My Muse is limping.
I’ve only just noticed. I think she has probably been hobbled her whole life. Or at least since my teens. Perhaps even since my childhood.
Since the moment when what other people thought became more important than what I thought.
I didn’t know until I looked at her. I didn’t know until I began to think seriously about her, about where we are going together, about what we want. I think most of all she wants to be set free of expectations.
Other people’s expectations.
Or rather, the way I constrain her by caring what other people think.
All the ‘how tos’ and ‘SHOULDs’ and ‘OUGHTs’. All the maxims and formulas. The schemata and diagrams and plot arcs and exhortations about what ‘The Market’ is looking for next.
Most of all, the Rules. You know the ones. About what is valuable. What is Serious. What is High Art. What is Literary.
I’m ashamed of the art I make. I’m ashamed of the fact that I write fanfiction. I’m ashamed that I write about sex. And about romance. Because romance is tacky and pink and very definitely NOT Literature.
(Never mind ‘Pride and Prejudice’ being a romance. Never mind ‘Jane Eyre’ being a romance. Never mind pretty much every great novel there has ever been having a love story at the centre of it, because this is what we do as human beings – we fall in love. Barbara Cartland made it cheap. Barbara Cartland has a lot to answer for. Or perhaps it wasn’t her fault. Just the fault of the patriarchal publishing industry which packages ‘women’s fiction in pink, tacky covers and gives it all the seriousness of maribou feathers, in order to keep us girls in our place. But I digress….)
One day I was walking along, enjoying the chilly afternoon sun, head in the clouds, and a revolutionary thought came to me:
I can do what I want.
I don’t have to listen to anybody else.
I don’t have to care what anybody else thinks.
I can do what I want.
I cannot tell you how extraordinary that thought was, coming to me not long after I had offered a story to a friend for feedback, only to have it be ripped apart (in a loving way, of course) and then to be told how to rewrite it – as she would have done. I should have known better, of course. The story wasn’t cooked yet. It was still in that wobbly, puddingy state when it hasn’t yet set. Not ready to be seen by anyone else, in other words. And because I respect her opinion, because she is a SERIOUS writer, a Literary writer, I listened.
And my Muse has needed a wheelchair ever since.
(I note the use of the word SHOULD in that sentence earlier by the way. You see, I’m getting quite good at spotting them these days!)
But what would happen if I decided to disregard what THEY think. All those people out there whose opinion I value above my own?
What if I listened to my gut?
Medical scientists have discovered recently that there are more neurons, using more serotonin, in the human gut, than in the brain. That’s where the majority of your serotonin goes, in fact. That’s why we have what we call ‘gut feelings’.
Maybe I should listen to my gut. And give my poor, battered Muse a bit of physiotherapy. Perhaps I can set her free from all the OUGHTS and find out what she wants to do. Maybe we could have a bit of fun together, the first unrestrained fun we’ve had since I was writing Blakes 7 fanfics when I was about 8!
I’m not expecting to write the Great Novel that way. But perhaps I could just write MY novel.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to throw out all of my ‘How to Write’ books, so I can discover how I write.