More on writing being not so easy

This is going to be a bit mutual linky-linky.1 Maureen Johnson linked to my quick little whinge about writing sometimes being hard before going into more detail about the sometime not fun-ness of it. And now I am linking to her. Quoting her even:

When writing goes well, it feels magical . . . but there is no magic to it. Writing goes well because you have done some work. You have spent MANY MANY MANY HOURS sitting at your desk, written pages and pages and pages of useless crap, read piles of books, done a lot more wrong than you have right, questioned your sanity and talent . . . and just kept going. No muse involved.

Maureen is against muses. In fact, I suspect that she would advocate killing them:2

I hate muses . . . I mean, with the obvious exception of Olivia Newton-John in Xanadu. This idea that all you have to do is sit around and a muse lands on your head, dances around your desk, and whispers in your ear and BANG! BOOK!

Forget that. Get yourself a can of anti-muse spray. The things are credit-stealing parasites.

Personally, I think Maureen’s just jealous because—like me—she doesn’t have a muse. In fact, I’ll be honest and admit that the reason I think this is that I, too, am jealous. Frankly I would love to have a muse inspire me to work. Better still I’d like a muse to do the damn work for me.3

Imagine it: I’d be in my bedroom, lazing around, catching up on all the manga I haven’t had a chance to read in ages, because I’ve had to do so much research for this stupid book while my muse would be in the study working its arse off. Sounds good to me.

Sadly, that has never happened. Maybe if I’m more gooder?

I think part of the reason people refer to their muse is because they have no idea where their ideas come from.4 They should’ve asked Maureen. Trouble is all the muse talk makes it sound like ideas and inspiration are the most important part of writing, which, sadly, is rubbish.

I wish it wasn’t. I get dozens of ideas for novels every single day; I do not write dozens of novels a day. Nor do I write 4,380 novels a year.5 Even when you realise that it takes several ideas to make one novel the percentage of my ideas turned into novels is very very small. I’ve never managed to write more than one novel a year . . .

This does not mean that I think ideas are unimportant—I read a novel recently that was entirely void of ideas, let alone original ones, and I gave up after a few chapters—it just means that you can have the best idea in the world but if you don’t put in the hard yakka to transform them into a novel, or a play, or whatever, then they’re just ideas.

Also no muse—even Olivia Newton John—is going to help you do that.

  1. “You’re fabulous!” “No, you’re fabulous!” While those watching gag. []
  2. Possibly I was clued in to her sentiments by the title of her post: “Death to Muses” []
  3. And while they’re at it the flat needs vacuuming and dusting. []
  4. Or because they’re barking mad. []
  5. Which is how many ideas I have in a year assuming an average of 12 a day. []


  1. Steve Buchheit on #

    Muses (Musii?) are as much trouble as they are help. Mostly mine drops in the bits of stories that get me all excited, and then leaves for a while. The hard part of writing is when she’s not there and you need to stitch together all the pieces parts she left lying around (the vast majority of time). Or, when you have the realization that “This is a great piece right here, but it’s not a story.” And then you have to figure out what the story should be.

    I like my Muse, I’m keeping her. She doesn’t do the majority of writing, but no muse really does after all.

    And one final thoughts on Muses, Albert Brooks did a movie called “The Muse” (1999, I think). For anybody who thinks living with a Muse is a wonderful experience, you should really see this. Well, you should see it anyway, it’s pretty damn funny.

  2. Phil on #

    God, I know the feeling. This entire weekend felt like I was trying to cough up wooden bricks. The words were down there, but they were fomenting a rebellion and absolutely would not come, no matter how I struggled and wrestled with ’em.

    But! When they do flow, when I’m writing under the guidance of ‘the muse’, man does it feel great. You get a jolt like sticking a fork into an outlet (I’m guessing. Not having done so, I allow that that could be far less pleasant than I imagine.) So I say: Death to Muses Unless They’re Being Cooperative!

  3. Julia Rios on #

    I don’t buy the muse thing at all. I get ideas from things I see and hear, and then I mull them over again and again, as though my brain were a cud-chewing cow. Eventually the cud goes through my brain’s four stomachs and um… maybe it is time to stop with this particular metaphor.

  4. maureen johnson on #

    This is sort of the blog equivalent of making out. Do not tell scott.

  5. Melinda on #

    Makes me laugh that muses are out but magic is in. I must admit that I am a bit amazed at what I come up with sometimes when i am writing. After forty something years you’d think I’d have a bit of a handle on how my thinking works. You’d think as its my brain i’d at least be able to exert some kind of control but when i’m writing there really does seem to be some kind of magic involved. If Einstein’s thinking suggests we are only using a small proportion of our brains, who knows what they are really capable of. While I REALLY like the idea of the involvement of magic (not so much the muse because thats relying too much on one individuals involvement) I suspect that the sum of all my experiences, reading, watching and thinking is just combining in ways you wouldn’t suspect looking at the individual parts. Maybe being a writer is just being someone more able to surrender to those random couplings of individual stuff swirling around in our brains. Fun!

  6. Justine on #

    Julia: I am with you.

    Maureen: Scott does not read this blog. We are safe.

    Melinda: Absolutely. I suspect that’s what Maureen means by “magic” and by “brain monkeys”.

  7. Amber on #

    This is all very a-muse-ing.

    I’ve had the most rotten day at work and that’s the best I can offer. I’ll see myself out.

  8. brina on #

    I am totally pro-muse. In fact, I’m fairly sure I have a muse, because sometimes — and this is magic — scenes pop into my head fully formed. Or, I swear, they come to me in dreams. Usually, however, when they come to me it’s at a very bad time. Like, I’m in the bathtub, where I can’t take my laptop. Or I’m driving a car, and I can’t write whilst driving.

    But the important thing, I think, is that even when you have a muse, you can’t get lazy and only write when the muse appears. You have to soldier on even without the “inspiration” sometimes. What I have noticed is that my muse likes to abandon me at crucial moments, like when I am editing and thinking, “Oh, my God, I have no talent. None. None at ALL.”

    Those are the times I *need* my muse. Not when I’m in the tub, you know?

  9. Amber on #

    Steve B, I think you’ll find the plural of muses is muesli.

    I’m getting my coat.

  10. Justine on #

    Amber: Stay! You have made me laugh twice today!

  11. Brent on #

    I had a muse, but my keep-dandruff-off-your-shoulders faerie swept it away one day…

  12. Lizabelle on #

    Muses don’t do the work. Writers do. I loved Neil Gaiman’s NaNoWriMo pep talk last year (which has a lot in common with your “Writing is hard” post):

    ‘You write. That’s the hard bit that nobody sees. You write on the good days and you write on the lousy days…Writing may or may not be your salvation; it might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.’

    (From here:

  13. hillary! on #

    Ummm, this is actually a response to the latest homesickness post. It made me cry. When they showed me the Santa Monica pier. And I’m only about 50 miles away from there. I can imagine the pain you feel. I commiserate.

  14. Steve Buchheit on #

    Amber, I love that joke (hell, I almost cracked it myself, something about equating Muse inspiration to mental whole wheat). Why are you leaving?

    I think what brina and Lizabelle said is most important. Even if you have a Muse, you have to write when they’re not around. And just like brina, my Muse tends to go missing at the worst times. Still gotta write. Still have to finish.

  15. Caroline on #

    At school, I spent a lot of time waiting for a muse to show up. Never worked and I had to conclude that maybe they just don’t handle lab reports.

  16. mb on #

    I love my Muse but she is inconvenient. When I want to work on project X, she shows up with a whole scenario for project Y. I try to listen when she’s around, though, as most of her ideas are great. Sometimes (the musical version of Dante’s Inferno) they are not so great. It all flows much more smoothly when she helps, but I don’t need her in order to write — which is good, as she can often be found hanging out at the nectar bar with her buddies, neglecting me.

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