. It’ll just take a lot longer because deadlines are awesome and I’d continue rereading Butcher books.


      4. All right, buddy. You’re on. I’ve got to finish up the last of the Magicians books, and then I shall Rothfuss my way into a new author.

        And I have to ask the age old question–when a writer drops the mic in a text-only format, does it make any sound?

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