The Muse (On Writing & Editing)

The 9 Muses dance with Apollo.

We take certain things for granted I think. Art especially, I guess. One reason I think Art is criticized is because children seem to be so good at it, predisposed to it in fact. The force of shame is a remnant of the Industrial Age, where men were supposed to do man’s work and woman were supposed to stay home. Thinking about it, this may only apply to the rich folks, poor people have to work all the time. Maybe it is this confused historical paradigm which has lead to Art being seen as such a base, sophomoric pursuit. All that is probably subject for another blog, what I want to writer about is the figure of the Muse.

In Homer and other ancient works the muse is invoked at the begging of the poem. This idea had carried into the present if you look close enough. Read a bit of the writers talking about their process and the Muse will come up.

What is the Muse? It is this strange sense one gets when doing Art, where you sort of turnover to this purely creative force, which can speak and act on its own. The writer can become possessed as it were, by the Muse, and stuff can sort of just bubble out?

Now as you play with this you begin to realize the Muse is a lot like you! Whouda thunk it? So this means, it likes what you like, chocolate, coffee, music, good smelling incense and candles. So you realize quickly that if you share some of your goodies with the Muse that the gift can kick it into high gear, in your own work.

Be cautious though. Don’t see the Muse as some hedonist that if you overdose on chocolate it’ll give you a Masterpiece. The Muse does not like to be fucked with. That means it appreciates a tight, closely followed schedule. If you really want it to show up for you, you’re best to show up everyday.

I also believe it is the Muse that requires as the extracurricular reading as well. For two points, one the pleasure principle we first discussed. Second though and more importantly it wants you to beware of certain works, so that you don’t go wasting its time trying to rehash the same old thing. The Music is a critic and rational. Sloppy business will begin to agitate it. This is connected to writer’s block I imagine, and it is the Muse which is doing the blocking.

The Muse is a free agent, and the business is good. It is best to recognize this and be very considerate of your Muse. When proper order is maintained a healthy relationship can occur. If its not found, things can be dangerous. A runaway Muse can be deadly, no more evidence of that is needed than the deadly history of Rock and Roll. Breaking up with the Muse, or worse fighting the Muse, all can have disastrous ends. Therefore it is helpful to recognize what you’re dealing with, and don’t be demanding. Offer the gifts to the gods and then write it as it comes!

Source for Nine Muses:

Snippets #34

James Wood-How Fiction Works


Nietzsche laments, in Beyond Good and Evil: “What a torment books written in German are for him who has a third ear.” If prose is to be as well written as poetry–the old modernist hope–novelists and readers must develop their own third ears. We have to read musically, testing the precision and rhythm of a sentence, listening for the almost inaudible rustle of historical association clinging to the hems of modern words, attending to patterns, repetitions, echoes, deciding why one metaphor is successful and another is not, judging how the perfect placement of the right verb or adjective seals a sentence with mathematical finality. We must proceed on the assumption that almost all prose popularly acclaimed as beautiful (“she writes like an angel”) is nothing of the sort, that almost every novelist will at some point be baselessly acclaimed for writing “beautifully” as almost all flowers are at some point acclaimed for smelling nice. (182)

Snippets #33


James Wood-How Fiction Works


If Macbeth’s story is one of publicized privacy, Raskolnikov’s story is one of scrutinized privacy. God still exists, but he is not watching Raskolnikov–at least, not until the end of the novel when Raskolnikov accepts Christ. Until that moment, Raskolnikov is being watched by us, the readers. The crucial difference between this and the theater is that we are invisible. In David’s story the audience is in some important way irrelevant; in Macbeth’s the audience is visible and silent, and soliloquy does indeed have the feeling not only of an address to an audience but of a conversation with an interlocutor–us–who will not respond, a blocked dialogue. In Raskolnikov’s story the audience–the reader–is invisible but all-seeing; so the reader has replaced David’s God and Macbeth’s audience. (146)

Snippets #32

James Wood-How Fiction Works

By thisness, I mean the moment when Emma Bovary fondles the satin slippers she danced in weeks before at the great ball at La Vaubyessard, “the soles of which were yellowed with wax from the dance floor.” By thisness, I mean the cow manure that Ajax slips in while racing at the grand funeral games, in Book 23 of the Illiad (thisness is often used to puncture ceremonies like funerals and dinners that are designed precisely to euphemize thisness; what Tolstoy calls making a bad smell in the drawing room).* (69)

Snippets #31

Mercia Eliade-The Sacred and the Profane

But we shall see that if every inhabited territory is a cosmos, this is precisely because it was first consecrated, because, in one way or another, it is the work of the gods or is in communication with the world of the gods. The world (that is, our world) is a universe within which the sacred has already manifested itself, in which, consequently, the break-through from plane to plane has become possible and repeatable. It is not difficult to see why the religious moment implies the cosmogonic moment. The sacred reveals absolute reality and at the same time makes orientation possible; hence it founds the world in the the sense that it fixes the limits and established the order of the world. (30)


New Segment! For Writers! Is this a sentence?!

So I have this interesting idea for a regular post. Each time I put up a new batch of words on a first draft, I am going to try and find a goofy looking sentence, or couple of sentences and then ask you brilliant reader/writer, IS THIS A SENTENCE? More than that, I would love to see how you would rewrite the sentence to make it a sentence. Do it. In the comments. It’ll be fun, maybe?

The inaugural sentence,from my work in progress, “Confession of the Werewolf”, which may or may not ever see the light of day, tell me, is this a sentence?

The cut felt deep and sent me into a rage I cannot describe, and as I came to attack him again I hit him with a number of blows and scraps, and I began to realize I was losing it, the wolf was going to kill this man, and I was going to lose the Chateau.

Snippets #30øren_Kierkegaard#/media/File:Kierkegaard_olavius.jpg

Soren Kierkegaard-The Rotation of Crops

Since boredom advances and boredom is the root of all evil, no wonder, then, that the world goes backwards, that evil spreads. This can be traced back to the very beginning of the world. The gods were bored; therefore they created human beings. Adam was bored because he was alone; therefore Eve was created. Since that moment, boredom entered the world and grew in quantity in exact proportion to the growth of population. Adam was bored alone; then Adam and Eve were bored en famille. After that, the population of the world increased and the nations were bored en masse. To amuse themselves, they hit upon the notion of building a tower so high that it would reach the sky. This notion is just as boring as the tower was high and is a terrible demonstration of how boredom had gained the upper hand.


Snippets #29

Adrian Chen-The Mystery of the Prospect Park Goat Heads

But most germane to my quest: The data indicate that Prospect Park has hosted an unusual number of decapitated goats over the past five years. Out of the 33 reports, nine were goat-related: seven goat heads and two decapitated goat carcasses. And out of those, half — three heads and one carcass — were discovered in Prospect Park. (Another report of an unidentified “large animal” with “whitish fur” discovered sans head in Prospect Park sounded to me like a goat, too.) Many of the reports include speculation that the goat heads related to religious rituals. But if any definitive conclusions have been reached, they are filed away in some other corner of the city’s bureaucracy.


Snippets #28

Etgar Keret- Suddenly, A Knock On The Door

A black man moved into a white neighborhood. He had a black house with a black porch where used to sit every morning and drink his black coffee, until one black night, his white neighbors came into his house and beat the crap out of him. He lay there curled up like an umbrella handle in a pool of black blood and the kept on beating him, until one of them started yelling that they should stop because if he died on them they might end up in prison. (76)

10 of the Best Books about Literature

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I got James Wood, “How Fiction Works” on the way from my public library, because of this article.

Originally posted on Interesting Literature:

10 great books for literature-lovers, from surveys of English literature to treasure-troves of trivia

Christopher Booker, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories. A monumental, weighty tome that shows how all fictional narratives from folk tales to novels and films follow essentially seven basic plot forms, such as ‘overcoming the monster’ (Beowulf, Jaws). Riddled with typos, but if you can put up with them, this book is illuminating and entertaining.

Gary Dexter, Title Deeds: The Hidden Stories behind 50 Books. An engaging book full of fascinating information about some of the world’s classic books, and the stories behind how they came to be called what they’re called.

Gary Dexter, Why Not Catch-21? This is an earlier book on the same theme as Title Deeds and just as much fun.

B. Ifor Evans, A Short History of English Literature. Now sadly out of print, this delightful little Pelican paperback…

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