Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tricks the Muse Plays

This is from a post by Doug Hewick put on the Wyrdsmiths blog:
...You need to learn not only what works for you, but also how you tend to trick yourself as a writer. After all, it's our job to tell convincing lies stories, and we often make our own best targets.What makes it even harder, though, is that sometimes we aren't tricking ourselves. That same urge that is a bad idea nine times out of ten may be the right answer this time
And my comment:
The problem I have is a negative response that comes back repeatedly as I am writing, but is especially bad at the end of a story. "This is terrible. This is unfixable. I am need to trash this story," which I sometimes do. I wrote a story titled "The Garden" that I threw out part way through. But it kept nagging at me, so I wrote the beginning over, since I no longer had a copy, and then went on to finish the story. It was not easy to sell. Once it sold, it was picked up for two "Best of the Year" anthologies.

I tell this story about "Garden" fairly often, because it reminds me that my judgment is not always good. It's safer to get the story done and gone. Let editors and readers decide.

Part of this is a simple reluctance to finish a story, because then I will have to send it out and risk rejection. Part is frustration, as I realize that the words on paper are not the marvelous, luminous tale I imagined. It's not as good as I wanted it to be.

I said this before in a post on June 17th. It's obviously a recurring problem. I also talked about having several stories going at once. This may be a trick the muse plays on me, a way to avoid finishing anything. Or it may be a way to cope with perfectionism and reluctance to finish: if I have the next story going already, then it's easier to get the less-than-perfect, last story out the door.

It shouldn't be this difficult to write. I've been doing it for most of my life and selling stories for 38 years.

Some days, when I am in a good mood, it seems to me the best of my stories are quite wonderful. I tend to think of these as the stories that belong least to me, that show the least evidence of my effort and skill. Instead, the muse seems to speak through me.

But that isn't the muse who tricks. That the muse who speaks clearly and truthfully.

I realized, when I wrote the above, that crediting the muse with my best work may not be a good idea. In part I do it because there's something marvelous about a story that really works. It seems magicial. And I also do it because I was raised to never brag. Saying that I am responsible for something magicial is bragging.

However, when I don't claim credit for my best writing, I am not allowing myself to feel achievement and success. It's far healthier, I think, to say, "Mine! Mine! This is absolutely wonderful, and I did it."


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