In On Writing Stephen King says his muse is a grumpy guy with a beer belly who doesn’t do much more than grunt occasionally at whatever idea Steve throws at him.
My muse is a bit nicer. But she’s busy. I like to think of her as young and trying to make her way in the crowded metaphysical world. A pencil is tucked behind her ear, a heavy briefcase over her shoulder and arms full of files as she rushes from one needy client to another down here. She’s trying to make a difference but also hoping one of us hits it big so she be promoted and get an office with a window.
I sit down in front of my computer at night and I always light a candle so she can find me. And each time I light it I ask humbly but purposefully for her help. I’ve honed my pitch considerably and it goes something like this:
I know you are very busy and don’t have much time for me. I wanted you to know I’m here and working tonight. I plan to write as well as I can and you know I don’t expect you to do any of the work. But if you stop by even for just a minute or two, it will mean the world to me.
She usually shows. I don’t feel her presence but the ideas come and new things happen and I realize she was there.
There’s only one thing that stops her from appearing.
They say fear is the mind killer but I think more specifically, it’s the creativity killer. Paths leading away from problems become fewer and glutted with people all on the same road running from the same disaster. The mind seizes up and sees only the penalties. Risks get magnified and cheap solutions get more credit than they deserve. This may not be as costly in the real world but in the creative world, it’s death. In the creative world, you have to plunge madly forward into the brush unafraid of the main predator: Doubt. I’ve met him plenty and I have to remind myself, he’s not a dark specter at all, but just a short whiny fucker who never did anything with his own life and likes to piss on others’ dreams.
Screw him, right?
Another way to look at it is fear is my muse’s kryptonite – and mine. Fear of sucking, fear that my ideas are bad, that my voice is trite, that no one will ever read, that I’m just wasting my time Shouting into the Void.
It was really hard in the early days and I would spend weeks blocked. The good news is the more writing I do, the better I get at dealing with it. And building a small but helpful network of encouraging people has made all the difference. A friend even gave me a bracelet made of typewriter keys because she thought it would be a fit for a writer. I can’t believe she thinks I am one. But I wear it every day to remind myself that someone else thought it was true.
There’s a point where being a good critic has diminishing returns. You look at the idea on paper and you realize there are people out there who can just do it better. But I guess that’s not the point, is it? The point is, I want to do it anyway. The point is, I’m not stopping. I’ve experimented over the years with so many hobbies, cooking, baking, knitting all in avoidance of the one thing that would make me happy. This makes me happy. And I keep doing this because even when it’s bad, or I’m afraid or she doesn’t show – I still love it.
And that simple truth kills my fear. I hope it kills yours.