Describing how you find your muse in our mechanistic and cynical world is a tough one, ultimately because there isn’t a valid vocabulary to describe complex psychological or esoteric ideas. For instance, I’m driven by the muse, like many authors, but they’re not actually the stories I would always choose to write. Left to my own devices, I would happily write mostly female-orientated fiction. Mystery, occult and psychological thrillers. Hence my background as a girls’ comic writer and creator of Misty. So I see the muse as a force that’s separate to me, and on occasion, in conflict with myself.
Also, we’re all rather wary of acknowledging our internal dialogue or what Christians might even see as ‘possession’. Some fundamentalists call that inner voice the voice of the devil. Psychologists might regard it as part of a psychological disorder. We are socially conditioned to believe that the answers lie outside ourselves – in ‘religions of the book’ (the Bible, the Koran, the Talmud) or in the wisdom of psychology or even psychiatry – rather than within ourselves. The Gnostic path (self knowledge) is rarely encouraged or chronicled today. People tend to make an exception with the inner voice of writers or artists. Their eccentricity is largely tolerated. But anyone else is likely to be seen as very peculiar –and runs the risk of being locked up – if they talk about inner drives and inner voices. Even so, it is the basis of our intuition and so much more.
So I’m reluctant to go too far into what might be seen by the cynical as ‘weird shit’. In any event, everyone’s life journey and methodology will be different. To find your muse, you simply have to take plenty of time out to focus on her (she is female by definition) and to listen to what she has to say. Rest assured, she will find you. It doesn’t have to be strange or magical, if that makes you uncomfortable. Chances are she’ll introduce herself in a way that you’re okay with. And I promise you: she will give you a clearer sense of writing direction and inspiration than any number of self-help books and articles on writing. Including this one.
I’ve heard successful authors talk about how they struggled through numerous drafts over several years before they were happy with their final book. I would submit this was because they weren’t totally in touch with their muse and therefore not following her directions. They might not even be aware of, or have any interest in her, believing that the story came from within themselves and not from some other source. But recognising and acknowledging the power of the muse really does speed up the writing process.
In my case, back in the ‘90s, I did some rather colourful, esoteric ‘trance work’ with occult friends and got to meet my muse. This is a post on the art and craft of writing, not an esoteric memoir, so I won’t elaborate on it in any detail. In Christian terms, it would probably be described as ‘possession’. In New Age terms, it would be called ‘channelling’ – although the experience was far from ‘pink and fluffy’. I dread to think what a psychologist would call it. I don’t believe either term adequately describes what happened. Like I say, this isn’t the place to debate it.
What is relevant, however, is that she introduced herself with the surprising and rather challenging words, ‘I’m not a writer. I’m a poisoner.’
That really wasn’t what I wanted to hear. This was certainly no wish fulfilment fantasy. The term ‘poisoner’, I subsequently discovered, is a biblical one and was a common term for witches in the Middle Ages. The real line in the Bible is actually, ‘Thou shalt not suffer a poisoner to live.’
It was an emotional experience, which later formed the basis of two very successful talks I gave at London’s Psychic Questing Conferences. Then I stopped, because I didn’t want to turn a very personal event into a floorshow.
But it certainly inspired a story – several, in fact. Sha, a three-volume series with artist Olivier Ledroit, published by Editions Soleil/Delcourt. Torturer, with artist John Hicklenton published by German punk publisher Extreme (from the band Die Ärzte). Black Siddha (Judge Dredd Megazine). Plus Dave Maudling’s ghostly mother (muse) in Read ‘Em And Weep. So, if you follow your muse, chances are she’ll keep you busy.
More significantly, the muse’s statement made sense of my story direction, which had often baffled and even concerned me from time to time. Why I had to create comics like Action and 2000AD. Why my stories were so strongly anti-establishment. Why I was never drawn to ‘normal’ stories. Why I turned down several opportunities I had to write superhero stories, which all my peers were doing and were clearly more financially rewarding than British comics. Why I loathed the very idea of writing superheroes. Why, when I wrote ‘straight’ stories, devoid of my usual subtext, they invariably failed.
It was because they were not my path. It was a relief to understand this. ‘Poisoner’, for me, means a writer of sedition. A whistleblower on society. Witches, practitioners of the old peasant religion, were the traditional enemy of the oppressors of the ordinary people, the Christian ruling elite responsible for the mass-murder of the Burning Times in early modern Europe. My muse sees the rulers of today’s society as the inheritors of that elite. They are the Adversary, ‘the other side’.
I’d love to know more about how and why muses work and what they really are. But I suspect everyone’s meeting with the muse is different. That’s if they decide to go that far down the rabbit hole – and most won’t. Where my own experience is concerned, it led to some powerful esoteric events at locations in Southern France that the muse compelled me to visit. These events convinced me their reality was objective rather than subjective and they later formed part of the subject of my Psychic Questing talks. But, otherwise, that’s all I can tell you about her.
I don’t think modern society has the correct vocabulary to identify and describe the internal psychological forces that secretly motivate so many of us. In fact, I don’t think it has any positive vocabulary for them, at all. What I’ve just related would normally be dismissed as a ‘complex delusional system by someone with an over-active imagination’. Any objective evidence – and there is some – would be dismissed or ignored. Pretending the muse doesn’t exist as a force or an entity, recognised and personified from at least the time of Ancient Greece as the inspirational goddesses of literature, science and the arts, is what one might expect from today’s gatekeepers who believe they are so much wiser than our ancestors.
Normally, the gatekeepers will have psychological explanations, such as catharsis or the influence of mentors or family. But they don’t hold up nearly so well as an explanation for writer and artists’ inspiration. My inspiration certainly didn’t come from family, personal circumstances or school. My inspiration to write came from somewhere else, completely unknown to me, and I was mainly self-taught. I submitted my first story to BBC radio when I was ten and even then I felt I was running late and should have written it when I was nine. My muse was clearly in a hurry.
Whether your muse takes on a personality, or remains in the shadows of your mind as a nagging need to create, she is out there waiting to meet you, probably in some unique guise. The only skill needed to find her is to listen to her. But it probably won’t happen in a blinding flash. That’s far too ‘Hollywood’, alas. It’s a process that could take a few dedicated months. That was my experience. It can be tough when there are so many distractions and demands from family, work and friends that make communion with the unknown seem highly indulgent. But that’s a choice you have to make. I’ve already described some of the benefits, but top of the list would be peace of mind. I’m not working for comics or publications I loathe, for instance, as so many writers seem to do. I know exactly where I’m going and what I’m trying to achieve in my work.
Your muse may not be ‘subversive’ like mine. It may well have an entirely different and safer agenda that will find favour with the gatekeepers – in which case I really envy you. You’re in for a much easier time. Consider P.G. Wodehouse, who wrote those happy Jeeves stories, decade in, decade out. Assuming he was driven by the muse to write them – to gently mock the ruling classes and entertain people – he had a much easier gig than most writers. By comparison, mine is demanding, single-minded and intolerant of the Adversary. To put it mildly!
Thus, I recall once buying a book on New Age angels, for research (honest). I was woken up at three o’clock in the morning and ordered by my muse to throw this ‘disgusting garbage’ out of the house and into the dustbin. She wouldn’t let me get back to sleep until I did. If you consider what angels did to people in the Old Testament times, you can see her point of view. Why we see angels, responsible for mass murder, as positive entities today is an indication of just how Orwellian our society truly is. How far it’s controlled by the Adversary. Similarly, I once read several of Neil Gaiman’s beautifully written Sandman stories, but had to stop because my muse considered their content or subtext to be coming from the same source as the angels. It was a pity because I was rather enjoying them. But, to her, they were on ‘the other side’.
For my muse, words have no value in and of themselves they’re only useful as a tool for sedition. Hence why she says, ‘I’m not a writer.’ Of course, I’m the one who lives in the real world and I have to string the sentences together, but it’s fair to say that beautiful prose has little interest for her; she generally sees it as ‘purple prose’ that often gets in the way of subtext. In this view she is not alone – Orwell’s rules of writing include: Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Every story I write (and read or watch) has to satisfy the criteria of the muse. I was commissioned by a film production company to write a treatment about an early 20th century prostitute who was part of a famous drugs scandal. Her final, fictional fate was up to me. It would have been inconceivable for her to have suffered the usual typical Bitter Harvest fate and be left dead in the gutter or imprisoned in the workhouse. That would have been a deal-breaker for me. Instead, she became empowered, retired from ‘the game’, and ended up owning and running a successful teashop. The opposite of the usual Christian/State finger-wagging message about paying the Wages of Sin. My muse was particularly enthusiastic about my treatment and its ending. As a result, I remember writing it in a kind of white heat.
My Action comic also appealed strongly to the muse. Inspired by her, I based the layout of Action on the layout of The Sun newspaper. Play the Adversary at their own game, I/the muse chuckled to my/herself.
Dave Maudling’s Aaagh! in Goodnight, John-Boy is in the same vein as Action. It stars a great white shark that eats the President of United States after Airforce One ditches in the Pacific! It also features black footballers and German soldiers as heroes. This was unheard of at the time. Goodnight, John-Boy was also written in a white heat.
No scene sums up the character of my muse and how she feels about the Adversary as well as this example. (Written with Kevin O’Neill, who must have a kindred spirit to my muse. Hence our various collaborations.)
Spoiler Alert. We join Dave as he’s being interviewed on live television by Quentin Cowley of Newshound. Quentin prefers the middle-class educational magazine Homework to the comic of the streets Aaagh!
Quentin held up the number one issue of Homework. The free gift was still attached to the front: a plastic protractor. There were cover lines on the magazine. ‘Make your own school report. How to revise over Christmas.’
‘Let’s compare it with a periodical that reinforced moral values. This is the number one issue of Homework that I swopped with a young viewer for a Newshound reporter’s clipboard.’
Quentin went through its glossy pages. ‘A magazine every responsible parent recommended. It was rich in mentally nourishing ideas.’ He carefully enunciated every word, as if he was talking to the deaf. ‘A paper university.’
‘I remember it well.’ said Dave. “Treasure Island in Latin begins inside.”’
…Quentin picked up the copy of Aaagh! again. ‘It compares with this appalling, illiterate, juvenile delinquent comic that has been pumping out its vile content, like raw sewage, onto the children of Britain.’
‘A simple “I don’t like it” would suﬃce,’ said Dave.
Quentin flicked through the comic and stopped at an image of a furious Black Hammer attacking racist thugs on the terraces. ‘A comic that actually encourages soccer hooliganism,’ he announced.
That was it. Criticizing the Black Hammer. His hero. Dave bit through his liquorice pipe.
Quentin held the comic up for the cameras. ‘On behalf of all responsible parents, I feel a duty to do this to your disgraceful publication.’ He precisely tore Aaagh! in half.
‘I see,’ said Dave.
He picked up the copy of Homework. ‘On behalf of the bored kids of Britain, I’d like to do this.’
To Quentin’s horror, he ripped it in half. ‘Goodbye, “Boyhood of Patrick Moore”. Goodbye “Cecil Rhodes, Africa’s Saviour.” Goodbye “Cutaway of a stapler”.’
…Dave quoted imaginary scenes from Homework as he continued to rip it to pieces. ‘Goodbye “Your Royal Betters”… “How the Bible was brought to hotels – a drawer-by-drawer guide”… “Africa: lining your pockets made easy. How to strip-mine a country. What every boy should know.”’
‘You ignorant oaf!’ snarled a livid Quentin and took a savage swing at Dave.
All this keeps my muse very happy. Finding – or rather recognizing – your muse gives you tremendous creative energy and a strong sense of purpose and direction. I hope you find yours.
If you have no luck, don’t worry, there’s another way that could bring her out into the open: Collaborations. I’ll talk about that in 2019.
More gold from this fantastic series.Your approach (and mentality) is so unlike the usual tradesman approach of most (all!) writing guides. It’s really appreciated.
Also, I would love to see a ‘recommended reading list’ blogpost down the line.
Good idea, Michael. I’ll keep it in mind. I mention various books as I go along, but the only writers guide I’d recommend is McKee’s Story. There are others, of course, but too many angles on things can be confusing. I’d also recommend doing a writer’s correspondence course or workshop. Not because the one you find will necessarily be any good or relevant, but because the interaction is valuable, even if you don’t actually like what they say. It prepares writers for dealing with editors which can be traumatic the first time. And the second time! Especially if you don’t agree with them. So it’s best to get the ‘baptism of fire’ out of the way asap in order to develop an essential thick skin.
Re: the searches in Soithern France.
Did these lead to writing the Cathar stories, in Slaine?
They did indeed. And more stories besides. Psychic quests are never as clear cut as fictional versions, but two things emerged where the Cathars were concerned.
Firstly that they sustained a belief in reincarnation and the medieval version were not entirely the good guys we assume they are today. Secondly the modern day Cathars – like Heaven’s Gate – are anti-life like their medieval predecessors. Earth is Hell, according to them and therefore this viewpoint encourages suicide cults like Heaven’s Gate.
Eye opening stuff. I haven’t heard the inner voice described this way before now. looking back on my creative work and the urges I get to do more, my muse may well be subversive too. Thanks for broadening my understanding.
“Suffer not the witch to live.” Now, that is interesting. I looked up Exodus 22:18 in the Brenton text of the Greek old Testament, published in 1851, and the quotation is “You shall not permit a sorcerer to live”
I’ll write an e-mail to you later about it since I don’t want to distract from the main topic