Subdue Your Muse

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December 29, 2012 by bradcharlesbeals

I had a student ask why some lines, like Shakespeare’s “something wicked this way comes”, stick around and almost nothing else does.

“Good question,” I replied. “I have no idea. But when I do have an idea, I’m going to write a book and fill it up with nothing but lines that stick.”

She laughed, but I was totally serious–at least the over-reaching, irrational writer part of me was serious. And that’s the part that comes out of me all too often.

You see, I have a sickness. I want every line I write to become an idiom in some distant tomorrow or far-flung culture. I want every phrase unique, every syntax choice surprising (but more effective for it!), every cliche unsexed (thanks, Lady Macbeth for that one). 

It’s a chronic sickness I suffer. 

But there’s hope for me, because I’ve noticed that writers I would call good don’t try to hit everything a mile. They understand that there is a time–and it’s most of the time, including right now–for the prosaic. Meaning is carried most effectively through clear writing, and the clearest writing is often the simplest and most mundane. Active voice is simple. Subject-verb- complement is simple. Short words tend to be simple words. 

O, but these are goads I kick against. 

I want to write Augustan sentences–compound/complex sentences in passive and active voices. I want syntax that spins the head. That spins the head syntax I want! To heck with your short words. I want prefix and suffix, compounds, and much hyphenation. I want syllables! Were it not an impertinence, I would demand the subjunctive mood!

Your pardon. The sickness grips me even now.

And yet, I have some clarity, for I can call to mind those extended times of health, when the high-flying muse is subdued. It’s then I find that the gems in the plainest settings shine brightest, that there’s something better in one or two good phrases punctuating a long, plain paragraph than in overwrought attempts to fill it up with more.  


Can you tell we’re starting the Romantics unit this week? When that muse is subdued again, I’ll re-write this post. 


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