The Muse, and being a Writer
I have a good friend who tells me he and his muse live together, that they spend their days close enough to touch and he couldn’t live without her. And he’s a hell of a songwriter.
My muse is more like a lover, showing up when she wants, staying as long as she wants. She’ll leave in a huff over the smallest argument and stay away for weeks. All I can do is hope she’s away on business, some mission of mercy and not in the arms of another man.
Sometimes, she taps shyly on the door, other times she rips it off its hinges, bowls me over and whispers in my ear, “Do what I say and you won’t get hurt.”
She doesn’t like it when I get in the way, when I try to mould a song in my image. Songs are like children, she says. You give birth to them but they’re not reflections of you. Creativity is a great mystery, and there’s nothing like lying in the arms of the muse afterward, listening to the rain, feeling the cool air, the sheets, her warm breath.
Writing is a dreamworld to me. Maggie and I have lived together, close to each other for almost 40 years and we’ve never written a song together. Mine come from a place unlike hers, the paths different for each of us.
My novel, A Thousand Bridges, came out in 1992, and because of the good reviews, including a starred review in Publishers Weekly and being chosen by them as one of the top 10 first fiction of the year, I was guest author at a lot of writers’ conferences. At each of them, there was the inevitable panel of writers. We sat on some raised stage, behind a table, each with a little microphone, imparting wisdom to a crowd of hopefuls.
I sat there listening to so many writers as they told the audience how to write. There was the reference to Hemingway and the fact that if you didn’t write at least a thousand words a day you couldn’t call yourself a writer.
Bullshit. Hemingway also stood up to type and blew his brains out when he was still young enough to create more great stories. Nobody knows how to write, as though there were a manual somewhere with exploded diagrams and a handy index.
The only thing you have to do to be a writer is to write. Books, songs, poems, it doesn’t matter. Published, unpublished, you’re still a writer. Don’t let anyone say you’re not. I’ve heard so many authors talk about how the ‘only‘ way to write is to block off a section of time, regular as clockwork, and force your muse to sit there, stroking you while you think.
Whether it’s music, novels, paintings, any form of creativity, you alone know your heart. Your timetable is yours alone. You know where the dark corners are, the sharp edges, the peaceful fields. You alone.
What I tried to say at each conference is the only thing I know to be true to me. No one, at the end of your life, will stand over your casket and say, “He was a good man, but he never wrote a book.”
Or a song. Or painted a picture. You’re the only one who cares. Don’t create if it hurts you. I hear authors tell a crowd, “Writing is like cutting my wrists with a rusty razor.”
Then, don’t write. If revealing the truth inside you is that painful, maybe you should keep it to yourself. I shared a program once with Lorien Hemingway, whose book Walk on Water is an absolutely beautiful novel. She said, “In my family, it’s either kill or kill yourself.”
Don’t kill yourself. Write. Don’t let anyone stop you.