About Writers, inspiration, writing technique

Be Ready When She Comes

The other day, this article, a speech on racism and science fiction (dating back to 1998, no less), surfaced in my Facebook feed. I’d never seen it before but, being a Samuel Delany fan from way back, I dug right in.

Before I had even cleared the first third of it, I found myself hurriedly putting it aside to work on the second draft of my own current WIP. The damned thing had been fighting me hard—not because the plot or characters were in any way unclear in my mind, but there was simply no consistent voice yet. WIP’s come in all forms, and they all fight us to some extent, but this one had been particularly tough—petulant, thorny, recalcitrant—it had resisted all my efforts to get a groove going. The novel, typically, didn’t care about what I was trying to do. I hadn’t gotten her attention yet.

Somewhere between George Schuyler’s horrific and ironic description of a lynching and Delany’s own telling of his first pointedly racist rejection letter, I hit pay dirt. All at once, I had a new beginning for the first chapter, and with it, a new sense of where I was going and why I was going there. My bristly companion was suddenly purring and eager, both soothed and enlivened by the fact that I was finally doing something it liked.

What had changed? There is nothing in my book that relates directly to what Delany was talking about. It is not about racism. It certainly isn’t science fiction. It doesn’t take place during the time period he is mostly talking about. (The article, by the way, is well worth the read.) Yet somehow, despite the lack of relevance, something sparked. Some bit of current leaped a nineteen year gap and jumpstarted my always dubious creative process.

That’s an off-the-cuff metaphor, but it’s an apt one.

My admiration for Delany is nearly boundless. Indeed, I think he is one of the finest writers of the second half of the 20th Century. His voice was both clear and curious, earnest and playful. He wrote beautiful sentences. He took science fiction seriously while still regarding all labels warily.

The muse (and I use the term reluctantly) cannot be coaxed or coddled. She appears when she will, without warning or reason, in whatever motley garb the moment might supply—a blaze of light, a scrabbling at the window, the tickle of hairs rising on the back of your neck. Being divine in nature, she rarely speaks anything like sense. In fact, she often says nothing at all. But her mere presence, even fleeting and uncertain, can awaken that starburst of astonishment. You do know what you’re doing. Actually, you’re doing it already.

It has been said that the only way to court the muse is by doing the work at hand. Let her find you writing. I’m not sanguine about that. It seems to me, we often labor along without her help for long dark days or seasons. Writing when you are not inspired is the norm, not the exception, at least for me. But at the very least, if you are writing, then maybe you will be ready when she appears, if she appears. Try being in the right place at the right time. It couldn’t hurt.

Meanwhile, inspiration goes as abruptly as she comes. So when she shows, burn whatever oil you have to keep the lights on. Give her anything she wants. And write.

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17 thoughts on “Be Ready When She Comes

  1. GD Deckard says:

    I agree that Delaney is the greatest (we can debate what that means 🙂 ) sci-fi writer. I like his work because he is an artist at evoking scenes.
    Anybody happen to know what inspired him?

    Like

    • atthysgage says:

      I don’t know exacty. His life story is an interesting one, growing up middle-class, black, gay, highly educated. He was certainly well-read across a wide spectrum, everything from French poetry (he was translating Rimbaud at 17, the brat) to comic books.

      Liked by 1 person

      • GD Deckard says:

        Interesting, that poets compact so much imagery into few words and Delaney did that. Maybe, he is our first Sci-Fi epic poet?

        Like

  2. mimispeike says:

    ‘It has been said that the only way to court the muse is by doing the work at hand. Let her find you writing.’

    I’m writing when I’m not writing. I’m writing when I’m thinking, when I’m reading. I am not of the ‘Plant your butt in the chair and do it’ school.

    I find that reading, more than anything else, triggers solutions. Next useful is ‘putting two and two together’. Bits of information free-floating in my brain suddenly collide, and I see a way forward.

    I am exploring the voice-recognition note-taking function on my husband’s phone. Until I get the hang of it, I use sticky notes.

    The right place at the right time, for me, is anywhere.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Perry Palin says:

      Mimi,
      Your “process” sounds like mine. For me, every story, every scene has a long incubation period while I am framing it in my head, usually including key phrases. I do this all the time, while mowing the lawn, eating lunch, feeding the chickens, etc. As I approach a deadline I put it into paragraphs on the hard drive. When I get back to it later it rarely has ideas added; revision consists of removing a third of the words in the first effort and the story is better for it.

      No post-it notes for me. They get tangled and they stick to my clothes. Then some of them get lost. It’s easier to just remember the scene as I imagined it while cleaning the barn.

      Liked by 3 people

      • mimispeike says:

        Then you have a better memory than I do. I jot everything down, I don’t want to lose it. Words, phrases, whole new strategies. My novella is written, I’m working through Kris’ intense line edits to the first half, that’s what I’m on now.

        But a week ago it suddenly occurred to me that when the friendship between Zagi and d’Ollot (supposedly) breaks down, his evenings free, he is a lonely man. He will draw closer to the respectable widow who is is actually anything but respectable. I jot thoughts such as this all the time, them plunk them into my note files. Sometimes I come up with dialogue that I want to get down word for word.

        And to capture it word for word is crucial when I’m writing verse.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. atthysgage says:

    Someone from the hugely popular rock group Abba once said (I’m paraphrasing here) that when they were writing songs, they never wrote anything down or recorded bits of it until it was done. Their reasoning was that if it wasn’t catchy enough to remember, then it wasn’t catchy enough to be one of their songs.

    This is kind of silly in one way, but in another, not so dumb. I tend to take a lot of notes, most of which I never use. But I think taking the notes is part of the process anyway.

    Liked by 3 people

    • mimispeike says:

      That might be fine if you write a few simple lines and repeat and repeat them.

      I discard at least half, maybe two-thirds of my notes also. But I have plenty of good stuff that I don’t want to lose.

      An illustration teacher told us, in reference to research for work in progress and future pieces, grab everything. Dogs, cars, cakes, rip every magazine apart and file design ideas and photos especially, for later.

      I do the same with whatever phrases/ideas take hold of me in the course of a day. Nothing gets tossed until I decide it’s not, never will be, useful for me.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Perry Palin says:

        Writers have every different imaginable creative process, and if it works for them, I’m good with that. Mine is no better than anyone else’s. I met a successful writer who said he essentially writes one word at a time, and the process is like carving concrete with a plastic spoon.

        Liked by 3 people

        • GD Deckard says:

          LOL, Perry! Yup, I sometimes interview creative people for online newsletters and they often surprise me with the way they see the world.

          Like

  4. Pingback: Be Ready When She Comes – Speak More Light

  5. mimispeike says:

    Off point again, but I can’t resist. Disaster of the day: a mouse, running from our cats, ran down the bathtub drain and clogged it up. A disaster a day, that’s been my life lately.

    How’d the poor mousie get in the bathtub? Our cats carry them in there, to play with them where they can’t escape. Except down the drain.

    Like

  6. victoracquista says:

    The muse can be capricious. Having an open door policy to a spontaneous visit seems to work best for me. When I try to schedule a planned visit, the muse is often a no show.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Atthys: This was a great read! Especially appreciated the link to the referenced article. So much to discuss but I just don’t have the time nowadays. Also: love the selected pic of Delaney posing amongst his books. Inspiring stuff.

    Like

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