I’m going to preempt myself today. Rather than blog about whatever I had scheduled, I’d instead like to share something that happened over the weekend; something that explains what soooo many people are doing wrong when it comes to writing:
I was at the grocery store buying frozen pizza and whiskey for a long overdue late night writing binge when I happened to overhear two people talking about writing. “That’s awesome!” I thought as I sidled sideways to eavesdrop. “I love listening to other people talk about writing.”
The man, “The Writer”, was talking to the woman next to him about being a writer and about his “process”. It was pretty obvious from the tone of the conversation and the body language steaming from both that the guy was trying to be impressive and the woman was totally impressed. She just seemed flat-out ‘wowed’ by the fact that he was a writer, “a real artist” (That’s a direct quote) and he was eating up the attention.
Now, before I go further, I should point out that any and every writer, artist, song-writer, welder, carpenter, and dog-groomer in the world can talk about their “process.” It’s not as special as we try to make it sound. Our “process” is just the way, or set of ways, we like to do things. It can be anything: a secluded cabin in the woods where we hole ourselves up and hide from the world or half-assed watching T.V. with a laptop and bag of licorice. Process is important, not necessary. I don’t really need bourbon, pizza, and James Brown on Vinyl to write a novel. It’s just a combo I sometimes use to help me relax and concentrate. But I can churn out words by the thousand in a crowded Starbucks or whisper forbidden library in the middle of the day. It’s just not what I prefer.
Anyway, this guy was waxing over-the-top poetic about his process and how much the written word speaks to him, (Whatever that means), and the girl was just eating it up. Just as I was starting to wonder if I sound as cheesy as he does whenever I talk about writing something happened. Something big: The girl asked the question every writer gets asked all the time: “So what are you writing?” Only this time there must have been some background conversation I failed to ‘accidentally’ overhear because instead of asking “What are you writing?” she asked “So, What’s your novel about?”
This is not a hard question. This is one of the standard questions writers get asked all the time. The other common ones are: “Have you done anything I might have read?” And “Do you write articles or fiction?” These are real standard questions and writers can either vague them off or get specific as the person and situation strike them. No problems at all.
But not this guy. This guy didn’t have an answer. Keep in mind; it’s not that he had a vague half-formed reference like: “It’s kinda a combination of ‘Dr. Who’ and ‘The Ring’ with a little ‘Bob Seeger’ thrown in.” He had no idea. He had no clue what his novel was about. Like not even enough of an idea that he’d be able to bullshit an answer to continue to impress a potential bed-partner. Now a lot of writers, beginners and experts, will start a project without much idea what it will eventually shape up to be. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve answered several similar questions with responses like “It’s currently shaping up to be a mystery.” Or “It’s an Urban Fantasy that I got the idea for while doing the terrifyingly difficult maze on the back of a box of Lucky Charms.”
Instead this guy said the one thing that’s practically guaranteed to get my goat every time. He uttered the one phrase that people have used to justify sitting on their butts for centuries, millennia actually: “Right now I’m really just waiting on my muse.”
Let me explain: According to ancient Greek mythology the muses were nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne that presided over literature, poetry, and song. Occasionally they supposedly walked up to struggling poets and creative types and slapped them on the forehead with an amazing idea. In the mythology you could hunt for them, invoke them, even invite them into your work, but sitting around waiting for one was a waste of time.
I know what it’s like to be out of ideas. To stare at the blank page and just wonder what the hell you’re doing and if anything interesting is about to happen. And that’s all this guy was doing. He was just waiting for something neat to happen on a page, preferably somewhere near enough to him that he could take credit. What a load of crap.
Waiting for your muse is like waiting to hit the lottery when you don’t play. So many people who want to write just sit around and wait for a brilliant idea without doing anything. It doesn’t work that way people. Ideas are everywhere, but you have to go find them. And if you honestly, truly, can’t find one, then you Make. One. UP. That’s literally your Freaking job. It doesn’t have to be original, or even good. You just start writing. You put one word in front of another and you do it over and over and over. Eventually you’ll start to make sense. Maybe even good sense. From there you work on grammar and adjectives and adverbs and all that happy slappy language nonsense that’s unfortunately necessary.
You can’t just wait for a muse. You have to go look for one. And while you’re looking you have to practice doing whatever the hell you’re doing until you’re actually good enough to take advantage of an idea when you find one.
Maybe I’m over-thinking the situation. Maybe the guy was just trying to get laid and didn’t want to admit that he hadn’t done anything concrete. Whatever. If you start waiting for a muse then that’s all you’re going to be doing. Waiting.