Monday, September 12, 2016

The Muse Myth and Other Musings

Some writers believe that you must physically experience something before you write it. There's nothing wrong with this, but writing is about the imagination and informed research.  I've never beaten anyone to death, gone diving in a lake, or flown a space ship, but my characters have done all these things, and I've never had anyone say I wrote these things wrong.  It helped that I researched carefully and asked experts to read it when I wrote about real world experiences I'd only researched, not lived.  

But nothing can replace the emotional experience that an author needs to create characters.  You don't have to murder someone to write from a murderer's viewpoint, but an understanding of rage and the fear of being discovered for something bad you've done, no matter how minor, must inform that viewpoint.  


Craft can be taught, but the ability to tell stories and create real people can only be honed. Some are natural storytellers, some create real people, and the real geniuses can do both as well as add magic to the page. Those who have neither ability can still write novels and stories, but those stories are instantly forgettable and leave a reader searching for something with more substance to it.


I was considered a decent poet before I started writing fiction, and they are two different disciplines with different rules. The only real similarity is in the important choice of words.


Anyone who believes the drunk author fallacy that alcohol fuels great writing is just a drunk looking for an excuse to drink. Hemingway was a mentally ill suicide and a drunk so he’s not a role model any of us should emulate. Alcohol and drugs are just a modern version of the romantic muse myth that inspiration will magically happen and write your story for you.

Writing is HARD.  It is sit on your butt in front of a computer for long periods of time.  It is years of learning craft, editing, and honing your stories. None of that is fueled by drugs or alcohol.


The MFA has its value. It teaches literary writers how to craft stories for NY literary editors, and the teachers have contacts within the NY literary community. Lots of money can be made if one of its graduates hits the current sweet spot of taste.

In most cases, a MFA is totally useless for a genre writer, and the writer will have to relearn how to write for that market.

Anyone who wants to learn to write genre would be better served by many of the excellent online writing schools for specific genres as well as courses from various RWA chapters.


Being unpublished is the perfect time to experiment with different genres and subgenres. That's how a writer discovers their own strengths as a writer and their own voice. 

From my own experience, I tried for years to sell in category romance (Harlequin and Silhouette), and I even had two very successful category authors as mentors, and I simply couldn't sell in that market. It took me those years to figure out that I would never sell there because it was counter to my voice. I rewrote some of those books as I wanted to write them, and they won fans and numerous awards. 

Once a writer's published in a specific genre or subgenre, she will be trapped, for the most part, in that market, and it would be a very sad thing if she discovers another type of book she'd prefer to write.


“To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”  Lady Bracknell, Act 1, “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde.

In a book on playwriting I read some years ago, a famous playwright talked about what is tragic.  He said that if an elderly widow loses one of her sons, it is a great tragedy and the audience cries.  If she then loses a second son, the audience weeps.  If she loses a third, the audience begins to laugh because the line between the tragic and the ridiculous has been crossed.  

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