I fought the Muse and the Muse Won …

Nine Muses card by Emily Balivet https://www.etsy.com/listing/125709167/nine-muses-greek-goddess-art-deco?ref=landingpage_similar_listing_top-1

I’m building on a blog post from Unbolt Me here in which Tony Single is discussing the question of what the writer’s muse really looks like, and whether you can create your own, and whether you should trust the @#$%^&** muse anyway. I claimed in the comments thread that in the past I never got past the idea of the nine muses of classical myth. I claimed that the idea that I might have my own muse, a sort of personal creative guardian angel, hadn’t yet formed. Actually, that’s inaccurate. My muse was forming years and years ago and I throttled it for personal reasons.

Yet this week, again, it is re-forming.

To understand why I tried to kill the muse, you have to go with me back to college. I am reading Adrienne Rich’s poem “Snapshots of a Daughter in Law,” the lines of which have echoed in my head ever since, in which the young writer hears the ‘angels (her muse) chiding’ her:

“Only a week since They said: Have no patience.

The next time it was: Be insatiable.
Then: Save yourself; others you cannot save.”

In my mind, as an undergraduate reading Rich’s work, I thought ‘yes, yes, the poetry is good, but Rich’s husband killed himself after she left him. Her liberation killed him, Her muse killed him.’

The muse was telling her to destroy her family. But maybe I misunderstood.

Rich wrote of the struggle to be a woman of letters while caring for small children, one of the great paradoxes of our age, since there’s no reason these days you can’t be a woman of letters and a mother, it’s just the hour-to-hour process of doing it is so damn difficult and intimidating, it feels like sitting in the landing craft the night before D Day waiting to land on Omaha Beach. From the same poem, Rich encapsulates:

“Reading while waiting
for the iron to heat,
writing, My Life had stood–a Loaded Gun–
in that Amherst pantry while the jellies boil and scum …”

Back then, Adrienne Rich was telling me my life and it terrified me. Right away, in seconds, I rejected Rich’s rejection of domesticity. I asked, ‘how can we abandon the men and children to get time to ‘actualize’ ourselves; men and children do horrible things and become horrible things in our absence?’

Details on that will have to wait for another blog post.

Her muse was too close to my own, with whom, back then, I had written a novel about adultery which I then foolishly showed to my family, who luckily misinterpreted it as being about my parents’ divorce. But my mother-in-law saw through the hoax.

“This book isn’t very good,” she told me, giving me the eye of accusation. In her view it was worse than not good. It was subversive.

“That’s it,” I thought, terrified of what family and others might do to me if the rest of them realized what the muse and I were cooking up. “Now I will stuff my muse and all the impulses that led to the adultery novel in the secret bag, which I will hide under the dresser.” For decades. I did get away from the marriage and among other things my original mother in law, ultimately. But that muse was never allowed back out again. I had conflated her voice with all the disasters of those years.

But now, the idea comes to me: If I let the muse out again, now that I am (I hope) a stronger, different person, what would the muse tell me to do say or do this time? What would he or she look like?

More on the muse to follow. I’m wondering: how many other writers think about the muse?

Gulf Coast Contest for Short Prose and link to a how-to on writing short

Gulf Coast Prize for Short Prose

Prose can include fiction, essay, creative non-fiction, or prose poem.  Deadline has been extended to August 31st, 2018, according to editor Justin Jannice.

Your entry(ies)  must be less than 500 words. You can enter as many as three pieces.  Entry fee:  $18, and includes a year’s subscription to the magazine.   First prize, $1000 with $250 going to an unnamed number of honorable mentions.  Judge will be Laura Van Der Berg, author of The Third Hotel and Find Me.

Since I used to live in Houston, I thought this was a great opportunity.  But I pause at the entry fee — though contests always have had entry fees — and then I realize the real kicker.  I don’t think I’ve written anything less than 500 words.  In the last week, trying to write short, I wrote three pieces of less than 800 words, but under 500, no, I couldn’t come up with something that short.

I wonder what would happen to my story “Poochie Pie” if I cut about 200 words of its 700?

Does anyone else have trouble writing short?  OPEN: a journal of arts and letters just published an ironically long piece by Kent H. Dixon on how to write short, and it’s about as helpful as anything I’ve seen on the subject.  Honorable mention to Dixon on the part about dandelions.  If you want to read that part first, however, you’ll have to skip to the end.

Let us call this Day One of the Query Challenge … and should you pay to submit your work?

Or day 2.  I managed to make two submissions yesterday afternoon and so, if today is day 2,  now I am ahead!  The goal will be 15 submissions before September 22; however, I am secretly wondering if I can get higher.

Making these subs means getting used to Submittable, which they didn’t have back before I was teaching, ten years ago when I used to send stuff to literary magazines by mail, or sometimes email.  Seems like every small press uses it.

It’s a help, but a hinderance.  A lot of places charge money to submit!!!

In the old days, the creed of the freelance writer was you never pay anyone for anything.  But in the modern day, I guess, things are lightening up?  Anyone have an opinion?


How much would you sacrifice to get more time to write?

Yes, you need to forget about washing those dishes.  It’s just not that important.

The other day I heard someone around here remark:  “Back before we had the internet, we had so much free time … ” Yeah, but actually we didn’t.

I once read a book about financial management in which the writer asked the reader:  if you had unlimited time, money, creativity, and support from your family, what would you do?

I thought to myself, “well, what wouldn’t I do? Forget the others, what would I do if I had unlimited time?

But as I’ve considered this I’ve come to see that the problem isn’t that I don’t have time for writing as much as I don’t make time for writing.  Another anecdote I once saw was an interviewer coming to a successful author’s house and seeing a pile of dishes in the sink.  “Oh, I don’t worry about those when I’m writing,” the author said.

“Point taken,” I thought. I then learned not to use the quiet hours when I should be writing for something I could do when people were awake.  Don’t do dishes during the baby’s nap time.

Time for writing can be found in many ways.  I have always been one to write first thing in the morning, from five to seven or eight a.m.  Other people write late at night, on weekends, on lunch hour, on writer’s retreats.  There’s got to be a way!

So what would you pay to get that time?  Would you get up early, stay up late, let your house get messy, take a job with shorter hours, tell people you can’t go (where ever) because you’re writing, say “no” to people who want you to volunteer for stuff, sacrifice your vacation?

Recently I’ve been reading about Sylvia Plath, one of the great poets of the 20th century, who tragically killed herself at age 30.  That way and age of death is not very inspirational to me.  But what is inspirational to me is the lengths she was willing to go to in the quest for her dream of writing.  She would enter every contest, submit stories over and over, work long hours, and be poor in order to devote herself to her writing.  She submitted 45 stories to Seventeen before being published.  She didn’t have a lot of time, as it turned out, but by God she used what she had.  I’m willing today to clear the decks of this summer, and put writing first for the next couple of months.  How about you?

Go write something.  I forbid you to read even one more blog post or clickbait story … write something and then submit it.  That’s what it’s all about.