Making Peace with the Coppery-Breathed Anti-Muses

Climbing into my head when I wake in the morning can be like a trip to the oddball carnival. I’ll admit it: a parade of eccentric voices tends to ramble through my mind on a leisurely circuit of creative chatter. My Muse, characters from my stories, any number of strands from pieces I’m currently writing or considering. But the voices have assured me I’m not crazy. I’m just a writer.

Creative Daydreaming

My post Friday about my Muse led to some humorous remarks in the comments section about movie stars who could become inspirational muses. Rochelle Ritchie Spencer at Slacker Chick even blogged about it. Reading others’ thoughts on this topic got me thinking about the many voices in my head.

Of course my Muse inspires me, and my characters fascinate me as they come and go, often insisting on having creative input in my stories. But a darker strand of conversation takes place in my head simultaneously. The persistent, nagging voices of the critics, the detractors and the creative skeptics sure I’ll be unable to produce any writing worth reading.

In her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott talks about these voices: “…your mental illnesses arrive at the desk like your sickest, most secretive relatives. And they pull up chairs in a semicircle around the computer, and they try to be quiet but you know they are there with their weird coppery breath, leering at you behind your back.”

I love this quote, but I have to say that my “mental illnesses” have never been accused of being quiet! They loudly point out every flaw in my writing and throw in a few personality faults for good measure. Even when they’re happy with my writing, they pessimistically insist the successful prose must be a fluke. An uncharacteristic moment of good writing I lack the chops to reproduce.


They’re already forecasting the demise of this blog. I’m happy with what I’ve written so far, but my coppery-breathed critics insist it won’t last. “Really, Sandy, you know you’ve only got six or seven good ideas,” they screech in my ears with their shrill voices. “Maybe 10 at the outside. After you’ve written them all down in this little experiment of yours, you’ll quickly falter and become the laughingstock of the blogosphere.”

I have a theory about these voices. I believe they lack the qualifications for their current employment—but they can still be put to good use. Deep down, these critics and nay-sayers actually possess great editorial skills. Unfortunately, they’re notorious line-cutters. They always wind up at the front of the creative queue when they actually belong in the back. They belong far behind the Muse, the unformed ideas, the characters and every other voice contributing to the creation of a piece of writing.

The Creators at the front and middle of the line should be allowed to say anything they want, even if it’s childish, weird or downright shocking. Only once they’ve had free reign on the playground for a lengthy period of time should the critics be allowed to enter.

Stop Sign

So I’m posting this stop sign here right now. Aiming it at my critics, skeptics, creative atheists and all the other anti-Muses competing with the wonderful, lively circus of characters in my head. I’ll take it down now and then, when my Muse and his friends have finished their delightful dance in the sun. But only after they’ve filled the sandbox with their footprints.

Only then will I let the anti-Muse editors in and allow them to use their skills of judgment in a productive way. To sharpen the edges of my stories. To polish up any rough ideas. To finally work with my Muse instead of battling him every step of the way.

Copyright @ Sandy Ackers, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World,


5 Responses to “Making Peace with the Coppery-Breathed Anti-Muses”

  1. 1 Rochelle Ritchie Spencer June 1, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    Hey Dream chaser – would you mind if I crawled into your head in the mornings too? I could use some more “creative chatter” in mine. I also have those same critics in my head (they must have a lot of frequent flyer miles) who downgrade my attempts at blogging but also from attempting to write anything else. I know we are not the only ones to deal with them, but when you’re alone, in front of the blank page/screen, it always feels like you are the first and only to experience their caustic snips. THIS TIME I am not going to let them stop me – I’ve wasted way too much time as it is.

    Oh, and thanks also for the mention!

  2. 2 carrie June 1, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    I love Bird by Bird! So much so that I’ve allowed myself an exclamation point, which I normally deplore. And I’m going to list Operating Instructions somewhere on my blog because it’s one of my favorite books. Anne Lamott rocks hard and loud.

  3. 3 stranglingmymuse June 1, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    Rochelle, feel free to borrow my big red stop sign and point it toward those caustic critics!

    Carrie, I love Bird by Bird and Anne Lamott too. I saw her at a lecture in conversation with Charles Schultz many years ago. They were good friends, in spite of the fact that she’s wildly liberal and he was severely right wing. They connected on creativity, which I thought was a wonderful thing.

  1. 1 Getting Micro-Creative « Strangling My Muse Trackback on June 10, 2009 at 7:13 am
  2. 2 Get Micro-Creative « Strangling My Muse Trackback on June 13, 2010 at 6:04 am

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