The Muse

Wow, ok this was started quite a while ago and slowly added to. But then, if I do my job, you won’t be able to tell that will you?

Where do ideas come from? It is a question authors get asked and not all want to answer. Perhaps some are afraid to examine it too deeply in fear that the  muse will move on to someone else. It could be they are tired of hearing it. Or maybe the truth sounds too bland and simple. Lean close and I’ll fill you in:  ideas come from everywhere. They come from standing in line at the bank, walking through the grocery store, family get-togethers, newspaper articles. Some authors tell these stories straight up(usually considered literary authors) and some put a criminal twist on them. But as Neil Gaiman (in cat form) said, “We all want to know what happens next.” What happens when a man’s estranged father shows up at his son’s birthday party? What would happen if that same estranged father was a government assassin? The muse whispers to us all differently and no two writers will respond the same way to the same idea in the same way. Its the reason a website can put up a writing prompt and see a different story for every response.

Is there a Muse? Some beautiful lady in a short toga and strappy sandals who whispers in our ears? Is it just training and work?  A gift from God? I guess that depends on your beliefs and whether you believe the same as the next person doesn’t really matter. However you describe it, there does seem to be something inside a writer’s brain that will just spark and there’s an idea. If you are ever around a writer and they pause mid sentence and start to scramble for pen and paper, then you have seen a visit from the muse. Ideas can be wild and fleeting things and if not corralled on paper, they may run off never to be seen again. Not that you should stop working on your current work in progress and run off with this new shiny young firm fleshed idea. Just put down enough to know later what it is.

Where do ideas come from? Once again, everywhere. They come from life, work, family, strangers at the bus stop. An idea comes from picking up tampons for your daughter and suddenly imagining some bad ass spy type performing the same task. Or you get cut off in traffic and picture the response of this character that has been hanging around in your head. Or you think, Lone Wolf and Cub would be awesome set in the Prohibition days. (Not that it’s a clone of Lone Wolf and Cub in a different time period.)

So ideas come from everywhere and and to everyone. Tell someone at a party you are a writer or make movies and they say, “Oh man I have a great book (or movie) idea.” “Sometimes their next statement is to say they will write this book once they have time. Visit Chuck Wendig for what that makes writers think.) It’s quite possible they do have a great idea. So why aren’t they making it, writing it?

Because ideas are not enough. Ideas are the easy part. The hard part is taking this idea and making something out of it. A bad ass spy buying tampons is just a skit on SNL. Why is he there? What surrounds the scene? Because, to me at least, ideas are sometimes just that, a scene. This sudden flash of this character doing this. Like watching a movie. Sometimes you have a character. Maybe you have a place. Or maybe you are going through cancer treatment and it makes you think of a fort under attack by a large army. Brilliant idea but if readers don’t care about the people in that fort, then the idea remains just that. Edison could have been talking about writing when he said, “Invention is ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration.” The muse can visit but you still have to do the work.

That idea has to be turned into a book or short story. (Or screenplay if you are wanting to make a movie.) The characters need, well, character. They need to develop and some of them should change. You need to figure out what you are trying to say. Or not say. Maybe it’s just a straight up adventure, with no metaphor for current life. Where does it take place? Is it a made up world? What is this lands customs and clothing and languages? Everything has to be worked out, even it is details that don’t make it into the final work. And its all hard work and takes dedication and discipline. (Something I have problems with myself.) The big question is, why do you write? Is it a hobby, something you do for yourself? Something to share online, with family and friends? Or do you want to be published?

So ideas aren’t really the important thing. When it comes down to it, it is what an author makes of them that matters.


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