Just Wait

Do you ever get stuck in the middle of writing something? Pressed for time, stressed, frustrated and wish you could just summon the muse and order up an idea?

The following is kind of a follow up to a piece of flash fiction I wrote awhile back, Conversations With a Muse. This post spurred a train of thought that led to many things, but mostly the idea of what it would be like to have a muse to chat with, and after writing that one I had some distinct ideas about what mine would be like.

A few days ago I got stuck writing a critical turning point of my book, so I started thinking about what my muse would say if I tried to order up an idea. It went something like this…

***

“What good is hopen window snowaving a muse if inspiration is only ever random?” I wonder out loud, staring at the snow-capped row of houses in the distance. I’ve been sitting at my desk, not writing for an hour. The wintry air coming through the half-open window has turned my fingers to ice (I often write with the window open, even in winter. I have a theory that stale air leads to stale thoughts) and now typing at the keyboard is literally, physically painful.

I’m stuck in a critical scene of the book I’m working on. I know something crucial happens at this point, my main character sees a ghost- or something akin to a ghost, and those are the only details I know for certain. I seem to be missing the serendipitous knowing of details that will make the scene flow into the story. I’ve been listening to ethereal violin music and reading Poe and chapters from ghost stories all morning, no luck. It’s obvious this solution is not currently firing somewhere in the synapses inside my brain.

I need a muse.

“You know it doesn’t work that way,” a musical voice says, seeming to come from above and below and behind. “You don’t just call us up, order up an idea and that’s it. If that’s what you want go ask a human.”

“Christopher, you scared the hell out of me. I thought you only showed up at night. Where are you anyway?”

“I show up when I want to show up. I’m seen when I want to be seen.”

“Yeah,” I huff. “I know. But since you’re here maybe you could give it a whirl.”

“I’m not an accountant. You don’t just call me up, I provide the service you want and then we both go on our way.” I can’t see him but I can hear that his words are soaked in a smirk.

“Why not?”

“Well, if you want to get technical, if we…do business like humans do, you’d have to pay me. And believe me honey, you couldn’t afford it.”

“Yes, you’re very valuable. Also hilarious.” I try to mirror his sarcasm but mine only comes out half as effective. “So…if you can’t help me why are you here?”

“Listen. Art is born of inspiration. And inspiration can’t become art unless it’s pure.”

“Wait. What? What does that even mean?”

“Gaaahh, you humans can be so thick. Alright because I know there’s talent in that head of yours…somewhere, I’ll spell it out.” He clears his throat. “If you don’t have the answer yet, it’s for a reason.”

“But— I only have so much time to write. I have kids, remember?”

“Just be quiet. For an hour. For a day. A week even. Just be still and patient and wait. And hey, here’s something innovative: Listen.

“That’s it? That’s your answer? Just wait?”

“That’s it. Brilliant, no?”

The voice fades to a whisper and the room is quiet again. The only sound is the swooshing of an occasional car maneuvering the slush-soaked road behind my house. I sigh, close my laptop, climb into bed and close my eyes.

And I wait.

Eureka! My Story is an Infant…

I claim to be a writer of all things.

Sometimes, that feels like a lie.

It’s not as if I don’t have good reason to make this claim. In the past 15 years or so, I literally have written just about everything. From employee training manuals to web content, news articles to speeches. I covered events I had never been to and wrote multi-page news stories about them. I’ve cranked out literally hundreds of pages of web content about things so foreign to me I had to learn a new language to write it.

I don’t claim to be the best, I don’t even claim to be good. I just do what I am stirred to do. Writing is my bread and water. I breathe it in, it sustains me. I’ve done so much writing in so many different ways that none of it really intimidates me anymore. Except for one thing.

Which is why saying I’m a writer of all things sometimes feels like a farce.

I’ve been working on writing a fictional novel off and on for almost nine years. I’ve talked myself in and out of it a thousand times. I’ve (driven my writer’s group crazy) completely given up on it, and then the story comes lurking into my peripheral vision again, and I’m summoned to pull my butt out of bed at 3am to hammer out a new scene. The writer’s version of self-masochism.

Writing a novel is my biggest dream. It also scares the hell out of me.

Why? Because all that other writing, web content and news articles and speeches and such, that’s all small potatoes. If you ask me, fiction is the real McCoy. You’ve got to be a damn good writer to make a fictional story REAL.

This notion terrifies me.

You see, I have these wonderfully enchanting, beguiling stories in my head. (Trust me when I say that having an overzealous muse is both a blessing and a curse.) My characters are…beautiful. They are lovable and jaded and scarred and passionate and mysterious and utterly human. They have rich and complicated histories that bring them to perfectly fit into their place in the story. My book is full of intoxicating circumstances and exciting plot twists and turns that I know, if written well, will keep readers turning pages into the latest hours of the night.

Those are the things that I know, will sell my book. Those are also the things that keep me from writing it.

How will I do them justice?

How will I give my story the writing it deserves?

And so I start and stop and edit and rewrite and quit. I swear novel-writing off for good, go to work on other projects and am slowly drawn back into it. (Damn it.)

I go through it all again. And Again. And Again.It’s like that on-again, off-again boyfriend that you were both drawn to and repulsed by at the same time. (I now fully understand why all the literary greats were drinkers.)

Which brings me back to my book. Which I’m writing. For the hundred and seventy second time. Again.

This go-round has gone unexpectedly well. Last week I finished outlining the plot and chapter sequence and for a flash of a second, I felt like I might actually be able to kick this feeling of inadequacy and get this story written, once and for all.

Eureka!  I drove home from the coffee shop screaming out my car window: “I’m wriiiiiiting a noooveeeeell!” Several strange glances ensued. But I didn’t care. For the first time in maybe, EVER I actually felt like the real McCoy.

And then life happened. Work. Laundry. Kids. School. Tantrums. Grocery shopping. Sicknesses. Cleaning. Family dinners. I didn’t have an opportunity to write again for nearly a week.

And by then, of course I had over-thought the chapter sequence ten thousand times, to the point of convincing myself that all the holes in the story were going to be its downfall.

Aaaaaaaaaaghhhhh! Someone please make it stop!

But….

One night after the house was silent and all the family was long asleep, my muse awoke and beckoned me. I crept over to my desk and flipped open my laptop.

Go on, open it up love. Give it a read.

Read what?

Don’t be bloody ridiculous. You know what.

Since when are you British?

I have your attention, do I not?

Yes.

Ahhh, then no need for further discussion. So let’s have a look then shall we?

Go on love, read on.

I double-clicked the draft of my story on my desktop, and blindly started reading. The first chapter, along with some other passages, sections I had edited and rewritten half a dozen times, struck me as well-crafted. Others were not so hot, obviously slammed out in a twenty five minute increment between a laundry-folding marathon and pick up time at preschool. Some of the dialogue read like choking on cream cheese. And of course a whole hell of a lot of it what I had in my draft, I wanted to cut and paste into the recycle bin.

Keep going.

Why? Self torture?

Just do it.

So I read on. I read through the entire draft. Sure enough, I found more cheese and more garbage. But every so often, I’d uncover gem, glittering in the midst of telling-not-showing, cheesy dialogue and mindless narrative. In a few, fleeting passages I found pieces of the real, whole, perfect story. Characters, waiting for the story to morph and unfold them out of the confines of their pages, to come alive in the hearts and minds of readers. Waiting to be made real.

*Sigh*

I closed the document and sat quietly, my face illuminated by the glow of my laptop screen. I sunk my chin into the palm of my hand and stared into a picture of my two daughters, sitting on my desk.The voice appeared again, like a faint jingling of tiny bells  inside some quiet corner of my brain.

Your daughters. What lovely creatures they are.

They are a lot of time. And work. And patience. But they are lovely, aren’t they?

They are the very products of your life and your love.

Did you know how you were going to teach them things, when they were born?

No.

 When they were infants, did you ever fault them for not knowing how to smile?

Of course not. Watching a smile cross their faces for the first time was magic.

Did you ever give up teaching them how to talk? How to walk?

No. The little one had some trouble. I took her to physical therapy… after that she was off and running in no time.

Will you stop giving them any less love, knowing they still have so far to go?

Not a chance.

I have loved them, adored them at every stage. Watching them grow and evolve, supple spring leaves sprouting, unfolding, fading into a thousand brilliant shades, a new hue and texture and purpose for every season. That has been the greatest joy of my life.

This is what your writing needs, love. Love.

Yeah, but what about the—

You have to love your story for what it is, at any given time. All of it. At every stage.

It is no less loveable now, in its infancy, than your toddler was when she learned to walk. Your 8 year old learning to sing, or when she is a teenager and gives her heart away for the first time…

As you give your time and your love and effort to it, it will grow. It will get bigger and better and stronger and more beautiful with every stroke of the keys on your keyboard.

Slowly, it will become whole.

 And when it is ready, you will know. And then you will let go.

I took a breath. The voice fell silent and I sat for awhile in the dark, thinking about my story, about  what I had written from a new perspective. With the love and hope that every parent carries in her heart.

I realized that at nearly a decade old, my story was still in its infancy. Newborn and pliable and naive and lovable, drool and spit-up and wobbly legs and all. Cheesy and awkward, a little broken in parts, not understanding yet what it means to be whole.

My story is an infant. Wishing for me to love it, waiting for me to help it grow.

*Eureka.*

Back to the keyboard, then, love.

Till next time,

~CindyImage

Conversations With a Muse

Awakened…

It’s midnight, pitch black and humid inside my bedroom. I have finally found the solace of deep, dreamless sleep when I’m pulled into consciousness by a faint whispering. I stir.

“What are you doing up, baby,” I say, assuming it’s one of my girls. “Bad dream?” With my eyes still closed, I reach out my hand to pat a little blonde head.  There’s no one there, so I force my eyelids open. It’s dark, but I can see a tall, thin figure perched on the end of my bed. He’s wearing…a top hat?

“It’s me,” the figure says. “But you can call me baby, sweetie.”

“Ahhh. Chris… I might have known. Hold on.” Careful not to wake my husband, I open my nightstand drawer and pull out a small notebook and a book light.

“Not Chris, Christopher,” he says, enunciating all the consonants. “Remember?”

“Right. Sorry. Christopher. Whadya got?”

“Saint Christopher, actually,” he says casually.

Saint?” I laugh. “Okay…you…your kind are beautiful creatures. And I guess it’s possible someone might mistake you for an angel, in the dark, having had something serious poured in her drink. But I’d hardly call you a saint. Anyway, do you even know who Saint Christopher is?”

“Of course dear,” he says, buffing his nails against his chest. “It’s me.”

“You know I think if you did a little research you’d find the irony…You know what, forget it. I’m not going to argue this at…” I glance at my digital clock on the nightstand “12:02 am. You can pretend you’re a saint if you want. But I am not calling you Saint Christopher.”

Finally my eyes adjust to the dim light and I see that Chris—er, Christopher is dressed in turn of the century equestrian clothes: tight, forest-green pants, a derby, leather riding boots that come to just above the knee. I raise an eyebrow. He smirks at me.

“You love it, right?” he says, lifting his hat from his head and grinning. I squint and shake my head.

“I don’t—“

“Mmm hmm,” he interrupts, pursing his lips. “Don’t think I don’t know about your love of horses. Not to mention your secret obsession for ridiculously tight boots. It’s just too bad it doesn’t work on them.”

“What? What doesn’t work?”

“Whispering,” he says, rolling his eyes. I shake my head at him in confusion. He sighs and clicks his tongue impatiently. “You can’t muse a horse.” He slides off the foot board and leans against it. I tilt my head and survey him. Somehow, even ridiculous in 18th century equestrian gear, Chris manages to look fashionable. “It works on dogs sometimes,” he says. “Cats yield varied and erratic results. But horses are like stubborn old men. They always think they know better.”

”You tried to…give a horse an idea?” I can’t stop the corner of my mouth from turning up into a half smile. I snicker.

“Listen, Miss Judgmental in ripped yoga pants and….my good Hell, is that your husband’s old t-shirt?” I glance down at my pajama selection and shrug. He cringes and goes on. “The point is, don’t judge me. I had a vision: A majestic black horse cantering  in the wind at night. A poem, or a story beginning, whatever…figuring that out is your forte. Anyway it sounded simply fabulous. So I wanted to try it out before I whispered it.”

“That does sound lovely,” I say, scrawling notes across an empty line in my notebook.

“Wait,” he says, moving next to the bed and pushing my notebook down. “Close your eyes.” He kneels in front of me in the dim light and for a small moment we look at one another. I see sparks of color erupting inside the sapphire blue rings of his eyes. Tiny torrents of light, gold, pink, and yellow and I wonder if this is what ideas look like. I wonder if he can feel them. I wonder what it means to be a Muse, and if that strange sadness I sense in him has anything to do with his career choice. Or if it was a choice at all…

“I said, close your eyes.”

“Sorry.” I lower my eyelids and I’m met with a rush of cool night air. The pounding of hooves on earth drowns out the beating of my own heart. I’m riding without a saddle, barefoot and clutching fistfuls of the creature’s jet-black mane, strands of which are whipping against my forearms. The horse slows to a canter and I slide off, stand beside him and run my hands along his muscular neck. His silken hair shines almost blue in the moonlight.

I’m drawn to the creature, Ilh_040Goliath can’t stop touching him. I’m beckoned by the diamonds sparkling in the velvet, black sky and the way the grass casts snakelike shadows onto my bare feet. I want to stay. I want to live here, fall into this world and never look back. But reality lies in waiting. I know it will call for me once it realizes I am gone. And eventually, I will call for it too. I open my eyes.

“Wow…that was—“

“Acceptable,” he sighs.  “Adequate. But it could have been brilliant. Sadly this getup was wasted on the likes of His Majesty in the manure pile out in the back field. Some creatures simply weren’t made to appreciate artistic inspiration.”

“I know why she goes riding,” I say quietly, picking up my notebook and pen.

“Oh? There’s a she?” Chris smiles knowingly and backs away from my bedside, leans against my desk.

“Yes, a young girl. She sneaks out of her house at night and rides because it’s the only way she can’t hear her heart pounding. She’s haunted by…something. I don’t know yet.”

“I’ll work on it for you,” he says.

“Thanks,” I say, and smile. He smiles back. We have a mutual, unspoken understanding. The magic of being mused doesn’t stop at one suggestion. It’s the merging of enchanting ideas with familiar emotion, the melding of imagination and truth. I close the notebook and lay it on the nightstand.

“What are you doing?” Chris says. “We aren’t done.”

“Listen, Chris. Christopher. I really appreciate all of this effort, but it’s after midnight. My kids are going to get me up early. And anyway I think I got the gist of what—“

“What…the horse in the field? That wasn’t it. What do you take me for, a dolt?”

“I don’t—“

“Get comfortable sweetie, I have the story idea of a lifetime for you.” He sinks to the floor and leans comfortably against the pillows I’ve tossed from my bed.

“I’m already writing the story idea of a lifetime, rememb—“

“It starts like this…He’s a man with a gypsy soul who trains horses, and he’s a ghost. But not in the usual way…

hand writing darkish