Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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A Day Late for a White Christmas

How was your holiday celebration? Or multiple celebrations, as is the case for most of us who have multiple families–the immediate family, the in-laws, the extended family? Here in MN we had our first brown Christmas in four or five years. Then yesterday, the day after Christmas, we got our requisite inch of snow after sunset. Had it fallen a day earlier, it would have given us a White Christmas (Do you hear that? I can’t help hearing Bing Crosby every time I hear those words.) Seems the old man decided to make up for being late by giving us not only the inch we needed to qualify as a white Christmas, but an extra three inches overnight.

Gee, thanks, Winter. You could’ve stopped at an inch. Or two. After last winter, I’m good with a mild one. And we’re getting our January weather this week, close enough to January to qualify. I was good with above-freezing temps. Really.

The snow is still falling, and is a great muse. There’s something about the fluffy stuff, something about seeing fresh, unmarred snow coating the brown grass. The world suddenly feels cleaner because all the brown is hidden beneath a pristine cover. If you’ve ever stood outside in falling snow, when there’s already a couple inches on the ground, and just listened, the world even sounds cleaner. The snow dampens noise, so everything sounds hushed.

The weekend is here, and I’ve got my snow muse to help me through a dry spell. I’ve also been reading one of my practice projects to charge up my Muse. He’s hanging out with me now, after a week on a tropical walkabout (even though it was mild here). Time to fire up the revision engine for one of my first drafts.

Year’s end is coming. You’ve got a few days left; are you making your list of “resolutions” for next year? I don’t thing resolutions really count. They don’t. I think we use the wrong word when it comes to the new year and the list of things we want to do. We need to use the word “goal”. Or “target”. Give yourself something to work toward, a finish line, rather than an ambiguous state of mind or body. Isn’t that what we do when we write? Be more specific?

Writing instructors will tell you to be more specific, so the reader forms a more realistic image of the story? Don’t say “car” when you can say “late-model sedan” or “2000-era Corvette”. Don’t say “flowers”, say “roses”  or “tulips”. So why not be more specific when it comes to the ever-popular New Year’s resolution? It’s a goal. My personal one is running. I’ve never been a distance runner (okay, unless you consider a mile “distance”). I’m not resolving to become a better runner or run farther. I’m setting a goal to be able to run a 5k race by the end of 2015. I’ll work up from there.

So what’s your goal for the coming year? To finish the novel that’s been burning a hole in the drawer for the past decade? Sometimes it’s easier to write the ending first, especially if you’ve had the beginning written for years. Try this: Write the ending by Easter. Write three scenes leading up to the ending by July. Write the middle scenes by Labor Day. Do one full beginning to end revision by Christmas. If it helps, break it down into even smaller goals: final scene by Jan 31, climax by Mar 15, one scene leading to the story climax by Apr 30. You get the picture.

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One Week and Counting!

It’s one week until Christmas (gulp!). I’ve got my shopping pretty much finished, most of the cookies baked, and the Christmas letters done and sent. Whew! Even though we know this time of year is coming, we still tend to wait until the last minute to prepare for it. I’m celebrating a family Christmas this weekend since my sister will be home, so my deadline is actually two days.

Oh, boy. It seems sooner now that I’ve written it.

On the bright side, the snow cover in our neck of the woods is a mere trace of what it needs to be to qualify as a white Christmas. Compared to last year’s weekly blizzards (and sometimes twice-weekly), I think we’re doing pretty well. Not that I don’t appreciate snow, and a white Christmas has a lot of psychological benefits (providing one does not have to drive through said weekly blizzards), but after last year’s wicked winter weather, I’m good with a brown Christmas.

On the other hand, the lack of snowfall–that is, no light fluffy flakes to watch as they travel to the ground–means I’m short a muse. I always find watching snow fall inspires my creativity. And there’s something about looking across a snow-covered field after the wind is finished sculpting waves into the surface. It’s like a jewel-sprinkled white sea under brilliant winter sunshine.

The worst part about the holidays (well, except for that dreaded relative who refuses to bathe, or showers in cologne or perfume, and greets all comers with a hearty bear hug), is that even though we get time off from work, it seems sitting down with the Muse to actually write is a challenge. Travel, relatives, parties, gifts, meals, kids home from school, etc. take a toll on the time (and focus) you can spend writing without being rude. Of course, if you’re okay with being rude, then by all means, write away!

All those things, however distracting from your current project, can be muses for your writing. As writing exercises, put your main characters into a family Christmas gathering. Plug your antagonist into an office party. Put your protagonist on a plane, train, or automobile for a cross-country or over-the-river-and-through-the-woods trip to visit relatives or friends. How about tagging along while your supporting character searches for a present for your main character? Use the holi-daze as an inspiration to keep writing every day. Just make sure Aunt Slobber-Kiss doesn’t read the scene where she kisses the reindeer during a sleepwalking adventure!


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Muses and Pitches

foggy frosty

Fog + Hoarfrost = muse

I’m not sure if Mother Nature is taking pity on us due to the frigid November we had, feels guilty because of last year’s hideous winter, or is just teasing us. Get this: we’re going to have ABOVE FREEZING temps for more than a day. Actually, the weather geeks are predicting three or four days of (relatively) warm weather today through the weekend. Now, consider I’m in MN, and it’s almost mid-December.

Woo Hoo! Happy dance! Enjoy it while it lasts. No sun, but hey, warm is warm. Less gloomy would be nice, but at least we aren’t getting pounded like the coasts are. A writer friend in CA is hoping the road to town hasn’t washed out. Both my CA writer friends insist the Ark hasn’t floated by, but there are rumors of animals lining up in pairs.

Now that the NaNoWriMo hangover is past, it’s time to start exercising the muse again. The foggy mornings in our area are great for inspiration; hoarfrost-coated trees and the thick silence from the blanket of mist are wonderful muses. Even if you are somewhere less foggy, try writing a short passage about a natural muse that draws out your creative energy.

Imagine stepping out into a clearing at the edge of a creek. Skeletal trees peek through the white curtain, frosted with thick, crystalline needles stacked upon each other like cloaks made from icy hedgehogs. Brown weeds brandish frozen spines left by the ground-level cloud. It’s the silence that really stands out. The fog dampens any sound, and birds seem reluctant to disturb the quiet. Any sound you make is swallowed by the mist. Every breath is heavy with moisture. The clean taste of the fog brings to mind tranquil ponds and fine waterfall spray.

For those of us who are working on garnering representation for our book(s), anyone participating in the various pitch contests (Twitter and others)? It’s tough enough to try and boil down your precious novel into a query of couple short paragraphs that give enough information about the story in such a way that an agent feels compelled to request a partial—ideally a full–manuscript. Now try shrinking that into 140 characters (minus the 9 characters in, say, the #PitchMAS tag). That leaves 131 characters to lure an agent into asking for more. That’s characters, mind you, including spaces. Still haven’t found that genie lamp. Note to self: use one wish to write a super-intriguing 131 character pitch for Daughter of Pele that will have agents clamoring for my mss.

There’s another pitch party I just tossed into in which the pitches are restricted to 35 words. Even that is a challenge. With a cross-genre book (detective mystery with psychic elements and just a dash of sci-fi), it gets even more tricky. As a writer of adult fiction, I stare at the prevalence of YA on wishlists posted by the agents who participate in these parties, and wonder if I could possibly bring myself to write YA.

Er, nope. New adult, maybe. My epic fantasy’s main character is about 18 or 19 years old. Time to pull that out, dust it off, and hit the Revise button.


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After NaNo (and a note from a Muse)

TGIF all! Not sure why this week has seemed longer than usual; maybe it’s because of the short holiday week last week. Best part of the next week: a warmup! Yes, you heard right, we’ll finally see a week–yes, a whole 5 days–of above-freezing temps. In MN. In December. Of course, we wouldn’t be nearly as excited about it if we hadn’t just suffered through a November where there were more days below freezing than above.

Oh, snap. Gotta run. I’ll get back to you later.

—Okay, she’s gone. Gads, ever since NaNoWriMo started she’s been annoying. Always wanting to force her characters to do things her way. Well, guess what? That didn’t work out so well for her this year. I told her to finish the outline, but who am I, anyway? Only her Muse. That’s right, Muse with a capital M.

So she didn’t finish her outline. Talk about frustrating. I tried to remind her that winning the contest and prepping and submitting the full mss of said contest-winning book to the requesting agent was an absolutely necessary endeavor, but she still needed to spend time on her outline if she wanted to finish the novel in 30 days. Damn, after doing NaNo for nine years, hitting 50k words is nothing, but the book from start to finish is really what she does it for. The outline is her guide, and she’s allowed to wander as long as she keeps the end in sight. Otherwise, she loses focus, as she demonstrated in this year’s NaNo. And last year’s.

 It wouldn’t have mattered so much if she’d just done the next Donovan and Drake book like I suggested back in September. She’s got those stories built in her head already; my personal space is chock full of them. No, she had to reboot the romantic mystery AGAIN. Granted, the story needed a dead body, which it didn’t have the first time around, but brainstorming in August doesn’t help in November if she doesn’t at least draw up a rough timeline.

Piece of advice from one muse to another: Stay on your writer’s ass. I mean it. You know those commercials with the stupid monkey on someone’s back? That needs to be you. It’s your responsibility to bug the hell out of your writer until the only way you stop is when they write. And sometimes they’re so fecking aggravating it makes you want to walkabout for a good long time. Resist the temptation, because you know as soon as you find the perfect spot on that tropical beach, you’ll be yanked back to your writer’s side because she needs to ride her “creative energy”. Creative energy, my ass. The energy is there all the time, she’s just got to use it. I’m here to help her do that; that’s my job.

I just wish I got paid for it.—

Okay, I’m back. Ah, hey, what the –? How does he do that?

On second thought, I guess I’d better just leave it. If I don’t, he’ll do it again. He’s damn persistent that way. Hey, maybe I can get him to write some of my blog posts so he doesn’t have to sneak around and hijack mine (and so I don’t have to do them). Paid? He wants to get paid? He’s lucky I haven’t decided to remake my Muse into a cat.

Yet.

It’s the week after NaNo, and I hope all my fellow NaNoWriMos are recovering from thirty days of writing. Now, don’t start editing yet. It’s December, the holidays are fast approaching, and you need a break from the story. Set it aside; don’t you dare look at it for a month. At least. Spend time with the family you neglected during November. After the holidays, pull the mss out and jump on the Revision Ride!