Musery, or Conversations With A Goddess

by Janis Patterson

On one of my writers’ loops the other day a bunch of us were lamenting the fact that we all couldn’t just write and leave the business side of publishing to someone else. These days however you are published you have to deal in the non-creative side of the book industry – publicity, editing and all the rest. As we all were having the same problems, someone said she was grateful for other writers, as ‘misery loves company.’

Well, you know I can’t leave a single quip unturned, so I popped back, “Shouldn’t that be musery?” My rather smart-ass remark has turned into a… well, not a phenomenon, but a comment that is spreading. ‘Musery’ is a growing concept.

So what is Musery? It is taken from the legend of the Muse, a mythological construct of some goddess or another who is constantly whispering fantastic prose into a writer’s shell-like ear… which all writers know is pretty much wishful thinking. Even if you get ideas constantly peppering you like beneficent shotgun pellets as I do, ideas by themselves are pretty useless – nice, and a necessary beginning, but by themselves pretty much useless. No book ever came from ideas alone. It would be sort of like trying to live in only the foundation of a house.

Ideas (and it takes many to make a book) are only the beginning. You need believable characters, many complications, conflicts… the whole menu of writerly tools. Many of us need the interaction and brainstorming with other writers, and then there is research and finally – and perhaps most importantly – a command of the language that can make the whole heap of disparate parts into a readable and hopefully enjoyable book.

This seemingly magical combination of elements is the essence of Musery, which boils down to the basics of inspiration, imagination and skill. Done right, it appears effortless, which is probably the basis of the popular belief that some magical creature dictates the finished product to the writer, who has only to write it down, thus perpetuating its own myth that writing a book is a piece of cake that anyone could do if they only took the time.

Yeah, right. The fastest way to reach your Muse always has, is and always will be hard work. Now I have to go propitiate mine with a couple of hours at the computer.

7 thoughts on “Musery, or Conversations With A Goddess

  1. A great concept, musery. I agree with you about the need for hard work. It would be so great if all we had to do was dream up a concept, write it, and not worry about publishers and book promotion!


  2. Interesting that you put writing skill last. I have thought about this a lot. I started my writing career as a feature writer for my local paper, where I developed my writing skills. Then, when I slopped into fiction, I found out that writing fiction is a lot harder because of all the other things you had to master–character and plot being the most prominent. And yes, you have to get it all right. And no, when I read a book, I have no illusion that it wasn’t a lot of hard work. When I read a book, I can’t help noting what the author was doing as she wrote.


    1. Interesting comment on skill being last – I had never thought of that, having written them down as they came to me. After thinking, though, I have two explanations, the first being that I tend to think in roughly alphabetical order. That alone would be too simple, though, and as I dig deeper into my psyche I find a workable (for me, at least) though unconscious rationale. If all a writer has is skill, they probably will never go beyond writing obituaries or catalog descriptions. For a story, one does need inspiration first. What is the story about? Then imagination enters into it; the who, what, where, how and why (stolen from traditional journalism) of the story. And then does skill come in, taking inspiration and imagination and making them into an interesting, readable story. Thank you for your comment, because this has never occurred to me before. We have been writing for so many years that these distinctions have probably so buried themselves in our psyche we – at least I – never thought about them before. I now intend to cogitate on this viewpoint and might even expound on it in my next blog post. Again – thank you!


      1. So now I am thinking about Thomas Wolfe and his famous editor Maxwell Perkins. Wolf turned in a 1000 page ms for Look Homeward Angel and Perkins turned it into a publishable book. Wolfe had many of the things you were talking about, but he apparently didn’t have the skill to know what was important and how to structure a book. This is making me think about an episode in my freshman writing course. We had written our first essay, and a friend from HS who had gone to GW w/ me asked me to take a look at her essay and tell her if it was okay. I looked at it and said, “You are switching tenses.” She said,”what?” I said, “You have present tense and past tense here,” and she really didn’t know what I was talking about. (I started talking about Wolfe and Perkins in present tense, then figured I’d better switch the whole thing.) She just hadn’t even noticed or realized what she was doing. Stuff like that is basic. You must understand it, but as I said, you must have all the other fiction writing ability, too. I started w/ basic writing ability. I had to gradually learn the other stuff. But on the other hand, if you are a writer, you will have some idea how to do it from the books you read. You will have been noticing what the author is doing, even if you don’t realize it. And I should add that I can do this even though I am dyslexic. Go figure.


  3. Great post! And musery is a great word. I love the meaning behind it and agree, while the ideas can bombard me, it takes time, effort, and a great deal of control to get the ideas turned into something readers would want to be carried away by.


  4. I love this post! Musery is so much fun, way more pleasurable than misery. If enough of us type it, built-in dictionaries might even recognize we meant to type musery, not misery. Let’s do it šŸ™‚


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