The Muse and the Piano Tuner


The Muse and the Piano Tuner

I learned a lot about the writing muse from a piano tuner.

After half an hour of plucking strings, the piano tuner called to me. “Okay, I’m done.” He rippled through some swing tune, no sheet music of course.

“Wow, you’re good! Do you play professionally?”

He shrugged. “I’m in a band.” As he stuck his tools into his satchel, “You a writer?”

I raised my eyebrows. “How did you know?”

He pointed to the book face down on the piano. “This is you, right?”

“Oh, yeah. Crummy picture.”

“So, you write full time?”

“Not full-time. As much as I can.”

He asked, almost shyly, as if it might be too personal. “Do you have to wait until you’re in the mood to write?”

I shrugged. “Well, no. If I waited, I don’t think I’d ever do it.”

Suddenly, his face cleared. “Oh, yeah, I get it. It’s like when you have a gig. Doesn’t matter whether you want to play or not. You just show up and play.”

Show up and play and the Muse might too

Show up and play. I know there’s a lot of stuff writers believe about waiting for the Muse to strike. Or I suppose ‘visit’ would be a better word for such a sought-after commodity.

With hand to head, they vow they can’t write a word unless inspired by some external force. And thus have a perfect reason not to, because that Muse, she’s not much into house calls.

However, many famous authors didn’t seem to wait. Tolstoy said, “I must write each day without fail, not so much for the success of the work, as in order not to get out of my routine.” Victor Hugo wrote from dawn to 11:00 every day. Agatha Christie saw writing as a job.

They discovered what all writers, I believe, need to understand. The Muse isn’t going to show up until you do. It’s like Moses and the parting of the Red Sea. As a friend much more learned than me pointed out, the real learning from that story is that Moses and the Israelites had to start wading into the Red Sea before God parted it. That is, they had to show their commitment and faith before God would step in.

As the piano tuner said, you need to show up and play. It is when you are actively engaged in writing that the Muse or whatever the magic consists of, can show up. So, don’t wait for It to strike. Invite It in.

Fixing Conversation with As-You-Know-Bobs


Fixing Conversation with As-You-Know-Bobs

The seduction of a conversation with As-You-Know-Bobs

In a previous post, I talked about As-You-Know-Bobs—information which the characters already know but the reader doesn’t. A short-cut but not very effective way to inform the reader is to use an As you know, Bob, my life was shattered by the recent death of my grandmother.

They’re easy, efficient, and let you get onto more interesting bits of the story.

And sometimes, they’re even OK to use. If the point is unimportant to the main plot and not worth spending a lot of time on, you can get away with an AYKB. However, the example in the previous paragraph demonstrates where you probably shouldn’t use one because it’s hard to believe that this isn’t going to figure in the plot line (otherwise, why bring it up at all?).

Identifying when you are falling into As-You-Know-Bobs

It can be quite subtle. Here are some times when you might be tempted:

  • Establishing info. You want to give background on a character. If the character is major, a couple of short flashbacks or a conversation of the ramifications of the background on the present situation might work better.
  • You need to remind the reader of an earlier event. Remembering readers will not necessarily read your work in one go, it is often helpful to remind them of a past event which is the basis for the present action. A character not at the previous event could be informed by one who was. Or a one liner by the protagonist (Drat, those Munchkins again) might be enough.
  • ‘Tell’ in disguise. Dan says to Bob: “Remember our treks into the hinterland when we were younger? I know that your wife Marj never liked you going on them. But they were great fun, weren’t they? I’ve never felt so free.

You get across a lot of information in a telescoped format.Again, if it’s unimportant, might be okay (although I’d lose the ‘your wife’—that’s an AKYB within an AKYB). Otherwise, a flashback or a more back-and-forth dialog between the characters could bring out the information more naturally.

  • Want to move onto a more interesting bit in the narrative. You know where you want to go in this scene and are eager to get to it but have to establish some point first. There is an excellent possibility that this is an AYKB in the making. Again, if the point is small, no prob. But if it’s big (AYKB, I was assaulted on this mountain and never wanted to come back), stifle your urge to get through this bit quickly to get onto the character dealing with the aftermath of this trauma.

How to avoid As-You-Know-Bobs

Two suggestions, one practical and one a bit airy-fairy. But the airy-fairy one is the better, I think.

Slow down. Remember, the intent is not for you or your reader to get to the end in record time. The intent is to create a fully realized world where the characters act naturally and credibly.

Get into the character’s head space. You are probably already writing from the protagonist’s point of view but I’m suggesting a little more. If you can immerse yourself in that character so that you see the world through her eyes, it’s much harder to commit AYK-B. In her head space, you don’t fall prey to the temptations outlined above. You wouldn’t tell Bob things you know he already knows but would take them as givens and move on from there.