My muse has fat ankles

Fat Ankles

One of the topics that seems to come up quite often is writers talking about the muse. When I first started writing this mythical being was something along the lines of Shakespeare’s:

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention,

Now that I’ve been writing for a while, I find that the stunning supermodel of imagination has not spent a lot of time with me. Actually only one day that I can remember in the last six months and 300’000 words.

A quarter of a million words is a depressingly long time to wait for a repeat visit.

But that one day was wonderful (I hear you say), surely the words flew and everything just fell into place?

It’s true.

That really happened and as I wrote the forty-eighth and forty-ninth chapter of my book in a single day, the goddess had come to visit. But I waited forty-seven chapters for the minx. Forty-seven. Not one or two, or a week.


(Do you have any idea how depressingly long forty seven chapters without a muse is?)

Not since I was twelve have I experienced such a depressing lack of interest. I was reminded of school and waiting for the pretty girl to talk to me. Weeks of awkward anticipation, and then finally a request to lend stationery. Followed by months of guttered hopes and dreams, failed courage, dashed dreams and depression. There was a reason The Cure sold me so many albums in my teens.

So I gave up on the supermodel muse. Gave up on the absolute high of words spilling onto the page effortlessly. I decided that I was going to be one of those writers who just went on my way alone.

Muse be damned.

She clearly had better places to be (I suspect Joe Abercrombie, China Mieville and Brandon Sanderson are hogging her.)

And then something strange happened. I would plug away at my word count, day after day, and occasionally I would find an unexpected moment in a day’s writing. A simple pleasure. A scene that showed me who the villain really was, or a random internet snippet that just made something clicked. Not a muse,  just a great little moment.

Like the day I read about the Catatumbo lightning storm. A place in the world where virtually every night there is a standing lightning storm. (Go read about it on Wikipedia – 150 days a year, 10 hours a night and 280 lightning strikes an hour. Don’t go and visit it – apparently there are lots of drug lords on the way there.)

For context, I write fantasy novels.

When I read about Catatumbo I realised that Cobb, my god of mountains and natural disasters could have a real physical presence in the world. That article was the origin of Cobb’s Eye. A lightning storm that appeared every night in the mountains in my novels.

Or today, when I sat down to write a dinner scene. A pre-planned piece of filler to get from a scene where the army is preparing for battle to the actual battle.  Something I did not really look forward to writing but needed in the book. An easier beat at that point in the story. However, as I wrote I discovered some interesting things about my villain:

By describing a quiet dinner with him and his daughter, I discovered a different side of him. Even though he had knocked off a few children, caused a bloody revolt and was a bit of a sociopath politician – he was also a good father who was trying his best to keep his family from harm. (That’s a pretty hard thing to do when two of your kids are trying to kill each other off on the sly).

Now that does not cure his fatal flaw (pride and not listening to advice). I also have it under very good authority that his family values are not going to stop him perpetrating a genocide or two. However, today I learnt that he genuinely believes he can fake his own death and retire to the north to look after an unloved grandchild. He really wants to be the father the boy never had.

I’ve warmed to him quiet a lot recently.

I realised something, as I wrote more and started to celebrate these little victories. That one visit from the supermodel muse was not the real joy. The real joy of writing was the slightly harassed middle-aged mom of a muse. The one who seems to be there with a turn of phrase or an unexpected twist. The one who drops in whenever she can and makes the time to give me a special lift every now and again. The kind of muse who isn’t busy with Abercrombie and Sanderson.

No, she’s the fat-ankled kind with a beautiful smile. Sometimes when I want her to come over and she doesn’t, that’s somehow okay. I know she’s not ignoring me – she’s just busy with the kids or stuck in traffic – and if I keep plugging away she will be back soon.

So while I’ve given up on the superstar muse, I really appreciate the fact that my favourite muse drops in from time to time.

Because writing, like life, is so much better when you celebrate all the tiny moments of joy – rather than wasting it away being disappointed with everything except for the occasional huge moment.

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