Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Shouting Muse

My recent move to a new office prompted a non-writing friend of mine to ask whether the place had a good creative vibe, the implication being that an office with a bad vibe would render me unproductive.

This kind of question gets my gander up, because by implication it trivializes the creative process, feeding into the myth that creativity is something that finds you rather than the other way around.

If you feel compelled to tell stories — as I do — the place where you sit down to do so should be mostly beside the point. I say “mostly” because, of course, some basic requirements do apply. The place needs to be heated in winter, for example, or you may freeze to death. It needs electricity, either for lighting or for your computer, depending upon how you write. It needs to be accessible — not up a tree somewhere three counties away. And it needs to be quiet.

Actually, I withdraw that last one — quiet is a luxury, not a necessity. Writing requires being solitary — not having people bugging you all the time — but it shouldn’t require absolute quiet all around you. The honking horn or the voices rumbling through the wall are obstacles that can be overcome with determination.
Think of the journalist pounding out a story in a noisy newsroom or a courthouse hallway. A significant number of successful novelists, in fact, began their careers as journalists, and many of them have proved to be prolific. One reason for this is that they trained themselves to write on deadline, but another is that they often had to craft their stories in the aforementioned noisy rooms, where nobody was going to pipe down just because you had a story to file and couldn’t get past the first graf. You learned to overcome or you were fired.

In that context, distractions to the novelist's concentration are just an excuse for not getting your job done. People who aspire and aspire and aspire to write but never get anything written must not have a burning desire to tell stories. If they did, the feng shui wouldn’t matter — nor would the view, nor the creaky desk chair, nor the sound of neighbors.

I don’t claim to be perfect in this regard. There have been times, no doubt, when I’ve allowed outside forces to distract me — when I’ve waited for the muse to come rather than going out to find her. But these days I understand that if you need a muse to get your work done, you had better know her address. And once you’ve dragged her to your workspace by the hair, if need be, you’d better teach her to shout.

After you’ve done that, the only writing space that matters is the space between your ears.