What’s the Big Idea?

“I’ve just had the most scathingly brilliant idea!”

~ HAYLEY MILLS, The Trouble with Angels

Ideas are the most common things around.  I have them.  So do you.  So does everybody.  They’re as common as air, I think, and about as vital, at least to a writer.  And they’re moving targets.  When you first acquire one, it seems to come to you out of nowhere, but I don’t think that’s really what happens.  You encounter things all the time that seem to have nothing to do with your field of creativity, and you pay them no mind at all, but it never fails.  You’re watching an infomercial on gunkulator oil when here comes something, completely unbidden, that fits into your Weird West story in the most perfect way possible, and you have no idea what led to it.  How the hell does that happen, you may ask?  I’ve spent probably more hours than are warranted thinking about this, and I’m going to share my findings in a bit, but first I have to ask where the direct connections are.

Direct connections are what don’t get made for me.  We here at chez Tyler have gotten into the habit of watching old TV series one per day until we’ve worked through a season.  We have watched New Tricks, Battlestar Galactica, Hawaii Five-0 and Downton Abbey.  Looming ahead are Shogun and The Murdoch Mysteries.  During the course of these shows, I see dozens, scores, of plot points that cause me to think they would go great in this story I’m working on, and then it never gets regurgitated when I’m writing.  Which is good, I guess, I don’t want to become famous for my plagiarism, but how is it that they go in, but they don’t come out?  And that question, of course, brings me to the subject of the muse.

I have had people tell me that the muse is a myth.  You’re a writer; sit down and write.  I have had at least one writer, one I suspect of self-publishing drivel, though I refuse to read his work to find out, tell me that the whole idea of a muse was invented by lazy writers seeking an unimpeachable excuse to avoid writing (like Plato and Aristotle, I presume), and that a “real” writer, i.e., him, could just sit down and rip off thirty-five hundred words any time he wanted to.  I suppose he’s right.  I can sit down and knock out thirty-five hundred words any time I want to, as well, although it most often becomes a thirty-five hundred word trash can weight.  As Bret Easton Ellis said,

“I’m not a big believer in disciplined writers.  What does discipline mean?  The writer who forces himself to sit down and write for seven hours every day might be wasting those seven hours if he’s not in the mood and doesn’t feel the juice.  I don’t think discipline equals creativity.”

I don’t either, and I’ve long-since learned to stop wasting all those precious hours on writing things that I’m just going to have to throw away.  So all that leaves is the question of how these muses work, anyway.

Most people I’ve discussed them with describe their muses as beautiful women who come on a whim, leave their inspirations on gilded scrolls, and depart, as unbidden as when they arrived.  That’s a nice picture.  My muse is the most crotchety old man you’ve ever seen, on steroids.  This old guy…

Look, everybody, writer or not, is exposed to thousands of mysterious stimuli every day of their lives.  You pass people in the street and overhear half a sentence from a five-minute conversation; a police car speeds by, siren blaring, on the way to an exciting destination that you’ll never know anything about; a crowd is gathered outside an office, talking in hushed whispers about… what?  Sane people go through their lives with events like these sliding off of them like water off a duck, but an author…  Oh, sane people, you miss so much!

You might compare experiencing one of these little vignettes to finding a lone jigsaw puzzle piece on the sidewalk, and picking it up to look at it.  It’s a smudge of colors on a tiny canvas, and could be part of Buckingham Palace or The Poker-Playing Dogs.  You can’t tell what it is, and in all likelihood, you don’t care, discarding it moments after you’ve picked it up.  But we writers are wired a little differently, aren’t we?  We keep it.  I know I do.  I send it down to The Warehouse.

That’s how my head is organized.  Behind my eyes is the bridge where “I” stand watch, observing, evaluating, and controlling everything (or so I think).  Downstairs is The Warehouse.  Think of the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark where a forklift is taking the crated Ark into the depths of that giant warehouse with crates, boxes, and gunny sacks stacked on racks, row on row, disappearing into haze in the far distance.  Now imagine that every one of those puzzle pieces I’ve ever encountered has gone into a lawn clean-up bag, and when the bag is full, it goes on one of those racks.  Billions of stray puzzle pieces are stored there, most of which I’m not even aware that I’ve collected.

Now imagine a crusty little man who wanders the aisles, taking a piece from this bag and a piece from that, and trying to fit them together.  This guy is my muse.  Once in a while, he finds two that sort of fit, and then he goes looking for a third.  Once he has succeeded in forcing five or six together into some sort of pattern, he puts it into one of those transit-tube canisters that you may have seen at a bank, and shoots it up to the bridge for further development.

This can arrives on the bridge with a bang and a clatter, and if you’re with me when it happens, you can almost see the impact.  Sometimes there’s a vocalization, “Whoa!” or something of the sort.  If you ask me what’s up, I’ll tell you, “I’ve just had the most scathingly brilliant idea!”  If you then ask me to elaborate, I’ll describe something that has absolutely nothing to do with what we’ve been talking about, and the next question is usually, “Where did that come from?”

The only honest answer to that question is, “I don’t know.”  That isn’t what you want to hear, but it’s all I’ve got.  I don’t know what that old guy has stuck together down there, and I’m not allowed to question him.  All I can guess is that he’s been wandering the stacks with something that came in yesterday, and he’s stuck it onto something I picked up in elementary school, jam-fitted the result onto something from my navy days, and topped it off with a piece I picked up working the counter in a dry-cleaning shop.  Presto, here it is!  Run with it.

How does your muse work?  Or do you not have one?  If you do, I’d love to hear how he works, what he looks like, and whether this fine creature allows interaction.  Bring her along and introduce her.  Let’s have a meeting of the subconscious minds.  Might be fun…

In Other News…

My fantasy novel, The Stone Seekers, was released last week.  It’s my longest work to date, over 350 pages, and is my priciest sale in paperback, even though I have it set to the minimum price I can charge.  However, for the next three months it will be 99¢ US in its Kindle edition.  I’m hoping to build an audience for my fantasy, or at least find out whether I should plan anything else in the genre.  I would never ask anyone to buy a novel, sight-unseen, and there is a three-chapter sample at the tab above.


The cover photograph is by one Mr. Richard Schulte, and features a hiking trail in the Laguna Mountains in San Diego’s back country.  It first appeared on Richard’s photo blog, Cool San Diego Sights as one of over 15,000 photographs of a beautiful corner of our great nation.  Here’s the point of mentioning this:  Richard has announced on his blog that anyone is welcome to use any of his pictures that are a good fit for their project, and the only payment he wants is an acknowledgement of him as the artist and a link to his blog to drive more potential readers.  Anyone who has ever priced cover art or illustrations knows what an incredible deal it is that he’s offering.  There are photos of every nook and cranny of the San Diego area, from the beaches and cliffs of the coast to the desert of the far east county.  They aren’t all world-famous landmarks; many are quiet little corners, or panoramic vistas such as the one I used.  They’re organized into over fifty tags for easy sorting, so if you find yourself in need of a picture, check with Richard first.

My next scheduled post will be a Blimprider Times on May 2nd.  Regular readers know that I promote my friends’ activities as the lead segment of the Times, but the next issue will be devoted to ME, because May 2nd is the brightest, shiniest, neon-red letter day on my calendar.  Be sure to visit Wednesday and find out why!

12 thoughts on “What’s the Big Idea?

  1. You startled the heck out of ME. May is ME/CFS awareness month, and I hadn’t heard a single word about you having ME in what I’ve read on your blog.

    Then I realized you have no idea what I’m talking about, and it’s probably either your birthday or your wedding anniversary, most likely the former.

    Just one of those things that jump out at you. A puzzle piece, if you like.

    There’s a huge difference between writers who get one big story stuck in their heads until they write it out, however long it takes; and the ones who get ideas tossed at them regularly by whatever, turn them into short stories, non-fiction, or novels, write them, and move along to the next Big Idea.

    I know a few other writers like me (the first kind), but none of the ones I know also write mainstream, so no one to share struggles with. The one I’ve chatted with a bit on her blog, Janna Noelle, writes historical fiction based on an incredible amount of research she kindly shares. I hope she gets around to publishing some day.

    No one who’s ever seen Raiders will forget that warehouse. It always looks as if the Arc will be lost in a maze of similar boxes – that’s the intended take-away – but I just realized that Amazon’s warehouses are about that big, but the location of EVERY item is in the computer. I don’t think we had computerized warehouses like that when Harrison Ford was that young. Hehe.


    1. First of all, good morning, Alicia, and welcome to the flight deck! First allow me to acknowledge all your comments at Jack’s Hideout. For those out of the loop, the Hideout is my other more general blog whose posts go back to 2011. For Alicia’s information, in January 2014 I contracted two strains of flu and pneumonia simultaneously, and it almost killed me. I was hospitalized for five weeks, three of them in a coma, then went into physical therapy for another three weeks to learn how to walk, dress myself, use the toilet, and all those things we take for granted. I returned home in March, and to work in May, and everything before that date, including blog posts, were from a different person with a different outlook. The most recent posts on that blog came after nearly a year of indecisiveness and inability to write. I decided to quit worrying about it, tell my friends why they wouldn’t be seeing me there anymore, and fade into the twilight… Whereupon the muse immediately began delivering amazing concepts to the bridge! I decided to start this new writing-only blog and post nothing negative in it. I think it’s working well so far.

      Didn’t know what ME is until you mentioned it; thank you for the awareness. My ailments are pre-diabetes and terminal laziness. Pre-diabetes means that if you act and eat like you already have it, you probably won’t get it. It was discovered during my hospital stay, and it’s been under control ever since. They also administered an Alzheimer’s test while I was there that came out negative, so I guess I have to stop using that excuse!

      I used to concentrate exclusively on novel-writing; The Stone Seekers was one of them. Since those heady days, I have found my calling in novellas, 20,000-word stories, strung together with story arcs not unlike TV shows. Beyond the Rails I & II are perfect examples. It isn’t exclusive, though. BtR III is a full novel, and I have another in the works called Stingaree. As you can see, when the old git gets busy down there, it can be pretty overwhelming.

      If you want to meet a kindred spirit, a sister of the One Big Story, as it were, may I recommend Sarah Zama at http://theoldshelter.com – her field is the Roaring Twenties with supernatural overtones, and word is that she’s working on a doozie!

      Alicia, it has been delightful having you visit. This is the kind of conversation that I dreamed of when I first started blogging, and it has been a joy sharing. Don’t be a stranger; I’d love to have you back anytime on any subject. Read well, and write better!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, I’ll be back. Kindred spirits of any kind are gold – and people who comment back and forth make my life less isolated and far more pleasant. Thanks for the scary update – glad you made it.

        Have you done any analyzing of the differences between before and after? I got a bunch of stents last year (LONG story, in blog), but saw no personality changes from the extended ordeal, even after the extra goodies from the meds – which went away with them, though more slowly.

        I’ll take a look at Sarah’s blog – who know – we might hit it off.

        Just keep writing. I can’t turn it off, so, as soon as this move is further along, I’ll be doing more of the primary writing of Book 2, but I spent what energy was left yesterday scheduling more posts for my Patreon on it, and that should keep me covered until mid-June there. Don’t want to upset any patrons! Only for those who loved Book 1 and say they can’t wait. And people who can be persuaded to catch up. Serializing is not so much stick as carrot, and I need to keep my teeth sharp.

        Welcome – stop by any time.


      2. I haven’t formally done any analysis, but here’s the deal. The five doctors who saved my life reached a consensus between them that I had a 3% chance of survival, and told my family to prepare for the worst. Since I got up out of bed and walked into my home two months later, every color has been a little brighter, every minute a little more precious, and now that I’ve finally retired after two more years of work, I tend to get the most out of every day, as opposed to the way I used to just toss away hours without thought to how many more I had, or what I might be denying myself by running out of them. As you can see by the rambling nature of this comment, I can’t put a finger on it myself, but I’m… maybe not better so much as just more aware of the precious nature of every hour. Hope that’s an answer you can find some value in. Thanks for asking, by the way. Always fun to talk about me!


      3. It makes so much sense – because you can. You walked out. You GET to enjoy the rest of your days – ramble on. There no set time or way of processing.

        I try not to waste any of my usable brain time – the part which allows me to write fiction is a very small part of each day, and I grab it. But it takes my very best functioning – and my standards for reading, like yours, is both a result of many books and very high; it has been a challenge to learn to write well enough to meet my own standards. The readers who get it have been very complimentary. Some of the others, well, I can see them shaking their heads. Though I really love my top ‘critical’ review on Amazon.

        I go now to write – or, if the brain doesn’t cooperate properly, to nap and then write. TTYL

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey Jack! Good post. That guy has no idea what he’s talking about. The Muses were “invented” by the ancient Greeks. They were the source of artistic inspiration, however it comes.

    I don’t pay much attention to my muse. I tend to think of the creature as a she, because the original Muses were female. When I write, I just sit down and write. I don’t wait for inspiration. The saying that creativity is 98% perspiration is what I follow.

    That written, I think the Muse takes all of those ideas we get every day and puts them together into a package that I then say, “Aha!”, when she hands it to me.

    One day out of the blue a sentence floated into my head: Today I killed a man and a woman. Now I could have said, “Geez, where did that come from?” Too much pepperoni pizza? And then dismissed it. Instead, I ruminated on it. That’s the muse, for me. And I wrote another sentence. Then another. And pretty soon I had a paragraph, then a page, then 2200 pages. All from that one sentence that I didn’t dismiss, but instead entertained. So to date, I have 7 published volumes of The Rocheport Saga. With more to come eventually. All from one doggone sentence the Muse stuck in my head.

    That’s the muse, for me. She encourages me to gnaw on the bone and come up with something out of something else.

    Publishers are businessmen. It’s all about the money. And I guess they have to be all about the money if they want to stay in business. The Kindle changed all that. Now we can write for money or simply write for the love of writing. Supposedly we all have at least one book in us. Now every one of us can publish that book.

    I’ve recently read at least a half-dozen books that the publishers would’ve probably rejected. They are also way down in Amazon’s cellar. Nevertheless, they were absolutely fabulous reads. I’m glad those writers had the courage to self-publish. They might not get rich, but I am richer for having read their books.

    I’m going to pop for your fantasy novel, even though I’m not big fantasy fan these days. The prologue was interesting. And what’s more, I know you will deliver an interesting tale.

    Keep up the good work, my friend!


    1. Good story about inspiration – 2200 pages? That’s a pretty good return on investment for thinking about a line.

      Mine came from something similar: What CAN’T a disabled woman aspire to the same things every other woman is allowed to want? It made me investigate every single stereotype that stood in the way. Why didn’t the hunchback of Notre Dame? It is very hard to write some stories right – and disability, long term chronic illness, is life-altering, not life-threatening, for most people. It’s one of those things that’s easier to write a half-million words about (when I’m finished) than to explain.

      I didn’t even bother with submission to the shrinking traditional market – they’re scared to death of anything different that won’t make an instant movie.


    2. C.W., I can always count on you for a meaningful discussion. First, allow me to most humbly thank you for your patronage. I don’t know where The Stone Seekers’ journey will eventually take them, but fantasy is a huge market, unlike the steampunk I usually dwell in, I don’t know whether I’ll ever do another, although the Old Man has tossed up what seems at first glance to be a rollicking-good fantasy pirate tale. I’m going to ignore him for the time being; I have too many irons in the fire as it is. It might be different if I was 29, but at 69, I’d probably better stay focused…

      Thanks for introducing your muse… and agreeing that she exists! The end result isn’t so much different than mine, but mine is a good deal less gentle. And less encouraging. He doesn’t care whether I act on his prompts or not (he figures his part is done), but he seems to hate being ignored, hence the way he came roaring back to life when I said “that’s it, I’m done!”

      Thanks for sharing that excellent story about how one screwy sentence turned into seven books and counting. My guy doesn’t work with language, and only partly visually. He’s more about concepts. Beyond the Rails began with an image of floating low (500 feet) over the African veldt. Airplane? Helicopter? Dirigible! When? Who would be doing that? Why? All of those things were for me to unravel, and I’ll never know what half-dozen pieces from my life he stuck together down there, but it arrived on the bridge with a clatter fit to wake the dead! Concept delivered, he disappeared back into the stacks, leaving me to sink or swim, and he couldn’t care less which.

      I love your statement about being richer for having read an obscure book. I like to joke that one month my book royalties paid for my internet bill, but that isn’t so much a joke as I might like. I keep writing because I can’t not, but my true “pay” is when someone’s life is enriched by one of my mindless little adventures. That was a powerful statement, and I wish I’d thought of it. Thank you for sharing it.

      I shall keep up the good work, and you do the same, my friend. Read well, and write better!


    1. Good day to you, Stlloej, and thanks for stopping by. I understand the need to find new readers, and I’ll give you a couple of these, but let’s stop short of spam, okay? Best of luck on finding new readers!

      Liked by 1 person

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