Archive for the 'Muses' Category

Muse Abuse

Saturday, May 21st, 2005

Tiger link of the day: I suppose it has to be OK (John Gruber)

I was chatting with someone recently about people who don’t believe in the muse. I have a muse, though I haven’t seen him/her (she has several incarnations) lately, so of course I believe. I think there are three types of disbelievers:

  1. Muse Atheists: those who have never experienced the muse and dismiss everyone else’s experience, from Homer to Shakespeare to fanficcers. This type lacks imagination, so they’re unlikely to get far writing science fiction. We can dismiss their opinions out of hand as they have ours.
  2. Muse Agnostics: those who have no muse themselves but are willing to concede that other people may have the muse. I include in this category anyone who dislikes the term “muse” itself, but will tolerate talk of the unconscious or other kinds of muse-like inspiration. So they’re not so bad once you get to know them.
  3. Moms Against the Muse: those who campaign against the muse not because they disbelieve (though they probably do) but because they think the muse is bad for you, little ficcer. Hair will grow on your palms and you’ll never get anything written, just because you believe the evidence of your own creative experience. There’s a lot of this kind of mommery in writing circles; it’s not confined to the muse by any means. Mom-types can be helpful when they’re preaching at you about plot or manuscript format, but when they tell you they know the contents of your skull better that you do yourself, little ficcer, it’s best to just nod and smile.

Do people use the muse as an excuse not to write? Sure they do. People use anything and everything as an excuse not to write, but that doesn’t mean that jobs, movies, sleep, real life, computer games, depression, spouses, and children don’t exist, or are bad for you, little ficcer.

On the contrary, jobs, movies, sleep, real life, computer games, depression, and children rarely encourage a person to write. Only spouses and muses are encouraging, and of the two only the muse provides actual joy in the writing process. It’s the last thing writers should be preaching against. Some people seem to think writing doesn’t count unless you’re suffering and sweating blood while you do it, so maybe Masochists are the fourth type of muse abusers.


Sunday, June 27th, 2004

The muse quote of the day is brought to you by Ursula K. LeGuin, in the introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness, reprinted in The Language of the Night:

I do not say that artists cannot be seers, inspired: that the awen cannot come upon them, and the god speak through them. Who would be an artist if they did not believe that that happens? If they did not know it happens, because they have felt the god within them use their tongue, their hands? Maybe only once, once in their lives. But once is enough.

Beating the bushes

Tuesday, March 30th, 2004

No, this isn’t a political post. I’m just stopping by to apologize for not blogging. I managed to find the muse by sitting very still and waiting for her to poke her foxy nose out of my subconscious. She’s in a first-person present-tense mood at the moment. I hope she gets over it soon, because I don’t care for the first person. Present tense is no object, at least in a short story.

I suppose I should go vote for some more VOY stories.

So you’ve decided to be lazy…

Monday, March 29th, 2004

Link of the day: So You’ve Decided to be Evil

NaNoEdMo sent out a home stretch email today. There are 50 hours left in March (or so they tell me) and I have 25 hours left of my EdMo quota, and other things I need to do. Thus, I’ve added another year of not finishing to my EdMo record. But I did get the restructuring of the novel done, so it was a month well spent.

Part of my EdMo problem was that the novel gave me ideas for related stories. In my research, I discovered that the left side is the lazy half of the brain. (The right side is the creative half.) Laziness is a feature of consciousness - schizophrenics and hypnotized people are far more industrious in their non-conscious states. I suppose that explains why the muse (a non-conscious entity by definition) is so industrious, when she shows up at all.

If you see her, please remind her I have a deadline coming up.

New Muse Declared

Thursday, January 22nd, 2004

SCO quote of the day: “I can’t believe that SCO is interested in opening a new legal front. It’s a little like Napoleon invading Russia. At some point, you are overextended. Then it’s winter. Then it’s over.” –GrokLaw
Mars attack of the day: OMG! They Killed Spirit!
RSS link of the day: iTunes Store RSS generator

In hindsight it was obvious. I think Jerie was the first to suggest that Jack was my Stargate muse, but I knew it couldn’t be just any Jack. It had to be a particular Jack, like the AU General O’Neill, or mini-Jack. Today I realized that my Jack muse is Bitter!Jack:

O’NEILL: What are you doing here?
CARTER: It turns out we made a mistake. A big one.
O’NEILL: Which one? We made a few.
CARTER: Our alliance with the Aschen.
O’NEILL: Oh that. Not working out, is it? Gosh, I wish I’d seen that coming. Oh, wait… I did see that coming.

In honor of Bitter!Jack, I’ve put up my “2010″ drabble, I do not love you Thursday, and an only marginally longer story along the same lines, And why you come complaining. Both titles are from “Thursday” by Edna St. Vincent Millay, and the poem is included with the longer story for your convenience.

The Midnight Disease

Wednesday, December 31st, 2003

Holiday of the day: Happy New Year, everyone, and be sure to bum a few free rides on the T after 8pm!

St. Ignatius hasn’t helped me much yet, but after mailing off my latest Writers of the Future entry, I skimmed a new writing book at Brookline Booksmith: The Midnight Disease. Local neurologist Alice Flaherty tries to explain the biological basis of creativity, using insights gained from her own bouts of hypergraphia.

The author uses the association of creativity with epilepsy and manic depression to trace the creative spirit to particular locations in the brain. I skipped the intermediate chapters on writer’s block to get to the elusive muse. While she mentioned Julian Jaynes’ theories as well as the idea that the muse is the unconscious mind, her own position seemed to be that the muse is the unrecognized interior voice, not unlike the one that tells schizophrenics to kill kill kill.

Accepting for the moment that non-muse writing also comes from the writer’s inner monologue, it’s not clear to me how that voice is supposed to become something…alien. So the inner voice explanation has the same problems as the unconscious explanation - why is our unconscious or internal monologue sometimes recognizable as our own, and sometimes alien enough to call it a muse?

The trouble with scientific explanations is that they leave these basic issues unexplained, giving us only tautologies like the survival of the fittest.

The Plot of Fiction

Wednesday, June 25th, 2003

The most striking piece of advice in Ayn Rand’s The Art of Fiction wasn’t the news about the muse - although I’d never formulated it quite that way to myself, the previous entry does more or less reflect my relations with the elusive muse. Plot is another matter altogether. Though (or perhaps because) I share Ayn Rand’s belief in the central importance of plot, I’ve lost many a bright and promising story to the blight of sudden plot failure. Now I know why:

[The Art of Fiction, pp. 37-38]
When you construct a plot, the first event to figure out is always
the climax. Suppose you have an idea for the theme and subject of a
story but have not yet invented the climax. Then do not start to
outline the story from the beginning. If you set up a lot of
intersting conflicts and seemingly connected events without knowing
where you are going, and then attempt to devise a climax that
resolves it all, the process will be an excruciating mental torture
(and you will not succeed). Therefore, in planning your story, get
to your climax as quickly as possible. First devise an event that
dramatizes and resolves the issues of your story, then construct the
rest of the plot backward, by asking yourself what events are needed
in order to bring your characters to this point.

This is a good example of the process of final causation. In
order to judge what incidents to include in your story, you have to
know your purpose in the story—i.e., your climax. Only when you
know this can you begin to analyze which steps, each serving as the
efficient cause of the next, will lead your characters logically to
this decisive event.

There is no rule about what element has to be the first germ of a
story in your mind. […] The only rule is that you have to know
your climax (in dramatized terms) before you start to outline the
steps by which to arrive there.

So far, I’ve had as little success thinking of the climax ahead of time as I’ve had trying to wade out of the mire of an unplanned plot, yet I still feel that this piece of advice is the secret to finishing my pile of abandoned stories. I must pester the muse with my plot problems until she comes up with a suitable climax.

That Spark

Wednesday, June 25th, 2003

Seema posted an interesting quotation from The Life of Pi. Here’s the crux of the quote:

Your theme is good, as are your sentences. Your characters are so ruddy with life they practically need birth certificates. The plot you’ve mapped out for them is grand, simple and gripping. You’ve done your research, gathering the facts — historical, social, climatic, culinary — that will give your story its feel of authenticity. The dialogue zips along, crackling with tension. The descriptions burst with colour, contrast and telling detail. Really, your story can only be great. But it all adds up to nothing. In spite of the obvious, shining promise of it, there comes a moment when you realize that the whisper that has been perstering you all along from the back of your mind is speaking the flat, awful truth: it won’t work. An element is missing, that spark that brings to life a real story, regardless of whether the history or the food is right. Your story is emotionally dead, that’s the crux of it.

My contention is that the above situation is impossible. If you have the right theme, plot, dialogue, description, characters, and style, then you have a story. Nothing is missing. Writing isn’t magic.

If, on the other hand, your story doesn’t gell, then you have to conclude that one of the parts has gone astray - say, the plot doesn’t fit the theme or the dialogue doesn’t fit the characters. In particular, a story that’s emotionally dead must have either dull characters, an uninspiring theme, or leaden prose.

I’ll combat the depressing quote above with an inspirational Ayn Rand quote from The Art of Fiction. I was pleasantly surprised by her views on the muse: she believes in it and that it is the subconscious, but she also claims that the muse can be influenced, primed, and eventually forced to produce that elusive spark. Here is how to do it:

To master the art of writing, you have to be conscious of why you
are doing things—but do not edit yourself while writing. Just as
you cannot change horses in the middle of a stream, so you cannot
change premises in the middle of writing. When you write, you have to
rely on your subconscious; you cannot doubt yourself and edit every
sentence as it comes out. Write as it comes to you—then (next
morning, preferably) turn editor and read over what you have written.
If something does not satisfy you, ask yourself then why, and
identify the premise you missed.

Trust your subconscious. If it does not deliver the kind of
material you want, it will at least give you the evidence of what is

When you get stuck on a piece of writing, the reason is either that
you have not sufficiently concretized the ideas you want to cover or
that your purpose in this particular sequence is contradictory—that
your conscious mind has given to your subconscious contradictory
orders. […]

The solution is always to think over every aspect of the scene and
every connection to anything relevant in the rest of the book. Think
until your mind almost goes to pieces; think until you are blank with
exhaustion. Then, the next day, think again—until finally, one
morning, you have the solution. Do enough thinking to give your
subconscious ample time to integrate the elements involved. When
these elements do integrate, the knowledge of what to do with the
scene comes to you, and so do the words to express it. Why? Because
you have cleared your subconscious files, your lightning calculator.

The Fascinating Villain

Sunday, May 18th, 2003

Besides yet another answer to the question Why Khan? I also have a new MIS page up, mainly to provide an index of my drabbles from the Empty Shell challenge.

Today’s answer is Ayn Rand’s. In “What is Romanticism?” from The Romantic Manifesto, she observes that the best (in the sense of most interesting and well-drawn) characters in Hugo, Dostoevsky and other Romantic authors’ works are the bad guys, while the heroes are cardboard figures:

This phenomenon—the fascinating villain or colorful rogue, who steals the story and the drama from the anemic hero—is prevalent in the history of Romantic literature, serious or popular, from top to bottom. It is as if, under the dead crust of the altrust code officially adopted by mankind, an illicit, subterranean fire were boiling chaotically, and erupting once in a while; forbidden to the hero, the fire of self-assertiveness burst forth from the apologetic ashes of a “villain.”

Now this is even truer for Khan than for the characters about whom Ayn Rand was writing. Altruism is ingrained in our culture despite all her attempts to root it out. It’s easier for us to look at the Prime Directive and say that’s the dead crust of a self-defeating moral code—and that maybe Khan is right to try to bring order to chaotic humanity. Ordem e Progresso (order and progress, the motto on the flag of Brazil) was a more popular motto in the 60’s than it is today.

So the attractive villain is the villain who might be right, who is somehow a challenge to the morality of the hero (anemic or not). We see this in “Space Seed” when Spock is shocked at Kirk’s admiration for Khan Noonien Singh; part of what makes Kirk an anemic hero is that he feels no need to defend his own culture. He calls Khan a tyrant without ever praising freedom, and so there is no conflict of ideas, only the brightness of Khan against the drab Federation background.

I do love a colorful Khan.

Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful

Friday, May 16th, 2003

Seema accidentally put me in mind of yet another possible answer to the question Why Khan? Perish the very thought, but Why Khan? might be suspected to have the same answer as Why Angel? or Why Scott? - that is, I might love him for his pecs alone, for his Latin and leather manliness. I might even like Magneto for the black cape, shiny helmet, and well-preserved good looks.

The truth is that I’m not attracted to the vapid type, to Volvo Boy or the One-Eyed Insomnia Cure, because I don’t see any character in their faces. I prefer a good genocidal maniac, or even a lovesick platinum-blonde vampire. The Keanu Reeves phenomenon, in which fangirls swoon over (allegedly) pretty faces who can’t act their way out of a paper bag, is a deep mystery to me.

So I don’t love Khan because he’s beautiful; he’s beautiful because he’s lovable.