Renegade Muse

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Renegade Muse

The creative process is quite different from what many people seem to imagine. Contrary to appearances, there is someone, or something outside of the creator that is involved. The nature of this entity is fluid and indescribable, but any working artist, scientist, writer or creator will be familiar with it. It does not appear on call. It does not produce what one expects. It does not perform to the written script. And yet it is the source of all artistic endeavor. Since the ancient Greeks, human creators have sacrificed and prayed in awe of the power of the Muse.

It is often envisioned as a feminine spirit: capricious, graceful, teasing, offering promises that aren’t kept, and then suddenly showering gifts that are lovely beyond description. (Ah, you book reviewers, how little you seem to know of this lady, talking as if she is something under the author’s control!)

My books are mine, and yet they are alien to me—as a child belongs to a parent and yet has a life of its own. I can guide and hope and nudge my characters this and that way, but in the end, they become what they become. I don’t always like what they become myself, but like a parent, there are times when I just don’t know what to do about it. Other times when I’m so proud of them I could bust.

I took a long time off from any real attempt at writing. I wrote 10 books in about 12 years, and by the time I reached the end of the tenth, I was quite simply writing on nerve and guts alone. I have only the vaguest memory of the plot of My Sweet Folly. I tried to begin my next book, which was due in a year. It took me quite a while to realize how deep into enemy territory I had taken myself, but when one day I stood in the kitchen, drinking a cup of tea and staring out the window, telling myself I had a deadline and had better get in there and get back to work—I burst into tears at the very thought of turning on the computer.

I knew I was losing. For too long I had been demanding that my “muse” produce, and if it didn’t happen, I’d take out all the guns and just force it. Five pages, ten pages, fifteen pages a day, no matter what they said, no matter if I worked till dawn. Just write, like it or hate it. Just meet the deadline. I had lost the lovely cooperation that I remembered from my early books, when all I wanted to do was write, whether I got paid for it or not. My muse and I, we were at war.

Muses don’t fight fair, either. One day they tell you it’s all working great, and then the next they vanish, and you can hear them laughing somewhere off over the hills. Then they just disappear completely, and leave you in a devastated landscape with no supplies. That is what the past few years have felt like to me.

With some reservation, however, I can describe the present situation as “promising.” Lately, after several years of full retreat, I have been entertaining my muse to treaty talks. I have to tread very carefully, as there is not a lot of trust between us now. We work together for a bit, and then as soon as things seem to be getting a little tense, we break it off and go our own ways. But a momentum seems to be building. I think about my characters when I lie down to go to sleep, what they would be thinking, what they’re afraid of, what they want. And it’s still there when I get up to write. That’s a good sign the capricious lady is hovering close by.

I used to say that I didn’t know where my writing came from, and if it went away, I wouldn’t know where to look for it. And I didn’t. And now that it’s come back, I don’t know where I found it either. How’s that for useless advice to blocked writers?

muse statue

 

 

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[1] Posted by Jan/hope101 on 01.07.2010

I have a hunch this will become a post that is frequently accessed. Thank you for being willing to share your wisdom.

I burned out in a non-writing profession, and my experience was remmarkably similar to yours. I had to learn to respect my limits and the warning signs of having pushed too hard. What I understand from this post is that I’ll have to be vigilant in this path too.

[2] Posted by laura kinsale on 01.08.2010

I had this little essay up on my old site, and many people have mentioned it over the years. It seems to ring a bell for those who’ve had the experience, and perhaps explain a little for non-writers why things seem to take so long! I wish I could it’s all wine and roses for me and Musie now, but this is still pretty descriptive of the process.

[3] Posted by Courtney Milan on 01.13.2010

I always think of my muse (although I don’t use that word) as something like a wounded dog: willing to creep out if I offer the right treats, but mostly just sulking, afraid of me.

I have to be very, very gentle.

[4] Posted by TJ Bennett on 01.14.2010

It’s nice to see you back in the saddle again, Laura. Your books are one of the reasons I love historical romance more than any other genre. IMHO, they are worth the wait!

TJB

[5] Posted by Kris Whinery on 01.14.2010

Thank you for writing this. It helps.


- Kris_W

[6] Posted by Louisa Cornell on 01.17.2010

SO glad to know I am not alone in this! Stephen King says sometimes you have to club the muse over the head to get him/her to cooperate, but damn, it makes it so hard sometimes. A ticked off muse is sometimes worse than no muse at all! Some people seem to think that if you can write one book or one page or one paragraph that you should be able to do it all the time. It just doesn’t work that way! Thanks for confirming what I’ve always thought!

[7] Posted by TJ Bennett on 01.17.2010

Just finished LESSONS IN FRENCH. Oui! Very much worth the wait.

TJB

[8] Posted by Michelle on 01.19.2010

It’s not often that you can pick up a novel and be completely submerged in the characters’ world, so much so that you experience everything with them and are totally transported to that time and place.When this author also writes so beautifully that it reads like prose, and has the ability to make you sigh,weep, and laugh, you know it’s a keeper. Any book by Laura Kinsale fits under this description and therefore is worth the wait. Here’s hoping that you and your muse are inspired to create many more worlds and stories, a talent like yours is a true gift!  (Hopefully this doesn’t sound too brown-nosey! Ha)

[9] Posted by Ioana on 01.22.2010

Laura, you were always worth the wait… we did it once, we did it twice, we will do it again, as long as you keep writing these lovely books…

[10] Posted by Kat Sheridan on 01.28.2010

I’m so very glad you shared this with us. Yes, that’s it exactly, and I’m so releived I’m not the only one who’s experienced this. And I’m very, very glad to see that even though the Muse may go on a long walk-about, even a VERY long walk-about, they never die away completely. Welcome back.

[11] Posted by Sandra on 02.01.2010

It’s great to have you back.  I’m so glad that there’s been a truce of sorts - she can be a real cow at times - standing back and calling out -  neena, neena neena, so loud that all you want to do is slap her silly.
I smiled and nodded my way through your article.  No, it wasn’t useless advice at all.  Thank you.

[12] Posted by eKathy28 on 02.14.2010

Ah. An exhausted muse. Someday someone will figure out the proper care and feeding of the muse. I wrote something once in which I likened her to a skittish deer at the edge of the property line. I heard John Updike speak once and he said he writes three hours a day. I expect most muses could handle that pace? Then again, he’s Updike. I like the image of negotiating with the muse. I believe a good conversation with her once and awhile goes a long way.

[13] Posted by Roxanne Kean on 03.14.2010

You’ve explained it perfectly.  It’s one of the reasons I haven’t actually tried to be published.  I won a contest once and one of my judges gushed all over my story, telling me I needed to finish and get it to a publisher.  I felt so much pressure that the muse fled the scene.  It was a long time before I could coax her back.  Like you said,
there isn’t a lot of trust between us yet.

But, hopefully your muse is ready to stay around around for a long time. Welcome back, we’ve missed you!

[14] Posted by laura kinsale on 03.15.2010

I hope yours is feeling generous too, Roxanne!  This is all metaphorical, of course, and yet what else is language and thought really, but a lot of metaphors?

[15] Posted by Jo M. Myers on 03.16.2010

Thank you for each and every book that you have written.

[16] Posted by laura kinsale on 03.19.2010

Jo, thank you for reading them!

[17] Posted by Emery Lee on 05.09.2010

Wow Laura, you have voiced my greatest fears as a debut author working on my second book. I still can’t fully answer where THE HIGHEST STAKES came from, and I was terrified that I might never be able to “pull it all together” again.

After months of trying to come up with a proposal Sourcebooks would like, I just started writing - and it began flowing. I am now about 30K words into my sequel with a December deadline, but take nothing for granted. I don’t suppose you do either, even after your tremendous success.

I am glad to see your backlist back in print and look forward to reading them all.

Best regards from a fellow Sourcebooks author and horse lover.
Emery Lee
http://www.authormerylee.com
emerylee.wordpress.com

[18] Posted by laura kinsale on 05.10.2010

Welcome to the site, Emery!  My best advice is not to overthink it (easy to say).  Good luck with your sequel!

[19] Posted by Ryl Mandus on 05.28.2010

Laura, what an awful thing for you to have endured.  The possibility of being abandoned and snubbed by one’s Muse makes me shudder.  Unwilling to risk offending my own Muse into ever giving me the cold shoulder, I play it safe and take for granted that she’s ‘real’.

And as a reader of yours for years (and years), I’m SO glad to see you back at it!

[20] Posted by laura kinsale on 05.29.2010

Thank you, Ryl!

[21] Posted by Vikki Johnson on 08.11.2010

I have always savored your advice, and have followed your ongoing battle with your Muse. My own Muse is a you-know-what sometimes, and there are those rare moments when I wish I could simply beat the witch into submission! Right now, we have the same sort of tentative relationship you share with yours. It’s give and take, you know. She most definitely MUST be a woman, to be so fickle! ;)

[22] Posted by laura kinsale on 08.13.2010

Good luck, Vikki!  I do think a hot bath and long vacation seem to help, so she must be female. ;)

[23] Posted by Star Urioste on 10.22.2011

Being a creator in my areas. I know that what you say is true. I am air brush artist, artist, writer, poet, doll maker…everything I do turns into something else upon my touch. From close or far away these images and insights come. I float from item to item, art to art. I have not found any blockage, but I have never had deadlines or self imposed restrictions.

My only problem is finding someone to read my fiction. I still struggle with that. I’ve tried local writers groups and find that my writing is so out there compared to what others are doing.

I am glad that you are finding your time again. I have read all you works. Having found you about 5 years ago and then researching to find your past works. I found Shadow Heart the book that called to me most, but then my works run to the darkness, the shadows and the mastery and service of life.

Good luck in your continued writings. Blessings on your muse and your life.

[24] Posted by Lee M. on 03.29.2012

Great advice in a non-advicential way. (Yes, we can all make up words: it’s what keeps language alive as opposed to dead.) I think—honestly, though it isn’t politic to say this, that we just sometimes get sick of people. The people we submit to, the people we submit for, and even the people we write of in order to submit TO and FOR—our very characters. Nothing wrong with that. Even Christ took Himself off to get away from folks now and then. When you get to the place where you aren’t writing for opinions…even your own? Well, that’s a thought now.

Whyever you are writing again, your unique perspective is appreciated. Some of us like being surprised—when it isn’t done for pure meanness, as so often it seems is the only thing people know anymore. Feel free to ignore this if you like. I’m well aware I’m not politically correct at all. Since I don’t mean to change that…eh. Whatever.

I refuse to let the fears of others who feel the need to implicitly bow down to the ridicule of the ridiculous change my own beliefs—though how others react to that fear can change my opinions of them. I don’t care much for cowards. Anyhow, good to see you writing again. Have all your books, for what it’s worth.

[25] Posted by laura kinsale on 03.29.2012

I’ve always been a contrarian. ;) Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s not.  Thanks and glad you posted.

[26] Posted by Rebeca on 04.04.2013

To have personal/emotional troubles is even worse for the muse than burnout. I stared a blank page for two long years before the muse came back. I couldn’t write anything. In two years. It’s an awful feeling.

[27] Posted by laura kinsale on 04.13.2013

I certainly agree with how bad it feels, Rebeca.  Glad yours came back!