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Laylah Hunter ([personal profile] laylah) wrote2013-01-25 02:39 pm

The only voices are my own

I've been sort of following Storm Moon's anniversary blog hop over the course of the month, as one does, and today Lor Rose has a post about her muses, and how she believes that ultimately every author has them. (TW for a lot of jokey language about mental illness.) I sat there for a bit trying to compose a response to the post, but really I think what I want to say ought to be a post of its own.

I have never been a "muses made me do it" writer. I know there are people who get a lot of mileage out of that model, who picture themselves in dialogue with their characters or with a Classical Muse-type figure who spurs them on. But it's never worked for me, for a few reasons:

1. This is hard work. I'm not channeling inspiration that comes from someplace external; I'm not writing down ideas that some magical third party dictates to me. I am conceptualizing characters, building worlds, designing plot arcs, and crafting sentences of my own volition and by my own effort. Some days it goes so smoothly that it does feel almost like a blessing from the gods! Other days it's like trying to plow a field with a hand trowel. But it's still all about me, either way. Blaming a muse for any of it feels like I'd be brushing off that reality: I had to work for every one of those words. They're craft and labor as much as they're inspiration and magic. After all that, I can't imagine WANTING to give the credit to my imaginary friend.

2. Being creative =/= being crazy. This one is a really personal prickly spot for me; I am a writer and I am also a long-term depression sufferer. It took me seventeen years of living with varying degrees of depression before I managed to actually get help and get it under control. A huge part of why it took so long, why I spent all of my 20s being an emotional disaster area, was the idea that the way I felt was just "normal" for a creative person. "I write what the voices in my head tell me to!" is a glib and frivolous riff on that really pernicious idea, and I have no desire to participate in it. (For the record: I am more consistently creative and productive now that my mental illness is well-managed than I ever was as a "crazy" writer.)

Creative minds do work in a variety of ways, obviously; there are clearly people for whom it's helpful to treat their writing process as an internal dialogue, to engage themselves in conversation as a way of getting their creative drive going. But it's not all of us; it's not me. The only voice I'm listening to when I write is my own.

I should probably get going. I've been having a field-vs-hand-trowel week, and I hope to make a deadline at the end of the month. Back to the word mines with me!
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[personal profile] subtext 2013-01-25 11:23 pm (UTC)(link)
Very well said. I hope it gets less hand-trowel for you soon too!

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[personal profile] recessional 2013-01-25 11:42 pm (UTC)(link)
Heh. Okay, coming from the other direction, I have to correct a couple of misconceptions I see here.

That I work with my invisibles*? Does not make this not hard work, and doesn't mean I don't take every damn fucking bit of credit for the work I do. I find the words, I make the structure, I do the work of clearing my mind and getting my ego the fuck out of the way and turning the messy slush that is someone's life into an actual fucking story. If anything, sometimes it presents its own special problems because just because a facet of a story or character isn't working for me doesn't mean I necessarily get to change it, because they are who they are, and it's up to me to turn shit into gold if I can. (If you've ever tried to fictionalize actual history, the difficulty there may become apparent.)

Secondly, my creativity and my brain-people are utterly divorced from my mental illness, thnx. I may write what the voices in my head tell me too, but that's not because I'm ill; it's because that's how I write. I can, in fact, tell when I'm quite ill! It's when the voices go silent and suddenly everything feels like trying to drive a car with square wheel and about as "true" to the people I'm trying to write as the arguments you write in your head when you're eleven where everyone else is suddenly astounded by your brilliance and totally on your side.

So, um. Please not to be equating my methods and ways of being (because for me this is also directly tied into religious crap discussed elsewhere) with vicious ableism, ok? Thnx.

You're entirely right: everyone has a different method and brain-alignment and anyone who declares that other people are in denial is full of shit. But those of us on the other side aren't ceding our work or waving our hands and some of us are also the mentally ill who've dealt with that stereotype in our own lives, so.

ETA: That . . .may have gotten more edged towards the end than I meant it to, but my tweet? Actually has to do with exactly this issue. And you can see it in the comments of that very post - "REAL writers don't do this", along with the idea that it's self-indulgent/crazy/infantile/etc. Hell, only a year or so ago Sarah Monette went right there and said it - only to discover her BFF has brainpeople, too.

Now, having actually clicked the link (obvs, since I know what the comments over there say) I will say the OP seems to be the kind of . . . very New operater to this kind of working that makes me cringe and is part of the REASON I no longer use the term "muses" that often. I suspect zie may chill as time goes on. But honestly those of us who operate differently? (and who are smart enough to know we are not everyone?) Don't tend to talk in public. Because we often get lambasted. *shrugs* Sooo it's a bit of a sore-spot with me, too.

*I've departed from the term "muses" over the years, because I am a Special Snowflake.
Edited 2013-01-25 23:52 (UTC)
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[personal profile] recessional 2013-01-26 12:15 am (UTC)(link)
It's okay. Obviously I am also just punchy as hell right now due to cat-stuff, it's just . . . yeah, sore spot on this end of the equation, too; we get dismissed as both "crazy" and "horribly hurtful to mentally ill people" a lot. And while I am totally on board with some of us giving the side a bad name, it's also kind of . . . . tender. >.>
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[personal profile] meigui 2013-01-25 11:44 pm (UTC)(link)
Yeah, the idea that this is normal is definitely particularly poisonous part of the "creativity = craziness" equation--it encourages people to think that either there's no reason to seek help when they really do need it, that treating their problems will somehow either invalidate or even destroy their creative abilities, which is a terrible expectation to have. But treatment definitely helped me find my creative voice again, too.

Also, yes, here's to hoping your metaphorical word tractor will turn up soon!
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[personal profile] dharma_slut 2013-01-26 03:01 am (UTC)(link)
Yours is an inspirational post, thank you for it. It used to be easy for me to write, even imperative-- over the past four fve years it's gotten more and more difficult, and I find that in fact I never learned the self discipline to be a writer- because I never needed to.

So now I am trying to remediate myself on that aspect, and your words have suggested some ways to approach this problem. Thank you for sharing your viewpoint.
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[personal profile] julian_griffith 2013-01-27 01:25 am (UTC)(link)
My characters certainly turn into people in their own right, with voices that will pipe up and offer opinions on things when I wasn't asking them -- but I'm much more on your "some days it's inspiration, some days it's a hand trowel" side of the argument than the Imaginary Friends The Muses side. I don't have a single Imaginary Person who brings me my stories. The story's characters just get real-er the more time I spend with them. Rockingham is very defined, and he talks a lot; he has political opinions. It's a genuine privilege to get the occasional snarky comment from Byron. But a Muse? Nope. I go trap my own plotbunnies.

And... I didn't get diagnosed bipolar until I was 40. Correlation, well documented. Leaving it untreated for the sake of creativity? OH HELL NO. When it's bad, I can't write. If it's really bad, I can't remember to eat. Screw romanticizing "crazy."
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[personal profile] julian_griffith 2013-01-27 02:24 am (UTC)(link)
ME TOO. Thank goodness for competent brain docs.

Byron started muttering in the back of my head about crazy and creative and pain. It's not exactly coherent, but he doesn't have a high opinion of suffering as a necessary condition for art. seriously though, he's only giving me a Kate Beaton-esque version of himself with a scowl and a grouchy-cloud over his head. He's way too busy and has way too many people to visit to hang around being more detailed with me most of the time.

yes, I'm silly, but I catch my plotbunnies myself.