Thinking about Muses

One of the most difficult things about this period is that I’m not writing.

I know, I was supposed to update you on how the novel was progressing, and I haven’t. I almost don’t want to talk about it right now, because I’m so uncertain about where it’s going, whether that’s the right place for it to go. But I also haven’t even looked at it for a while. I think Ray Bradbury is right, there’s a way in which I get sick when I’m not writing. It’s as though the world is too much with me. Late and soon, getting and spending, I lay waste my powers, and there I am, longing for Triton with his wreathed horn. Or something like that. (Wordsworth, she said, pretending to cough at the same time. Just in case you weren’t sure.)

But what can I do? There’s so much else to get done, and writing will have to wait for now. I’ll just try as hard as I can to stay healthy.

I was thinking about muses, and of course my muse looks very different from Stephen King’s (remember, the guy smoking a cigar, with his feet up on the desk). As I mentioned, mine looks like North Wind from George MacDonald’s At the Back of the North Wind. Something like this:

She has long black hair that flies everywhere, and she soars through the sky. Like a sort of bird, borne up by the winds. I feel as though she helps me soar too. Morgan, in some of my stories, is modeled partly on her, and partly of course on Morgan le Fay.

Have I ever mentioned that MacDonald’s books were some of my favorites, when I was a child? I especially loved The Princess and the Goblins and The Princess and Curdie. There are images in both that stay with me. The Princess Irene’s great-great-grandmother with her long white hair and flock of pigeons. The goblins with their hard heads and delicate feet. The ring Irene is given, which will always lead her back to her great-great-grandmother’s tower. Curdie’s magical ability to tell, from shaking a man’s hand, whether it really is a hand, or some sort or hoof or paw (if the man is really a beast inside).

But my point is that I feel as though I do have a muse of sorts. I can imagine her, I can almost hear her speaking. And I’ve never believed that a story comes completely out of my conscious mind, that it conveys only what I intend it to convey. That’s not my experience of writing. For me, it’s almost as though writing is listening. I have to hear what something – whether another part of myself or something outside myself – is telling me. When I don’t listen, I find that I don’t write as well. And then, whatever I hear, I have to shape: that’s my role, I’m the shaper. Perhaps that’s why all the rules I was taught about writing are useful only to a limited extent. If you listen to the rules, you’re going to ruin the story. You have to listen to the story itself. It will tell you its own internal rules.

I know, all of this sounds so nebulous. I realize that. What I’m trying to do is describe the sense I have of a muse, a something that inspires me and speaks to me. Part of my problem with the novel, I think, is that I’m trying to write a more conventional novel than my own instincts are telling me to write. I think I’m at the point where I have to reevaluate. Is that always the case – that when we’re stuck, it’s a message to us (from our muse, perhaps), telling us that we need to stop, think again? That something is not right?

Perhaps one thing I’m trying to say here is that writing consists not just of speaking, but also of listening. To something beyond ourselves – or someone, who at least in my case has long black hair. I’d like to curl up in it, as Diamond does in the book, and be carried through the night, over the cities. No, she’s definitely not King’s muse. But I need to get back to her, stop putting her on hold, get back to writing again. Soon, soon.

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