I’m winding down this latest guest blog series of mine. I’ve hosted a total of five guest blog series since I first started blogging a little over two years ago: 2 Romance series, 1 “Dark” series, 1 New Adult, and this latest, which was conceived as a more general “water cooler” type of series where writers could blog about their writing life, the craft of writing, spotlight their favorite bookstore or coffee shop, talk about their day jobs, and/or post interesting pictures from research trips. It’s been great! I’ve really enjoyed connecting with these writers online and hearing their stories.
Today, middle grade author Michael S. Fedison tells us why he calls his muse a ghost. (Some days, I think mine’s a monster). Welcome, Michael!
The Ghost at My Shoulder
by Michael S. Fedison
Do you believe in ghosts? I do.
Allow me to elaborate . . .
One aspect of the writing life, at some point or another, is insecurity. If you keep at it, and write for any length of time at all, insecurity is inevitable, unavoidable. You worry that the novel you’re working on isn’t any good, and if it is, then you worry you’ll get stuck halfway through, and won’t know how to end the story. You worry that you peaked ten years ago, and anything you write from this moment forward will signal a steady and depressing descent. You worry that the ideas will just dry up, evaporating like steam rising from a woodland pond on a crisp October morning. You fret that, maybe, you’ll become burned out and lose the passion that has fueled your writing for years.
You worry, in short, that every lyrical sentence is fleeting, every well-written short story a momentary triumph soon to be replaced by a long line of duds. You worry that writing itself, the birth of ideas, the sculpting of sentences and paragraphs, the creation of well-rounded characters, is transitory. There seems to be an impermanence to the thing, as if, at any moment, the light will dim, the flow of creativity dammed up like a lost and forgotten river.
And for me, that’s when I need to trust my ghost. It’s not a ghost that creeps in the shadows of the night and haunts my dreams–though I believe in those, too.
This ghost, this lifetime companion, if you will, views me from afar and plays hard-to-get. But just when I feel frustration building to red-line levels, when the urge to give up on a story is disturbingly close, the ghost returns.
Some people call the ghost a muse. That’s a fine term, muse.
But for me, he is my ghost. He’s a ghost because I can never anticipate his arrival–I can only hope for it when needed. I can’t force him to come. He visits and leaves when he will, capricious, like the New England weather. And when I’m stuck, when the dreaded writer’s block has me in its grip, my ghost is the only way out, the only pathway to creative freedom. I can try to force ideas all day long, I can craft a meticulous, detailed chapter-by-chapter outline, but those methods have never worked for me. I have always needed to keep the faith in my ghost.
Sometimes when I write a story, there are portions of it that flow smoothly and easily, like a cool and welcome summer breeze after a torrid hot spell. These sections are a joy, when the words pour out of me and the story completely takes on a life of its own. I feel like a vessel, a conduit, tapping into a current of energy that pours through me and onto the page.
This is a beautiful and heady feeling, the apogee of the creative process. Perhaps in these “in-the-zone” moments, my ghost is standing right there beside me, at my shoulder, though I am unaware of his presence. I think the ghost works best that way–when I’m aware of his nearness, the subconscious loses its hold, and the conscious self threatens to short-circuit the process. My ghost works best in the background.
But then there are moments when I distinctly feel his absence, when the words and thoughts seem to be spiked with barbed wire, slicing and cutting and going nowhere. These are the times when I know I’m alone, when my ghostly ally is nowhere to be found. Some chapters, when writing them, are like this–daunting Himalayan peaks that need to be scaled. I write the chapter, but I know it isn’t close to what it needs to be. So I rewrite it, reread it, still shaking my head. And I start to doubt myself, doubt the story, and when no answers come, I feel an urge to fling the keyboard across the room. I struggle and wrestle, but nothing seems right. I need my spectral friend in the worst way.
And then, when I feel completely unraveled, after taking a dozen long walks trying to work out the tangles of the plot, the ghost finally comes, tiptoeing along as if daring me to miss his arrival. “Sssh,” he seems to whisper. “Stop trying so hard. It will come when it will come.”
He arrives with a feather-light step, my ghost does. He comes when he’s needed, and he always has–a lifelong helper, a friend of the writer. He is a constant reminder to allow the story to be the story, to let it unfold as it will, at its own pace and in its own time. When I worry over the direction of the plot, when I doubt that I have a single worthwhile word left in me to write, he reassures, softly, and he leads me along the path I need to travel.
So, you see, when I am asked if I believe in ghosts, I answer, without hesitation, “Yes.”
Because if I doubted, if I didn’t believe, my creative well would have gone dry long, long ago . . .
More About Michael
Michael S. Fedison was born in Rochester, New York, and now lives with his wife, Sarah, and regal cat, Luke, in the green hills of central Vermont. Michael has been writing creatively for as long as he can remember, and has had short fiction published in several literary magazines, including Iconoclast and The Written Word. He works as a full-time technical writer and also is a freelance proofreader and copy editor.
Michael has been a lover of imaginative stories his entire life. He enjoys any story that takes you by the hand, lifts you up, and transports you to another place, a new and creative way of looking at the world around us.
He can be found online here:
Thank you for guest blogging today, Michael!