My Muse, My Bully

The third year Novel Incubator partners are just two weeks away from beginning their third trimester. I can’t speak for the rest of my class, but it feels like getting out of bed and then having to place your feet on the cold floor. The first two trimesters have been difficult, exhausting and exhilarating, but we’ve faced those difficulties together. Our failures and missteps have taken place inside a room with a closed door where the shades are drawn, not center stage.

I’ve learned a lot from the Novel Incubator, but not as much as I have discovered about myself. My resistance, avoidance and stubbornness have stood on the top of my computer staring directly at me. They have attacked me whenever I’ve had to rethink or reimagine a passage. The usual insecurities slide in from time to time, but I’ve discovered the best way to deal with them is not to push them away. Otherwise, like small children, they’ll return with louder voices and stronger intentions. I can’t describe the wrestling matches I’ve had with my demons, but can tell you the only way to win was to surrender. Let go of what you intend and expect from this little maneuver of writing a novel to allow yourself a space at the edge of the page, barely touching the white space then listen, watch and, perhaps, you’ll be guided.

I discovered I didn’t have to be good, I only had to be myself. My only competitor was the one I have been competing with over a lifetime. It didn’t matter how much I knew, how many great books I haven’t read or whether I have a Kindle or not, it just required my truth in who and what I am. If I tried to fudge the experience or mask my vulnerability I’d be dead in the water. I had to come to the page everyday, like it or not, with me… warts and all. The thing of it is, writing is a mirror that knows when you’re telling the truth or not. I can sit for hours and paraphrase cliché after cliché, but it won’t get me inside the story. I can fill the page with luscious descriptions, but if they don’t mean anything to me they won’t mean anything to anyone else.

Writing is part muse, part bully. When the process is going well it feels like opening the veins of my wrists, letting the inspiration lead the way. I could close my eyes and write as though I’m taking dictation. On the other hand, when it’s not going well it feels as though I’ve been locked out of my home because I lost my keys. I don’t know how it actually works, but I think it begins with my intention. My desire is to tell the truth. Not the great universal truth, but mine as I know it, as I have experienced it. I can’t afford the safety of judgment because it places me further away from my work. If I’m judging I realize that’s just another form of resistance. Then, I pray I’ve left a window open at the back of the house to crawl into. It has to ring true, but more importantly, it has to ring true for me.

I can’t determine how anyone else will respond to my work, that’s not my job. In order to surrender to the process I have to be my first and only reader. I can’t decide how a reader might like or dislike the fourteen pages I’ve written to describe the sounds my Volkswagon makes, I have to be transported by those sounds enough to let them speak through me. Writing is exhausting, so I want the experience to carry me away even if it means knowing I have to walk up the mountain the very next day. The process has to be mine, and I have to be willing to love, honor and respect it.

I have transformed in these past 9 months. I’m home. I have been searching for home in every place I’ve ever lived, all 58 apartments and houses. I’ve been walking through my life like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, not knowing that home has always been within me. I knew it in my mind, but still couldn’t get there. The Novel Incubator, my new friends and the work has brought me back where I belong. I believe the process has written me, that’s the magical discovery… that’s my miracle.

5 comments

  1. Carol D. Gray

    “My desire is to tell the truth. Not the great universal truth, but mine as I know it, as I have experienced it. I can’t afford the safety of judgment because it places me further away from my work. If I’m judging I realize that’s just another form of resistance.”
    So true. I need to remember this. Thanks for sharing your truth.

  2. Hesse Phillips

    This completely overcomes the insecure smartassery that I feel so many of us (especially uh, me) like to resort to when we encounter the really tough questions. Thanks for a mature, thoughtful, fearless reflection on the process!

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