Chasing the Writer's Muse
I am no expert! I wanted to stress that right at the beginning of this little article, just in case somebody became outraged at a newbie writer, like myself, having the arrogant audacity to claim to know better than anyone else about something as unquantifiable and misty as the writing muse. I am happy to admit I am still learning about mine. And because I am still learning, I suppose the process of formulating a story is still fresh in my mind. The former teacher in me needs to understand the integral steps of which go into creating the whole, so I did some research to see if there was one defining aspect of the writing muse which all writers shared. I did not find one- something I find completely fascinating- yet not altogether surprising. So this is my experience of my own muse so far, based on eighteen months’ worth of ‘serious’ writing.
The muse holds no appointments. You can never call on it. I don't understand people who get up at 9 o'clock in the morning, put on the coffee and sit down to write- Glen Hansard
Er- well I make some tea at about 9 o’clock every weekday morning and sit down to write. If I waited for some divine moment of clarity I would never write anything. I can’t lie. Some mornings I would rather clean the oven than try and be creative, and I truly hate that hideous task. However, the routine of writing seems to work for me. Regular hours force me to channel my imagination. I read a few pages of what I have written the day before and then I crack on. Slowly at first, then like muscle memory, the words come. It has become so ingrained now, that if I do not write for whatever reason, I miss it.
So force yourself to write regularly, set aside a preplanned, designated time and stick to it. Force yourself to write something. Even if it is ultimately rubbish you delete, you will have learned from the process…
Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way– E. L. Doctorow
For me, I do not begin any book with a fully-formed, crystal clear vision. I should be in awe of anybody who did. Instead, it is the tiniest seed of an idea and that seed often comes from the weirdest places. Let me give you an example. Last year I saw a great 3-part historical TV documentary- A Very British Romance by Dr Lucy Worsley. The whole thing was several hours long, yet one tiny clip really interested me. It was talking about the Georgian fondness for etiquette manuals, self-help books which told the average gentleman or woman how to behave in every conceivable social situation.
Then I had an idea! What if I got one of my characters to write one on finding the right sort of wife, and wouldn’t it be funny if that character then met a woman who was the polar opposite? Ta-da! From that tiny seed grew The Discerning Gentleman’s Guide (due out in November). If something interests you, write it down somewhere…
I'm truly, 100% guided by the characters and my Muse. If one of the characters suddenly decided to do something very different, I'd just go with it. It's much easier to let the Muse drive than for me to try to steer- Lori Foster
I have found my characters, once they became real in my head, tend to do exactly what they want. And I absolutely love it when they choose the direction we are heading in. However, the magical alchemy they create only happens if I really KNOW them.
The best way I have found to do this is to use the ‘Reverse Backstory Tool’, a fabulous invention from The Negative Trait Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglish. It is essentially a clever flowchart designed to get you deep inside your character’s head. In fact, if you are looking for excellent, practical help with writing, then treat yourself to the other two books in the series as well: The Positive Trait Thesaurus and The Emotion Thesaurus. They are simple, dip in and out of books, laid out exactly like a dictionary, and have proved to be invaluable when my muse has taken a coffee break…
Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any– Orson Scott Card
Everyday life has proved the most fertile ground for my stories (even though I write historical romances)- perhaps not the plot ideas, but certainly characters, dialogue and settings. It is amazing how many funny, quirky or downright insulting things I have written which I have lifted straight out of real life conversations I have overheard.
I used my wonderful daughter’s teenage tantrums as inspiration for particularly feisty heroine in Her Enemy at the Altar. Because I could visualize the exact body language and the facial expressions, it made the character’s responses easy to write.
In my current work in progress, I needed to find a way for my characters to become more physically aware of each other so decided to have the heroine inadvertently cause an accident where the hero gets injured. I had just been to see Billy Connolly’s High Horse tour. He did a sketch about ‘the sexy bandage’, we all know the one, it is the one where the man is bandaged around the middle, and over one shoulder. Obviously, I had to use the ‘sexy bandage’ on my hero and it worked wonders on the heroine! Squirrel away everyday occurrences and then use them…
In the planning stage of a book, don't plan the ending. It has to be earned by all that will go before it - Rose Tremain
I can’t plot out the whole story before I write it. I’ve tried it and failed miserably both times. That doesn’t mean I don’t plot, it just means I prefer to do mine organically as the story grows.
Every day I ponder long and hard about where I am going next, and sometimes I take a wrong turn and have to rethink things. However, the one thing I have learned in the last eighteen months is to refuse to surrender when the muse has seemingly diisapeared. Before, if I had written myself into a corner, I would give up and start a new story.
Now I treat mistakes a bit like getting lost. I retrace my route and go back to the place where I think it starts to go wrong and then copy and paste everything that comes next onto a separate document rather than delete it. That way, I can salvage the good as a rewrite the story differently. Its good practice. When you do find someone who wants to publish your work, they are going to make you do that anyway! Repeatedly. Work through the problems and never give up on your goal of writing The End.
Virginia Heath's debut novel That Despicable Rogue is published in May 2016 by Harlequin.