Taming the Muse

museThere is nothing to writing.
All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
~Ernest Hemingway

Sir Hemingway had it right. We bleed. But the bleeding for me is usually in the details, rather than the sweeping generalizations or themes of my fiction. I never encountered monsters when I wrote Live Specimens, but some of the conversations or observations appearing in those pages were mine. I’ve never been kidnapped and tossed in the dark like poor Jenny in Six Days, but some of those thoughts she had were mine, some of those memories were mixed with a little blood from my own. And of course, I still have all my body parts (mostly), but White Picket Prisons has lots of blood in it—silly little details like my feet on the dash of the car when I’m the passenger, and some bigger, more painful details. We bleed. It’s what we do. That’s the easy part.

The hard part comes long before the blood, from one of two things: writers block or the whirlwind—where we wonder what exactly we should bleed. I’ve never been a believer in writer’s block. I’ve never suffered from a lack of imagination. And the way my Pollyanna 12-year-old self looks at it, every time I see something and that little voice says “what if…?” that’s the muse. That happens constantly to creatives. As long as you’ve got that, you’re not blocked. You may be stumped or stuck on what you’re working on, but switch gears to something else, explore that what if, and once you oil the hinges you’ll be fine and can come back.

Me? I have the other problem. My muse is a psychotic bitch from which there is no rest. She follows me to the bathroom, showers with me, stares at me in the rearview while I’m driving, and even crawls in bed with me and cuddles while I slip down into sleep. Unrelenting whore. I love her. (I hate her—it’s complicated). Often I find myself with too much input. A whirlwind of thoughts and ideas and never all of them on the same piece of fiction. Did I mention she’s bipolar, refuses to take meds, and loves to interrupt? Ugh.

She is currently trying to make me bipolar. An apocalypse novella, a monster novel, a freaking vampire novel (?!!), and supernatural thriller novella with a deadline that she only flirts with when I’m actually focused elsewhere. My brain is like a pinball table and she’s the ball, bouncing all over hell. I hit that way with the flipper and she bounces of a bumper and goes the other way. There’s really no controlling her. I’d have better luck trying to control the weather (which, for the record would be a warm 84 degrees all the time with a nice light breeze and perfect blue sky with fluffy clouds that looked like things floating along lazily). See? See that? She did that! Rambled off into fluffy freaking clouds…

I have, however, figured out how to calm her down a notch. Not like I’m taking away sugar completely, but no more red M&Ms for her. See, when I’m working on anything novella length or longer, I have two files: the Word doc for the actual prose, and a TextEdit file for notes, outline, details, etc. Whatever it is I actually want to be writing is open in word. The other tendrils of her ADHD-laced thoughts have their notes open. This way, when she interrupts, I simply pop over and write it down. Or, as the case may be (as I look up and realized I have a tab open with a spider theme and another about vampires), I do a quick search for something, jot it down, and go back to what I was doing. Then she knows I’m paying attention and focuses again. If I don’t, she’ll drag me on an adventure that usually ends somewhere stupid.

So to all those other creative-type people out there whose little voice sees something innocent and says, “Yeah, but what if…?” remember, as long as the questions are there the block isn’t. As far as the whirlwind, even a tornado can be tamed if you distract the wind. In the end, blood is blood and you’re still going to use it once you get those words flowing. You’ll drip a little here, smear a little there, and occasionally dump an entire bucket on the page and call it therapy. But before you bleed, you need the muse to hand over the razor blade.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go shopping for a new PS2. Because yes, I play guitar hero while working out scenes in my head and the stupid PS2 died on me in the middle of a crucial scene and now Miss Flighty is throwing vampires in with spiders and little southern girls in with Lovecraft, and it’s a hot mess in here. She needs one razor blade, just one, and I need a my Metallica guitar hero, damn it.

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