Wednesday 23 December 2009

The wayward muse

We've all been there. Deadline looming, book not finished (or not even started) and somehow that spark of creativity that you depend on to make the words glow and catch light cannot be kindled. The sentences - if you've written them at all - lie lumpen and cold on the page. The words sprawl lazily, dull adjectives sticking out like elbows. The book is an early-morning teenager, unwilling to rouse itself at all. Where is the muse when you need her? It's Christmas, there's snow outside - she's probably gone to make snow-hippos and sledge down ancient burial mounds. She may be waiting in A&E with a sledging accident at this very moment. She certainly doesn't want to hang around in here to help me build a dragon for an end-of-year picture-book deadline. I'm sure I heard her, on the way out, kicking a troll out of the way and falling over that cat with the bifurcated tail, grumbling that I don't use half the things she drags in.

The popular conception of a writer is of someone who writes when imagination strikes. The Writer of Popular Imagination (WPI) is a delicate flower, wracked by emotion and impelled to pour his or her heart out. He or she wears elegant clothes and writes in a beautiful room, which may be crammed with interesting
objets d'art. The muse sits obediently at the WPI's side, adding an eloquent line here or there and sipping a martini. The WPI does not sit on the floor in pyjamas with a laptop precariously balanced and keep checking Facebook and Twitter for some crucial debate that must be entered into - more crucial than writing about the damn dragon. The WPI's muse does not drink absinthe all night and then go awol for days.

Some books don't need much help from the muse. Then she gets impatient and starts kicking ideas around in a distracting way. 'Look at me,' she says, ' Look what I've found. Don't you want to come and play with this were-flamingo? What can we do with this witch-infested igloo built of icing sugar? Would you like some of this mandrake goulash?' It's Not Now, Bernard all over again. Maybe the muse is called Bernard. She gets petulant and stroppy and goes off in a sulk when I won't play with her.

Other books really should have the muse's name on the title page. OK, Bernard, you can have a credit. You can have half the PLR- please just come and tell me how to put these bits together.
How do you cope when the muse won't come in and the deadline is creeping closer? Write anyway. Write and just accept whatever garbage comes out, and keep going. That way you will have something to correct. At the very least, you will have something to srew up and throw at the damn muse when she deigns to show her face.

When she finally comes back in, the muse can look over what you've written and jeer at you. If you're lucky, she will want to prove her worth by fixing it quickly. If she still won't play, but acts like a cat you've left in the cattery for a fortnight, you'll just have to prove you can do it on your own. And you can - which is what really annoys her. You know how language works, you know how to put a book together - it might take longer and you might feel grumpier, but you
can do it without her. The child created by IVF is indistinguishable from the child begotten joyfully between Parisian sheets or the child conceived in a car park. No-one else will know. Lock the muse-flap, leave her out in the snow and prove you can do it anway.


  1. It seems to me the muse has been omnipresent! Take her presents and bung them all in the dragon book - cat with 2 tails,witch-infested igloo and all. It will get you writing. Then, if you don't like it, you can kick them out again - like all the animals in the story of the man who thought his house was too small - and voila! you will find your story left behind!

    Good luck!

  2. Oh yes, how very true. If the muse wants to go off on a jaunt of her own, so be it. I find mine always turns up when I just write, anyway. A kind of, "oh, so you think you can do this without me, do you..."
    Funny thing, muses. Way too much petulance and gin in them, as a general rule.

  3. Mary, I am going to take that advice, as the book still isn't gelling. Witch-infested igloo and two-tailed cat going in!