I have heard, ever since I started hanging out with other writers over a decade ago, first online and then in person, that their muse is on vacation, or being a pain and not talking to them. I never (until last year) understood this. For as long as I can remember, back into very young childhood, I had “voices in my head.” No, not the religious zealot voices telling me I’m the new messiah or that I should harm my family or step into traffic. These voices were characters, people. Always people, and very real to me. I thought of them as my imaginary friends. Truth was they weren’t really my “friends” because they didn’t really play with me. They carried on their little lives around me, talking with each other. I was more of an observer to them, which wasn’t too different than my real life. I was a loner for the most part, with very few real-life friends. I’m still that way.
When I was in jr. high, I penned my first romance. Spiral bound notebook and Bic ballpoint I carried everywhere, scribbling down things as they came, as the people in my head played out their little lives. My imaginings had changed as hormones changed and I wrote a story about my first crush and a girl with a different name but who strangely resembled myself. Even then, before I really ever read a whole novel from start to finish, I was writing stories about other people in third person. Badly, mind you, but at twelve or thirteen I was a writer. I was compelled to write, to put those stories the voices were acting out onto paper to get them out of my head.
I never dated in high school, didn’t have my first boyfriend until my senior year, and then he was much older than I and it didn’t go very far for several reasons. I didn’t like high school boys because they were “stupid” and “immature.” I had crushes, but they were always older and unattainable, but I felt that I would wait for them instead of lowering my mental age to be with the guys my age. Not dating, not being caught up in the roller coaster of teen angst and romance, I was able to devote a lot of time to writing and the romances in my head were a heck of a lot better than anything in my real life, or going on around me in my friends’ real lives. My stories got bolder, longer, more realistic – at least to my oh-so-mature teenage brain. It was my outlet. As it turned out I suffered pretty severe clinical depression my whole adolescence that went undiagnosed until I was in my early twenties. I know now, looking back, the voices in my head and my ability to escape reality probably, in the end, saved my life a time or two. Once I started reading romances, medieval historical at first and then westerns, I was hooked. I knew my course in life was to write these books!
I read veraciously. A couple books a week. When I wasn’t in school or working – I had 2 jobs my last two years of high school – I had my face buried in a book or my notebook where I jotted down ideas that flew at me from every direction. There was never, ever a lack of ides.
As time went on, and notebooks were filled with stories, I wound up with a man – seriously not hero material, but I can’t bash the father of my child in public – and I gave up writing because I didn’t have the time, and my partner didn’t think of it as a worthy pastime to pursue. I believe the term was, “your stupid stories,” though since he never read one I’m not sure how he came to that conclusion. But for years I quit writing and kept them in my head. But they were still there and very active.
Through the depression, severe back issues, and then an unexpected pregnancy, I spent most of my free time when I wasn’t working, watching the little movies play out by the people who wanted to tell me their stories. When I was in pain and couldn’t sleep, I closed my eyes and watched them, listened to them, joined them in their lives. I escaped with them.
Again, time went on, and I left that marriage, only to find myself headed quickly toward another one with a wonderful man who encouraged me in whatever I wanted to do. He knew I wanted to write, and he told me I should…though I wasn’t sure if I could any longer, it had been years since I put pen to paper. We’ll be celebrating our 15th anniversary this year. He’s still my hero – though rather flawed, but those are the good ones, right?
My youngest brother – 10 years older than myself – came to my wedding. He stayed in our apartment for a few days prior to the wedding, and while I was out picking up some groceries, he’d gone through my bookshelves that were in the living room…and found my big red binder. I came back to see him sitting on the futon in the living room reading my book.
Oh, I wanted to die! No one…and I mean no one, especially not my brother, was supposed to read that!
He was the first person to ever read anything I wrote – outside of a wonderful high school English teacher – who told me it was good. He wanted to know when I was going to get published.
I don’t remember if I even responded, I was so shocked. Of course, the fact that I wrote sex scenes and my brother read them was devastating to me at the time. Yes, I was twenty-five. Yes, I had a kid so I obviously knew what sex was and how to do it, but this was my big brother. I’m the baby of 10. I don’t talk to them about sex!
A few days later he asked me what my 5 year goals were now that I was starting a new life. I told him, honestly, that my biggest goal was to be published. Almost 5 years to the day, I called him when that book he’d read, and pushed and nudged and bugged me into sending to publishers, got a contract.
In those five years, with two massive supporters – my husband and my brother – I had the courage to get back to writing. And finally started using a computer so I didn’t have hand cramps every night.
In those five years, I never, ever had a lack of ideas. In fact, sometimes they came so fast, one on top of another, I wouldn’t get one book finished before I was chomping at the bit to start the next one. For a few more years I enjoyed this wonderful urge to write, need to write. If I didn’t write I got cranky, and if too many people crowded my head, I got to the point I listened to them more than the people around me. The people around me didn’t find this amusing. “Mom, I told you that three days ago!!!” I heard that a lot.
I look back on that time as a miracle, because now I’ve learned what it is to sit in front of the computer and stare at that blank white sheet of paper and wish there was something in my head, that someone would talk to me, to each other. For a year the voices were silent, and I honestly feared they’d never return. I had learned what writer’s block was – at least my form of it. I learned that my muse needed a long vacation and wanted nothing to do with me while I suffered depression, anger, anxiety over health issues I had no control over.
A few months into the silence, I had to step back and say, “Okay. I get it.” And I quit trying to get the words out, because there simply weren’t any, and the frustration and anxiety I suffered when I even tried to write was adding to my overall health problems. My muse had committed suicide…or at least that was my fear.
But then miracle of miracles, two months after surgery, when I could breathe for the first time in over a year – literally, I could walk to the car and not get winded – the voices started to return, the urge to write came back. I had anxiety over this too! What if I didn’t remember how to write. I’d never gone a year without writing, without the voices and people in my head.
It was Kate who pushed, nudged and kicked my butt to do something. And I did. Finally. And then my publisher gave me some ideas for a short series, and I got going on it. I got my inspiration back. The muse was resurrected. The voices have returned.
Finally, I feel normal again. I hope and pray the voices never leave me again.