Stephen Also Said


So, Progress.

My editing slowed down in book 2 (Entangled LEREs) of the Incomplete States series. I blame it on three things.

  1. Life distractions
  2. A poorly written chapter
  3. Mischievous muses
  4. Misophonia

Life distractions happen. Part of it this week was enduring my normal descent into the dark troughs of my being. It’s a regular thing. I scowl, swear, and endure it, hoping to emerge as a perkier and happier person on the other end (which I do) while trying to reduce the dark side’s impact (which I barely manage to do) and reduce the time I’m affected (which I don’t do). I shrug. It’s over until the next episode.

The poorly written chapter is another matter. The first time I read the chapter, “A Dark and Stormy Night”, I finished confused about what I’d read. I immediately suspected that it’s probably not good when the author doesn’t understand what they wrote. A second reading was required, and then a third to drill down into why I was confused and what I can do about it. Two days were then spent on fixing it before I continued.

During that period, I reckoned that the changes were not significant but that once I’m done editing the four books, I’ll have a complete set of the first draft. Then I’ll edit and revise it again.

I had resigned myself to no writing like crazy while I’m editing the series. The muses, though, have become restless and bored. That makes them mischievous. Out of this, they’ve begun tossing out novel suggestions. They often use, “Wouldn’t it be fun to write,” as their opening prelude.

Yes, I enjoy hearing their ideas. It’s stimulating and exciting, which makes it harder for me to rein the muses in and gently tell them, “I’ll keep that in mind.” See, the muses always want me to drop everything else and start pursuing their idea right now. I don’t want to discourage them, but I need to be disciplined and finish this series and publish it first. This is growth and maturity for me, because just two years ago, I would have let the muses ride me like a horse and answer their spurs.

Misophonia (in my terms, based on my limited knowledge) is a strong emotional reaction to sounds. I have such a reaction to people smacking their lips while eating, or walking around humming and singing to themselves in pubic places like coffee shops. I’ve always blamed Mom for this behavior in me because I thought I’d learned my reactions from her. Mom was always snapping at us about the way we ate or chewed our gum, or for humming, turning pages loud, or making clicking noises.

As I do with things that bother me, I sought information and stumbled across misophonia. That linked page states, “The latest research suggests it is sensory processing issue within the brain. Misophonia elicits immediate negative physiological responses to certain sounds that most people don’t seem to notice. This sensitivity can have an adverse effect on a person’s life causing problems with activities of daily living.”

Well, shucks, that’s exactly what I endured this week. Twice, a particular woman came in, sat down at the table next to me, and hummed and sang to herself. Except for when she spoke, she hummed, even when others spoke to her. She hummed whether she was sitting, standing, or walking.

It drove me nuts. I recognized that it’s not her being inconsiderate, and that murdering her or growling at her wouldn’t help anything. As I processed her sounds, I realized this could be a coping mechanism. It could be subconscious.

It still annoyed me. I struggled to cope. I looked for somewhere else to sit (but also resented that would need to move because of her). 

So, I didn’t cope well, and it affected my editing. She’s not here today. I’ll shrug it off while researching how to cope.

Now, I’m ravenous for lunch and I’m done writing like crazy editing like crazy, for at least one more day.

Guidelines for A Relationship with Your Muse(s)

I’ve been coping with my muse(s) for years. I’m not certain how many I have. I may have one muse with shape-shifting skills and multiple personalities, or a horde with very distinct skill sets and ideas. I suspect my muses are both of these ideas.

Muse(s) can be fickle. Having employed some mechanisms that helped me get along with my muse(s), I thought I’d compile some brief, general guidelines. These are recorded to help me in the future, but since I’m typing them up, I thought sharing them might help others when they’re dealing with their muse(s).

  1. Shelter your muse(s) like kittens, puppies, kits, and fledglings. They’re cute, tender, and impressionable, and need to be fed, protected, and nurtured. They depend on you for everything.
  2. It helps to act like you’re handling a fourteenth-century Ming dynasty vase when you’re conversing with your muse(s). They’re rare, fragile, and irreplaceable.
  3. Regard your muse(s) like they’re famous geniuses such as William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Stephen Hawking, Jackson Pollock, Maya Angelou, or Frank Lloyd Wright. They have a lot to offer, and you should pay attention.
  4. Behave with your muse(s) as you would with family that you enjoy having around, and respect and interact with your muse(s) as you do with family that you must love because they’re family, but you have no idea why they do the things that they do.
  5. Follow your muse(s) like they’re a famous performer, like Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Mick Jagger, Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Beyonce, or Kanye West, or a movie star like Jimmy Stewart, Sir Lawrence Olivier, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Dwight Johnson, Jerry Lewis, Casey Affleck, or Bruce Campbell.
  6. Care for your muse(s) like a favorite elderly pet who seems to be fading.
  7. Obey your muse(s) like you’re a child and they’re your parent(s).
  8. Nurture, protect, and teach your muse(s) like you’re their parent(s) and they’re your child, perhaps a two-year-old, or a sixteen-year-old. They could be both from moment to moment. Part of the fun is understanding which one they are.
  9. Interact with your muse(s) like they’ve been convicted of being a serial killer who escaped from prison and is standing in your bedroom.
  10. React to your muse(s) like they’re the monsters under your bed. You’re not sure if they’re real, but you keep hearing noises, and it’s really, really dark.
  11. Embrace your muse(s) like a bolt of lightning during a thunderstorm. It can be painful and illuminating, but rewarding, if you survive.
  12. Finally, have fun with your muse(s). Pretend that you’re all celebrating graduating high-school and becoming an adult by getting drunk.

Employing these simple strategies have rewarded me with the same sort of wonderful relationship that I have with a stranger that I bump into at a parade. With a little observation and effort, you can have the same kind of relationship.

Good luck!

Embedded Plans

A friend asked my wife, “Is Michael always so affable?”

I laughed, of course. The friend was encountering social Michael. He’s affable, but he has a very short half-life.

To her credit, my wife said, “Mostly. He has his moods. He’s okay as long as I don’t disrupt his writing time. Then he turns into a bear, and it’s not Yogi or Boo-Boo.”

My writing day doesn’t begin until about eleven A.M. I walk before my writing session as part of my process. When I’m writing, I target scenes to measure progress, and not word count. I’m frequently able to think about where I left off, and then resume writing it in my mind as I walk. When I get in and sit down, I usually know what I want to write.

This doesn’t always work because the muses have their own plans. I try to be flexible, but it’s a struggle. I like having plans. Plans provide me with structure and illusions of control.

When the muses throw me off with their reveals, I often need to stop to see where they’re taking me. Since my writing time is precious, I’ll frequently go back and edit what I’ve written when that happens. That keeps me engaged in writing while giving my subconscious mind the opportunity to meet with the muses and hash it out. (There’s not actually any hashing out. The muses know where they want to take the story. It’s up to me to do as told. I like to say we’re hashing it out because it gives me the illusion of it being a collaborative effort.)

My writing session only lasts about two and a half hours. Plans are embedded around it, especially walking. Walking is my number one form of exercise, and it helps me process information.

My walking plans change by season. That’s not just spring, summer, autumn, and winter, but the embedded seasons of hot, fucking hot, cold, fucking cold, wet, and smoky.

We’re into the fucking hot season now, defined by jokes like, “Look, the temperature has dipped. It’s ninety-seven.” The forecasted highs range between ninety-nine and one hundred two for the next ten days.

For all the seasons, I break my walking down into bite sized goals. My overall walking goals remain about twenty thousand steps and ten flights. During the FH season, I try to make fifty-five hundred steps before I start writing at eleven. After I write, I then target ninety-one hundred steps. That gives me four miles by three P.M.

After that, plans are flexible and adjusted according to what else the day requires. I frequently end up walking about two and a half miles in the evening, leaving the house about eight forty-five and returning an hour later. Because we live in a hilly area, my flights go up to about sixty one these days. (I can do that during this season because we have more hours of daylight. This doesn’t work as well when it’s cold and dark, so I adjust.)

For all that, they are just plans. They rarely survive reality. In the end, I ride the wave of the day, seizing moments and narrowing my focus as needed.

Okay, today’s therapy is finished. Time to write like crazy, at least one more time.

Another Joan Said

I understand this feeling. Why, then, do I feel responsible for the quality of the words?

Well, because I’m the filter. The vision and story is being told, seen, and experienced as the muse guides me, but I ultimately flutter over the words, periods, commas, and all the other elements that writers must endure to get the story out.


The Dancer Dream

I heard violin music. It was a classical song. I knew it but I couldn’t attach a title to it.

With a personal POV like a camera was perched just over my right shoulder, I turned in search of the sound. The view around me was like I looked at the world through a misty gray light gel.

A woman came toward me, brunette, with creamy white skin, and large, dark eyes. Her hair was pulled into a tight bun. I could only see her from her bare shoulders up.

As she approached me, she sang, “I am here for you, I am here for you,” in a tone and rhythm that matched the violin tune.

Her eyes on me, she passed while still singing, turning away but then turning back to look at me again, still singing, with a hint of smile. I saw more of her. She’s dancing, I realized. She’s a ballerina, I saw, and then awoke.

Cold Coffee, Hot Writing

It was an exhausting, satisfying, and intense writing session today. All those muses who reside in the apartments of my being were silenced, except one. They knew exactly what I was to write, and one was the designated director.

Barely able to keep up, I hit that flow. The story’s complexities and this path that I’m following demanded that I first edit the two chapters I’d finished yesterday. Then, the muse dictated, start this chapter, and then another, and so on, until five chapters were being written in parallel. Had to be, because of the nature of the unfolding events. I typed, editing and revising, jumping between pages, paragraphs, characters, and chapters as ordered and needed, trying hard to keep up.

Finally stopping, I look up and engage in the coming-out period. Looking out the window, a line from “Uncle Salty” by Aerosmith comes to me: “Ooo, it’s a sunny day outside my window.”

Coming out after writing is always odd. These are the long seconds endured after intense writing when I re-enter life, my existence, reality, whatever you want to call it. I hear music and see other people. An air-conditioner’s chilly breeze teases my bare legs and neck. I feel detached from being there. What feels most real is that my butt cheeks feel sore and numb, and muscle strain stretches across my shoulders.

Still, I feel detached. I continue thinking about what’s been written, and what’s meant to be written yet, and how much work remains. Once the beta version of all four novels in this series are completed, I then need to edit and revise them until I have a first draft of all, something that I feel complete enough to regard as books. That will be a huge chunk of work. I think I’m looking at the rest of the year and beyond.

With those thoughts still strong, I drink my coffee, cold as an iceberg. Three-fourths of that cup remains. It’s time to stop writing like crazy; I can feel that, like the muse has said, “Okay, that’s enough for today. We’ll pick up here tomorrow.”

Still, I feel detached. My fictional world was so much sharper. I was engaged so much more deeply. It took a lot of energy to go that deeply into the flow, I realize. I’ve noticed this before without comprehending it. Going into the flow takes strength, energy, and commitment to induce myself to release enough to accept it.

I’m hungry, too, and realize that I’ve been hungry for a while, and I need to hit the restroom. Yes, time to stop writing like crazy today.

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