Lately, there’s been a lot out there about the Muse. Writers often find her elusive, fickle, and stingy at times, while other times her abundance pours out in a deluge, and we find ourselves scrambling to catch up the waterfall of words in a gallon bucket. It seems no matter her mood, the Muse has a sense of humor, and often, at the expense of those most desirous of her.
I’ve thought a lot about this lately, and I can’t decide if the stories exist outside of us and want to be told, or if they come from within. There’s something mystical about the idea of stories floating around the universe waiting for the appropriate transmitter (writer) to match their frequency and broadcast them. I imagine it a bit like Willy Wonka’s teleported chocolate flying over the room in a “million, tiny, little pieces.”
While I do think it seems more realistic that the stories emerge from an internal stew of ideas, thoughts, and life events–conscious and unconscious–I get surprised so often in my writing that it seems as if some “other” is telling me the story. For instance, in my first book, I used actor head shots for character inspiration, wrote bio’s, and plotted major scenes. Nowhere had I planned a young island boy, appearing at the old, haunted, plantation house leading my protagonist around, filling her in about the past of the island. He just appeared. When I saw him emerge in the story I thought, “Of course!” Then, when I realized just who the boy was, I really thought, “OF COURSE!” So was he from within me or with-out me?
This happened again, last week, while I was manic about finishing the climax of my new novel set in Key West in Ernest Hemingway’s home. Many months ago, I’d written a scene setting the climax in motion, where Hemingway destroyed my protagonist with what he told her. His cruelty astounded even me, but something didn’t feel right about the scene. Nonetheless, I left it there.
When I finally “wrote up” to that scene, I suddenly realized that Hemingway wasn’t the one who said those things, his WIFE was. It was born of her jealousy and insecurity, and I think I actually said out loud, “OF COURSE!” Now the scene made sense. Again, did it come from within or without?
I leave you with this video by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love. A friend linked me up to it on Twitter, and I found it to be a great pep talk for writers–particularly about following up a first book, and the origins of the Muse. It’s nearly twenty minutes, so make up a cup of coffee on a break and watch it when you have the time. When you finish, I’d love your thoughts on this. Is the Muse internal or external?