Beat that muse! Whip it, whip it good!

If you’ve been reading my posts up until now, with all the references to whipping and beating my muse, some of you may have concluded I’m some kind of sadist. This is not the case.

That said, I firmly encourage you to beat your muse. (Oh, and so there’s no confusion here, my muse is imaginary – no beating of real people or things condoned or encouraged!)

What do I mean? I mean that yes, I do believe there’s something to be said for inspiration, and indeed, this could be personified by a kind of muse. And sometimes the muse holds the whip, and other times, as a productive artist, you need to steal it back and take control.

Is my muse sometimes like a demon, demanding I write, giving me ideas completely out of the blue (a post-apocalyptic for a paranormal historical author?!) and demanding I write, write, write? Yes. Do I comply? So long as this isn’t the middle of the night, or I am otherwise too occupied with other things like formal occasions or events where writing is impossible, yes, I write. This kind of inspiration takes you on a wave, sometimes whipping you on beyond the point of exhaustion which you hardly notice in the heat of the moment, in the “zone,” these are truly amazing, exhilarating times. It takes you unexpected places, and as an artist, can create some of your best work.

But then there are the other days. When the muse is on holiday or otherwise occupied. Some artists and writers take this to mean they can’t write. They wait for inspiration, wait indeed on the whims or dictates of their muse. This can mean they write infrequently, inconsistently, thus perhaps decreasing their productivity.

This I won’t do. Here’s where I steal the whip, and beat my muse.

I am the kind of writer who loves to write, but I also want writing to be my career. And, like any other career, I can’t just do it “when I feel like it.” I’m the kind of person who dislikes excuses. Are there writers and artists who are just or more creative than I am without beating their muses? Possibly, probably, and all the power to them. But I have encountered more who are less productive, waiting on their muse instead of taking control, meaning it may have been years and they haven’t yet completed one manuscript or creation.

The creativity resides inside the artist – that’s what makes them an artist, not merely a conduit. Use what the muse gives you, and demand more, keep going, keep pushing. As a productive and professional writer and artist, your passion is also your career, which means sometimes it’s wonderful as you ride the crest of creativity, and sometimes it’s hard, slogging through re-writes, or stuck on middle scenes. But you do it, every day, because that’s your job. Different than the regular 9 to 5, but still your job.

My muse and I have an understanding: we work as hard as we can, and I demand more and more and more, until there is nothing left to give. And then, it’s my turn to refill, recharge the muse and me. Indeed, this will be the topic for a subsequent post on pampering the muse, as balance is both good and necessary. (Don’t beat the muse until dead – this is likewise bad, since pushing the muse is also pushing yourself.)

But until then, take charge of your creativity. Take charge of your muse and inspiration, and get to work. If necessary, beat the muse until it knows who’s boss, and you can experience the best of productivity and creativity. No more excuses, but work. More writing or creating means more practice, which makes you more productive and better at your craft. Not only does this make you more proficient, but it helps to relieve us all of the artist stereo-type which rarely befits or meshes well with a dependable, consistent professional.

What kind of writer or artist are you? Have you considered the benefits of beating your muse? Please, leave your comments below. I look forward to your contributions.

My Canadian is Showing, Eh? : Does National, Regional, or Cultural Identity Determine Our Writing Identity?

I am Canadian, darn proud of it, but does it mean I write “Canadian,” too?

Throughout language arts and English education – surmounted by a BA in English Lit, and sprinkled with pop culture understanding – I have a certain understanding of what Canadian literature is (supposedly). In the main, Canadian writers are supposed to be concerned with man vs the environment / land / nature kind of issues, brought on through our history surviving long, harsh winters and ‘taming’ the Canadian wilderness. [And if you write Canadian literature, please forgive this vast summing up of what can be a very rich, interesting field … just not one I write in.]

When I started recently writing a manuscript and discovered one of the elements I was concerned with was the very elemental man vs nature conflict, surviving a harsh environment, I thought, “uh oh, has my ‘Canadian-ness’ got me?” Which started me thinking: are we so defined by where and how we grow up and live that it’s inescapably going to appear in our writing?

This is a concern for me because I primarily write paranormal historical romances set in Regency Great Britain, a time I have obviously never experienced first-hand, and my handsome werewolf encounter meter is also registering zero. This problem is further confused by the fact that most of the publishing professionals I want to work with are further south, in the United States. Writing contemporaries, an American setting will sell better than a Canadian one – even if I’m more familiar with the Canadian, it’s more lovable, perfect, etc – because the American audience is larger, and will relate better to a setting they feel they can relate to. In order to succeed in my field, it sometimes feels as though I’m being asked to erase my Canadian identity.

Should I give up writing romance and start a long epic about my life at home, surviving a miserable winter, yet again, and hoping an ice age will signal a warm-up? Perhaps base the story in the setting I live in though few other than me could probably relate? Write what you know, they always say.

Yeah, maybe, but who would ever want to read that? Not me, that’s for sure. By the token “write what you know” taken literally, only contemporaries should ever be written because if we’re alive now (and barring the possibility of time travel) none of us have truly experienced or “known” a historical period. Only write from your immediate perspective and location: perhaps I could write about the oilsands or farming since this goes on around me?

This seems no less possible. And yet, isn’t there something of where we’ve been, where we reside always present in our voices? My opinions and experiences are based there: it’s why I’d believe one thing whereas someone living somewhere else – having been raised in a different location, different experiences, perhaps different culture – would believe otherwise. Whether I mean to espouse an opinion or not, writing is full of the writer’s opinions. Is the slave treated badly, or well? How is this viewed by the characters? Doesn’t that view reflect some recognition of the issue if not the writer’s own opinion? What is the position of men and women in the writer’s world? Isn’t this creation in part formed by the writer’s own experiences and notions?

For world creation – and writing something like historicals – certainly we can never truly have lived the period and understand it as a contemporary would other than through research and immersion in first and second-hand accounts (if anyone knows another method, time travel would be cool!). But perhaps we bring where we are, who we are, with us. My English gardens will always have a touch of my garden at home in them, my lakes remind me of the one I look at out the window. Perhaps I can never truly erase my Canadian-ness or identity as someone born and raised in Western Canada. I can change the setting of a contemporary or a historical to fit into more marketable terms, but because it’s written by me, won’t there always be an element of Canada there anyway?

As I go back to my man vs nature plot, I know in my heart it’s set somewhere in Canada, but since I name no names, I can let the reader imagine it’s somewhere they can better relate to. And I can recognize that perhaps there is some truth to the fact that we are heavily influenced by our environment and surroundings, such that they permeate everything we create, everything we are. Probably not such a bad thing, though, right?

What about you – do you feel your national or regional identity influence the way you write or read? Have you ever felt as though you were fighting an inescapable part of your identity when you write as though from elsewhere? In what ways does where you live – and have lived – influence your opinions and views? Please leave your comments – I’d love to hear your ideas on this.

Writers’ Conference Imperfections: How to get the most out of your writers’ conference and enjoy yourself entirely

If life were a constantly perfect utopia, we’d probably be bored anyway, so best to get over the wish for perfection, and get on to finding the perfect in the imperfect. Back onto writers’ conferences today, and how to enjoy yourself even when things aren’t going perfect, there are glitches, etc. After making the decision, spending the money, taking the time and effort to attend, don’t you want to get the most out of it? Here are a few problems you could encounter, and how to counter them and still have a fabulous, inspiring time.

  1. Cancellation or change of plans.

Things happen. Remember the whole ‘this is not a perfect utopia’? The first rule: don’t panic. If the event is cancelled, find out how you’ll be refunded, what actions you need to take next. If it’s postponed or changed, wait for further news and make a new decision based on this information. For the most part, any organization putting on the conference is going to be as distraught if not more than you if bad news comes even before the conference. So, have some empathy, take a breath, smile, and then act patiently.

  1. Bad food.

To be clear, I’m not very picky about the food, and do not expect a gourmet meal. Nor have I encountered outright bad food… it’s just a bit dull. If you love chicken, chicken, and more chicken, you’re set. If not, all is far from lost. First off, if the food isn’t too bad, does it matter so much? You’re there to fill your head with knowledge and experience, not stuff your belly with food, right? Another option is to handle food yourself; some conferences offer the option of including meals or not. Perhaps you’d be better off purchasing and choosing your own meals rather than opt into a full plan. If the meals are just part of the conference fee, some writers opt for the vegetarian meal even if they’re not strict vegetarians; this can offer variety. Otherwise, you can always live on granola bars from home and water, right?

  1. Poor quality workshops.

The fact is, not every workshop will appeal to you. Some will be aimed at writers in other genres, different levels of writing, different methods, etc. The variety is a good thing: how do you know for certain it isn’t your method or might not work for you until you try it or learn about it? Is there anything you can take from it? There will be workshops which are for you, which appeal and speak to / answer whatever questions perhaps you had. Be sure to watch for indications of level: you may be better off, for example, in “masters” type workshops than beginner, depending on your level of writing, mastery of craft, etc. Most conferences will allow you to leave the workshop quietly and go find another; don’t give up – just keep looking since the right one is out there, maybe just in the room down the hall.

  1. Mean people.

They’re everywhere! Shall I refer you back to the “this is not a utopia” comment? Fact is, while the majority of people you will meet will be happy and eager to learn, experience, network, etc, there will be some who will not. There will also be strange ones (although for writers, this is indeed perhaps a ‘strange for a given definition of strange and on some kind of sliding scale’). Enjoy the strange ones; often they’re very interesting and could inspire unintentionally. For the mean: don’t be one of them, and then politely move onto happier, friendlier faces. They’re waiting to meet you, and they are there.

  1. Accommodation issues.

A lot of conferences are held in larger facilities, and if they’re relatively large, there is some plan for accommodation. I shall refrain from mentioning any word of utopia, but so long as the issues aren’t too severe (ie: affecting your health, safety, or well-being) essentially the room is just somewhere to sleep after an exhausting day. If you do need to deal with the issue, do so politely and in the means established by the conference: sometimes you address the accommodation provider directly first, sometimes the conference organizer(s), though both probably should be informed what’s going on. Smaller issues (ie: cold presentation rooms, etc) can be dealt with simply by remembering to dress in appropriate but comfortable clothes, and often in layers which make allowances for differing temperatures.

  1. Conference overload.

This seems a bit odd to add, but I thought it fit since this can indeed be a hazard of conferences, especially if you’re eager and excited. When conferences spread over more than one day, expect to be exhausted, particularly if you try to attend every workshop, every event, etc. My personal advice: don’t.  Go to the conference, make sure you’re getting the most out of it and attend the workshops which appeal to you – I am in no way suggesting you shouldn’t! And, if you want to attend every workshop all day long, go for it. But, take breaks too and remember to take care of yourself. Take breaks. Drink lots of water. Stretch. Get fresh air. If there’s nothing you feel you MUST see in a workshop block, why not just take some time to digest what you’ve learned, perhaps take a walk, or get outside and explore the area a bit. The conference is supposed to help your writing; not leave you so mentally exhausted you can’t write for a week after getting back!

Well, those are the main difficulties I can think of, off hand. In general, I think the main thing to remember to pack is a positive outlook, empathy, and manners. This way when problems arise, they can’t possibly ruin your entire experience, you won’t ruin anyone else’s, and all in all, they can generally be solved much easier.

Have you encountered difficulties I’ve forgotten? How did you deal with them? What was the outcome?