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Tony Grist

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The Writer And The Muse [Jul. 2nd, 2019|10:32 am]
Tony Grist
The writer is at the mercy of the muse. That's one way of putting it- emblematical, symbolical, simplistic. Another way, equally emblematical etc, is to say that each writer has a field to work in- and can only produce what that particular field is capable of producing. The soil may be suitable for grapes or it may be suitable for cabbages. No point in trying to establish a vineyard in a cabbage patch.

For instance, P.G Wodehouse was incapable of writing A La Recherche de Temps Perdu just as Proust was incapable of writing What Ho, Jeeves!

Some muses are very parsimonious, some fields are stony- and the writer has very little to work with. If they're a professional writer it means they find themselves producing the same book over and over again. It's got to be frustrating- even if the one book is a very good book.

I wonder how Jane Austen felt. Did she ever wish she was Walter Scott? Actually I think Scott may occasionally have wished he was Austen- or at least- could have added her gifts to his own. Of course greatness has nothing to do with range. Austen, I take it, is a very great writer, but no-one ever harvested so much out of such a tiny allotment.

I've written novels. They weren't published but I reckon they were publishable. They were written with sincerity but were never the sort of novel I'd dream of reading myself. So it seems the only kind of book I'm capable of writing is the kind of book that doesn't interest me very much. I know a little about frustration.

Best to stick to verse. I like my verse even if nobody else does.

I'm reading the third novel by a youngish writer who had a big success with his second- and it's not exactly a bad book but the wattage is far dimmer than that of its predecessor. He may not feel the pain but I'm getting the odd twinge on his behalf. To follow something that has the chance of becoming a minor classic with something that doesn't have a hope in hell must be galling. And of course the writer can do nothing about it. You write what you're given- what the muse hands out, what the field will produce in any given season.

Agatha Christie didn't need to write for money- except at one particular low point in her life- and during that period- when she probably didn't feel like writing at all and the muse had gone off for a wander- she produced one book she later acknowledged to be "rotten" and another she knew was "forced". She must have wished she could have scrubbed them from her bibliography but once a thing is published it's published...

I think I'm glad I'm not a professional writer. I can see why so many of them turn to drink.

[User Picture]From: steepholm
2019-07-02 12:56 pm (UTC)
Scott on Austen (I dare say you had this passage in mind?): “That young lady has a talent for describing … ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The big bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but [I lack her] exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting.”
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2019-07-02 04:30 pm (UTC)
Yes, I had that in mind. I like it that Scott was able to appreciate a writer so very different from himself.

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[User Picture]From: mallorys_camera
2019-07-02 01:18 pm (UTC)
Actually, I suspect the mark of a true professional is that he/she does not wait for the beckoning of the Muse's fingers. If there's copy to grind out because a deadline—external or internal—must be met, that copy is ground out.

The interesting thing is that once a writer becomes a master of his/her craft, the stuff they write when they're feeling inspired is indistinguishable from the stuff they write when they're not feeling inspired.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2019-07-02 04:53 pm (UTC)
You're right, the mark of the true professional is that they keep on working no matter what- it's their livelihood- but I'm hard pressed to think of one who produced nothing but masterpieces. Most of them have their bad or mediocre books, their flawed books, their books that are beautifully crafted but lifeless...
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[User Picture]From: matrixmann
2019-07-02 03:05 pm (UTC)
The hardest thing about being a write is, I think, that you're your own harshest critic. Probably this is a standard phrase, but somehow it is like this.
There may be people out there writing for money doing their job worse than you, but who is it who has the most complexes about doing anything wrong or writing total bullshit? It's you, not them.
That's how I mean this.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2019-07-02 04:55 pm (UTC)
It's not like working down the mine, but a writer's life is pretty hard, I think. There are all sorts of pressures, including those you heap on yourself.
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[User Picture]From: huskyteer
2019-07-02 09:50 pm (UTC)
I write short stories, and it's always obvious that some are going to be singles and some album tracks, as it were. It would be great to write hits all the time but you have to be Carole King to do that.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2019-07-03 10:13 am (UTC)
And if we're talking short stories, there's Chekhov. I don't think he ever published a story that wasn't pretty damn good.
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[User Picture]From: huskyteer
2019-07-03 05:57 pm (UTC)
I'm trying to think who my favourite short story writers are, and they all wrote longer works too (Asimov, Wodehouse, Conan Doyle).
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2019-07-03 06:52 pm (UTC)
I'll go with Kipling. He wrote stories with all the depth and complexity of full length novels- but- unlike Chekhov- he sometimes fell short of the target.

I'm not a great lover of Joyce but Dubliners is a wonderful collection.

And I nearly forgot to mention Karen Blixen/Isak Dinensen. She's tremendous.

Edited at 2019-07-03 06:54 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: huskyteer
2019-07-04 06:40 am (UTC)
Oh, yes, I forgot Kipling! And I will check out your Blixen recommendation.
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