Trust Your Muse

I am learning, once again, something I have always sort of known, but which I keep on forgetting. It is that, for me at least, writing from the head, guided by intellect, doesn’t work. Intellection has its place, in development, revisions, and corrections, after at least the first draft of the story is finished. 

What does work for me, is writing from the heart, or from the gut, from something inside, guided by feeling, not by thought. Some people might call it inspiration, and I have been struck by inspiration, one time, when I wrote The Planet Masters — seventy five thousand words in eight and a half days. 

I’ve always known that I can’t wait for inspiration to strike. I would wait forever. What I have to do is be receptive to the whisper in the back of my head, that which comes from my heart, my gut, the chill down my spine.

I first started what I call Soul Stone in 2010, and wrote three good chapters, just going with what came to me. Then I wrote sixty thousand words from my head and came to dead stop, a victim of intellectual ought-to and disregard of character. It took me eight years to figure out what I had done wrong. I kept the first three chapters, threw the rest away, and carried on from where I should have left off.

I created a new and marvelous and complex setting, with which I expected to have a lot of fun, and tried to explore it, but no matter how wonderful a setting is, it isn’t a story. The setting is still there, but I’m not using it. 

I wrote a series of chapter objectives, things that each chapter had to accomplish, and superficially they were right. But the story was a robot, it never came to life. I threw it all out. 

I tried other ideas, a but each was only an idea, none of them informed or supported a story. I had forgotten to listen for that whisper. Every attempt to anticipate future chapters failed. My character grows, discovers truths I didn’t know about, experiences events that come by surprise — to me as well as to him — and makes those future chapter ideas irrelevant. 

I think I know what the ending is about — one of three possible endings — but I’m not going to tell you. I did know was what my latest chapter was about, and I finished it, and now I have stopped for a while, to deal with a soul-crushing to-do list.

When I get back to the story, I will know from the gut or heart or spine what the next chapter will be about, and it will move forward when I pick it up again. This has happened several times already. But not now. I need a break, to let my unconscious work on it for a while. At least, that’s the whisper that I almost hear.

And I have to trust my muse, whatever a muse may be. What I write with that trust can be improved and shaped later, by applying acquired skill. But the story comes from somewhere else, and raises goosebumps all over my body. I can feel it working now.

The muse never strikes, except by surprise. But if you listen carefully, you can hear it whisper.