Obedience to the Muse 1

‘You’re a writer?’ they ask. ‘So how many words do you write a day?’ Well, I have no idea, because most days, nine out of ten days, I am re-writing, and it could be years since that first draft. I’ve been in a bit of a fix recently, researching, at first legitimately, and then as a displacement activity, Iron Age Britain. With the equinox I should have started writing but didn’t. I’ve been footling with my notes for a month.

Part of the cause was a fear that I’m past it. Writing historical fiction is so very, very hard. I can’t think of a harder form of writing: getting a good story and getting the facts right and not making mistakes. I made a few in A Gift for the Magus which, as ever, only become apparent after publication (I had three readers and two editors). So despair had set in, and I’d begun to think of alternative genres. Nature writing, memoir, biography, that kind of thing.  But two friends gave the same advice: ‘Stay true to the Muse, and don’t worry about your mental powers. The less you have of those, the better.’ Because, you see, the Muse does the work, and I’d forgotten that.

The Muse, when reading the words of her servant writers, does not notice mistakes or, if she does, doesn’t mention them.

In something of a revelation, I realised that none of these alternative genres required the presence of the Muse at all. Non-fiction is just a name for the writer being fully in control of the material. Fiction… Well, that’s the name for the deep well of imagination in which a writer may sink or swim.

So these were my thoughts at Halloween, and then came an email from Alphasmart, the people who make the Neo ‘writing machine’. I love my Neo but have only been using it recently to take and process notes, clicking away in the Sackler Classics Library on what looks for all the world like a typewriter. Here is a clip from youtube:


The email from Alphasmart said something about a BLOMOJODOBO or some such thing (I don’t understand these acronyms flying about that seem to be about and by writers), some kind of competition to write a novel in a month. I was just about to press the delete button when my eye happened to catch the text of the mail. Using the Neo, it said, it was perfectly possible to write 1700 words a day, which would add up to 50,000 and a novel by the end of the month. The month which was to begin on the next day. Well, why not, I thought. It’s better to do that than to keep footling with notes, rearranging them and indexing them.

So the next day I began.

To be continued tomorrow!

2 thoughts on “Obedience to the Muse 1

  1. Linda, I really enjoyed this post, because you put into words, the feelings that i have been struggling with all fall. I am writing Book Two in a trilogy that is historical fiction, and it was only AFTER I had naively finished writing Book One that I realized and had confirmation from other authors, that Historical Genre IS the hardest and most time-demanding because of all of the research and fact-checking that is necessary.

    I am so familiar with the “displacement activities” ( LOVE that term) as well. I have learned to dance ( well “stand”) on pointe, baked cookies that no one is going to eat, walked my dog even more that he cares to go, built a stone staircase, yada yada, instead of progressing on my WIP. But now, that the end is in site ( In final edits) I am going to fight such distractions by making myself do an outline for Book Three ( have been a “pantser” writer so far) and I will charge right into the next novel without taking a break. No sense losing the momentum …

    • Hi Dianne, you’re absolutely right to press on. If you don’t know it already, try Steven Pressfield’s Do the Work. When I used to be fully employed Iwould spend all week longing to get back to my writing, but come Saturday afternoon I’d suddenly find myself in a pighole of a cupboard, sorting out the clutter. It’s a horrible thing, this sense of commitment to the page, of ‘everything I write must be deathless prose’. Get going and enjoy the ride.

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