The Assignment

Over the last few months, the creative Little Miss Muse left for a sabbatical. She’s returned. The writing has started to trickle a bit. And the good news is, so far, none of it is in the style of COVID-flavor-of-the-month.

The gnawing craving comes next. I know this from past “sabbaticals” of life. That deep-down itch to go sit in a room alone and make stuff up. I know it’s started when I’m in the company of others (my poor husband, what he puts up with) and I see their mouths moving, but the dialog doesn’t match the setting, and instead the words match more closely the characters’ lines in my stories.

Then the cleaning and purging of the office.

Then the butt finally situates in the chair.

Then the popping and cracking of knuckles (and, if I’m honest, the kneecaps as I sit) and off we go. Little Miss Muse and me. In *hopefully* some sort of rhythm. I want a fantasy adventure. She wants a fantasy adventure. We hold hands. Purple sparks fly.

Then, before you know it, that trickle turns into a torrent. Soon I’ll be setting timers at forty-minute increments lest I sit for too long and undo everything my Back Guy just put into alignment. Bless his heart.

I’ve also been submerging myself with classes earned during that 52 short stories in 52 weeks challenge. I’ll turn my teacher on in the background and let him beat me up and direct and guide and dump wisdom. Mostly listening to the ones about fear and production and what he calls The Critical Voice. That nag of all nags that ties up muses of all styles and shapes, Little Miss included, and zaps the fun and life and sparkle out of the writing process. And brings in fear and “danger signs” everywhere.

And if you’re thinking of writing, are a writer hiding in a closet or under a bushel somewhere, or you’re thinking of exploring the creative process, Dean Wesley Smith’s site gives a list of his upcoming workshops. Have a look over there and get ready to learn a new way of thinking about your art.

One assignment was to write a defense in favor of the critical voice, as if we were in a courtroom. I actually had fun with it. And when the “excuses” were down in black and white I could see how ridiculous they are. Some of the fears I’d worked through already, but added them into the narrative for “flavor.” Some fears are works in progress—areas where I still struggle with that Madame Nag.

I’ve seen these assignments in other classes (I can remember one in Health Psychology where we had to pick an ailment and write a speech from the point of view of the illness) and therapists assign similar exercises to their patients—write a letter to your fear, write a letter to your past trauma, etc.

Below is the assignment, tweaked for the blog.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my name is Giv Vitup, and I’m the defense attorney for Madam Critical Voice in this case. Over the course of the trial, you’ll hear the prosecution for Little Miss Muse’s attempt to annihilate my client with unfounded claims of uselessness, intent to do harm to Writer Beth’s creative process, and aiding and abetting procrastination on works in progress.

However, the prosecution has no hard evidence for any of their claims, and reasonable jurors that you are, I don’t have to tell you that the burden of proof rests with the prosecution. I’m confident that by trial’s end, they will fail to prove these charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

On the account of uselessness, I intend to show that Madam Critical is quite necessary for the proper execution of manuscripts. I’s must be dotted. T’s must be crossed. All commas and periods and quotation marks must be in their proper positions or the manuscript will fail miserably. It’s Madam Critical’s highest honor to point out these things to Beth as she composes her stories. To ensure no embarrassing typos exist. To ensure a perfectly polished piece.

We’ll enter evidence of past manuscripts showing instances where Madam Critical Voice was, indeed, squelched at times by Little Miss Muse, and those demonic dangling participles and unfinished thoughts were left hanging out for the world to see, bringing great harm to Beth’s process. We can show hard-and-fast evidence that, in the absence of Madam Critical, Beth allowed Little Miss Muse to send her readers to the Analogue Couch! I ask you to ponder ahead of this evidence: Is a critique of a manuscript a useless endeavor? I think not.

On the charge of intent to do harm to the creative process, we will call witnesses including family and friends who will testify under oath that a good, stern look at flights of fancy and whimsical story telling may indeed bring harm to Beth’s relationships with them—and even God himself—if she should let a manuscript out of her grasp that even remotely hints at a real-life human in her world.

And finally, good people of the jury, on the charge of aiding and abetting procrastination, the defense intends to show, in detail, Beth’s process. Learning is not procrastination, and, Beth will learn and learn and learn and in the end, produce more meaningful and powerful stories. Learning is forward progress, not procrastination.

We also intend to show that the mastery of all publishing platforms is necessary prior to completing manuscripts. If Beth can’t publish her work perfectly in all markets, what’s the point of finishing? We further intend to argue that Madam Critical’s role in producing covers, writing back matter on unfinished pieces, and discussing all aspects of writing with other authors and her family improves the quality of Beth’s work, if not the speed. Little Miss Muse, however, would rather Beth spend time in the chair concocting imperfect sentences and digging plot holes than for Beth to take the time to dust her office, purge the kitchen cabinets of stale food, and weed the roadside ditches—all necessary activities to clear Beth’s mental space for Little Miss Muse to do her work in the first place.

We’ll also provide time-stamped evidence that Little Miss, indeed, has been given time to work throughout Beth’s week. Madam Critical ensures that all schedules are clear, that every cat and adult in Beth’s life is fed, cared for, doctored and will cause no interruption. Because interruptions of any sort will derail Little Miss Muse, and Madam Critical is sooo careful to block out the perfect amount of time and space for her to work. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like procrastination to me; that sounds like sound planning.

Make no mistake, ladies and gentlemen, this will be a long and arduous trial. The prosecution will try to trick you into believing that Little Miss Muse’s new words of fiction are far more valuable than any service Madam Critical provides. This is untrue and deserves a long, careful look at the evidence. Take your time. Examine every angle. Extrapolate every negative outcome that has the tiniest possibility of happening to our dear writer, Beth, if Madam Critical Voice were to be cuffed and jailed. Don’t let Little Miss Muse rule in the author’s roost.

And there it is. Ridiculous, yes? But it worked to shake loose some stuck-on fears and plow forward.

What’s holding you back from what you want to do? Most likely the only thing hindering you is hanging between your ears.

Thank you for hanging out for a bit. Check back on Mondays for a new blog or revisit older post on my Archive page. Don't forget to come back on the first Monday of every month for a free fictional short, and be sure to visit my Amazon page.