It’s our pleasure to introduce a new series that we’re doing in the middle of every month called Wondering Wednesday, where we pick a different topics that writers may wonder about, to discuss and ponder ourselves. Topics will range from tips and tricks, advice and questions, resources and inspirations, woes and worries, pantsing and plotting, processes and plots … You name it, we want to talk about it!
This week, we’re starting off with the basics by answering the question, “Why do you write?” We also wanted to provide a little backstory to our name.
You see, a Muse is an ancient creature, with origins cited as far back as the 1st century. Known as an inspirational goddess for literature and the arts, evoking the Muse was meant to help inspire your stories and make your words honeyed when before they were bland.
Just as ancient as these inspirational creatures — but without quotable evidence to back it up — is the age old debacle of trying to understand the creative psyche. How do creatives think? How do they create? What is their process? How are they inspired? The questions surrounding the creative process are endless, but so are the answers.
Here at Muse in Pocket, Pen in Hand, we don’t claim to be able to inspire you to write ballads and sonnets to rival those wordsmiths of old. We’re simple souls striving to tell the stories of our hearts, both for your pleasure and our own. And we don’t claim to have the answers to those age old, understanding-the-creative-process questions, either. But you take the time to read our work and offer feedback for us to grow.
In our latest blog series, Wondering Wednesdays, we’ll tackle a different question focused around the writing process in each post. We’d like to take the time to give back, to share what we do know and feel, in hopes that one day, our advice, our thoughts, our ramblings, might be the exact thing you need to invoke a Muse of your own.
This is a surprisingly hard question for me, and I won’t lie – sometimes, when I’m sitting at my computer or facing the blank page of a notebook or wrestling with a too-complicated plot in my mind, I’ll ask myself this question and think that maybe I’d be happier doing something else. I love art and drawing. I love knitting and sewing. I like DIY projects. I’m sometimes overly fond of walking on my treadmill while I’m watching New Girl. Could I do those things instead of writing? Absolutely. Would they make me happier? Well, they wouldn’t make me as frustrated, that’s for sure.
But yet, I find myself returning again and again to writing stories. I find myself looking at an abandoned house and wondering why its people left it. I’ll hear an odd turn of a sentence and will create a character in my mind. A foggy night inspires mysteries. When something horrible happens – criticism at work, the loss of a friend, a fight with a sibling or a parent, an argument with K – I always always always turn whatever it is into a story. I pick it apart, the way I’m feeling, the way I imagine the other person is feeling. I think about the way the world is reacting and how I see it reacting.
Here’s the thing. Could I be happier floating through life without knowing – without caring – about the horrible things that happen in the world? Definitely. But you know what? My life wouldn’t have meaning. I wouldn’t have a purpose to strive towards, a hope to help and change and better the world. And that’s why I write. Without writing, I’m sure I’d be happier a lot of the time. I wouldn’t ever be worried about whether my sentences make sense or if my characters are consistent or if Chapter 7 should really be Chapter 29 and omg, what about the pace? I wouldn’t have to sacrifice sleep or friend time or good weathered days to sit in front of a computer typing words that are terrible, hoping that one day they won’t be as terrible but not knowing for sure that will ever happen. I’d certainly be happier. But I’d be happier on the surface. My life wouldn’t have meaning or purpose. Because it’s through writing that I discover the way I see the world and the way I hope to see the world change. It’s in writing where I find magic and promises and life and connection.
And that’s why I write. Not because I think I’ll gain something from it, but because I’m always gaining something with it. Meaning, life, purpose, magic.
You know how, when you were growing up, some books managed to reach right into you and stay with you for a long time?
How some characters seemed so real and human you could almost imagine them sitting next to you as your best friend?
How well you could identify with the characters and empathise with their problems, support their decisions, and root for them all the way?
How some books made you laugh and weep but ultimately thankful that you lived through those stories?
How they moved you and altered you from within irrevocably? Opened your eyes to new things, different things, be they beautiful or ugly?
This is everything books and stories have made me feel. I am forever indebted to the books I read growing up, the stories I ingested — through books, TV shows, movies, even songs and verbally narrated tales. The characters were not only acquaintances, the stories not just worlds I got to live in for a while; the best stories I’ve read stayed with me long after I closed the book, and they have become an integral part of me.
To answer the question of why I write, this had to be explained first and foremost. Writing is my ikigai, my raison d’être, my reason for being. Why I write is a result of all the stories I’ve lived through. Quite simply, I want to pay it forward.
I want to make others feel the same way other people’s books have made me feel. I want to move them, to connect with them. I want them to find a friend in my characters, to find refuge in the worlds I create, to be able to relate to a scenario or emotion and realise that they aren’t alone in their experiences. I want to make them laugh and cry and understand themselves better.
It sounds lofty — and quite ambitious — but that’s just a more dramatic way of saying I want stories to connect us all as humans (if this isn’t dramatic enough already), to learn from and learn about one another so that we feel less alone and more empathetic. We give life to stories as writers and readers, but stories also give us life. And there’s nothing more beautiful and gratifying to me than being part of this.
I write because I love stories that grab you and won’t let go. There’s nothing better than reading late into the night when you can’t put the book down, or powering through a new series because you’ve gotten swept up in the world the author has created. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve books, whether it was reading as many as I could over summer vacation, or re-reading Harry Potter with a mug of hot cocoa on a snow day. I want to be able to do that for others, to give them that gift of time travel or teleportation, to see our world (or an entirely different world) through someone else’s eyes, to feel things deeply, and to escape for a little while.
As a historian, I’m also drawn to people and stories that have been forgotten, and so as a writer of historical fiction I always try to bring those people and time periods back to life as vividly as possible. I love making connections between our present and a seemingly distant past, because once you dig below the surface a little, you find that we’re really not all that different from our predecessors. I’m also a firm believer in the old adage that those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it. Historical fiction is one way that people can engage with the past, and I think really good historical fiction can – and should – be both informative and entertaining. (Or ‘info-tainment’, as the Simpsons called it.) If I can achieve any of these things with my writing I would be a very happy author.
The ironic thing is, I could easily write a book about this very topic alone, because there are just so many different reasons why I write. It changes, depending on my mood. Like now, for instances, I’m writing this response coming off an outlining high, so I’ve just spent the past, eh, four hours or so outlining a novel, when I’ve been struggling to figure out the plot for a solid few days. I feel like I’m on top of the world and I only get this feeling when I’m writing. Nothing else has ever made me feel this kind of elation. Or awe. How, in the span of afternoon, this entire world blossomed right in front of my eyes, like a flower I just had to stare at hard enough for it to open and show me its beauty, its secret, its scars; like it was always there, yet I just came up with it, inside my head. It’s the neatest feeling, truly.
I write because I never want to lose that feeling, even though it comes and goes, just like my muses do. There are days (weeks, months) where I don’t write at all and that feeling is exactly what I miss. I write in the hope that others will read my stories and feel the way that I do when I read: every emotion on the spectrum, with the intensity like I was experiencing what I’m reading about in real life, instead of at the hands of a paperback. I write to feel whole and because I love the stories this crazy brain of mine comes up with. I want to share them with the world. And the only way to do that, is to write.
Let us know why you write, or make art, or create whatever it is that inspires you! And we hope, as always, that the Muses are kind to you.