Banshee · Novels · Writing

The Well of What Ifs

Did you ever see The Seventh Sign? I love that movie: underrated horror starring Demi Moore, Michael Biehn, and Jurgen Prochnow about the seven Biblical seals that herald the end of the world. The end of humanity doesn’t come in a fiery whoosh a-la Sodom and Gomorrah, but in a silent emptiness of infertility as the Well of Souls, the holy storage unit from which all newborns receive their spirit, runs dry. I’ve been thinking about it recently because I am struggling with the opposite problem: I have a backlog of waiting projects and compressed time. My well overflows.

I never know how to answer the question of where my (admittedly weird) ideas come from. The only answer I have is…everywhere, and I don’t know why. Why does a holy storage unit of souls make ME wonder if angels and demons hold Storage Wars bidding contests, or if newborns don’t get their allotted spirits from the Well at birth, what DOES get to take over the tiny meat suit and drive it around for 80 some years? So. Many. Options.

My Well of Souls is a Well of What-Ifs.

In Greek mythology there were nine Muses: Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia, and Urania. Of those, six were associated with genres that include writing. Six of nine divine entities who inspire arts, dance, literature, and music inspired writing (although in all fairness poetry was intended to be spoken or performed in the ancient world, so technically their topics just include the written form).

  • Calliope: Epic Poetry
  • Clio: History
  • Erato: Lyric Poetry
  • Melpomene: Tragedy
  • Polyhymnia: Sacred Poetry
  • Thalia: Comedy and Idyllic Poetry


I’m 100% certain my Muse, whomever she is today, is giggling and drunkenly pulling out random word salad from a jar. Truly, that’s often how my mind works anyway: I seem to have some ability to take in loads of random bits of data and put them together in new fucked up pictures that were never intended to be in the same puzzle scene but oddly fit anyway. Ok, sometimes they fit. Sometimes they never see the light of ink on the page. (Wtf, nobody wants a Lovecraftian/Celtic war goddess mashup, Jessica. No, The Morrigan can’t ride Dagon to battle.) Translating the germ of a fucked up but fascinating idea into a couple of characters who start moving toward a plot is a mystery I haven’t fully figured out. It’s also a shit-ton of actual work: frustrating, exhilarating, exhausting effort that, for me, results in a series of stops and starts. Creating stories with a Muse blowing in your ear (or punching you in the face, which also seems to happen to me often) seems to be a weird balance of shoving inspiration into a form that’s translatable to other people.

I’m not saying writing isn’t a craft. It IS. There are rules, there is structure, there is a way to do things to move a story along in an arc that builds tension. There are so many authors and teachers skilled at blogging about craft, it’s not a topic I’m likely to touch on much. It’s certainly not the point of this post. Craft is just of the three legs of writing for me: building technical skills, showing up to do the actual work (butt in the seat, fingers on the keyboard), and whatever esoteric word you’d prefer to use: talent, inspiration, etc. Without attending to all three I lose my writing balance fast.

The Muses are getting face-punchy.

I feel time compressing my to-write-list, even though chemo is a preventative measure and I’m expected to be just fine by this time next year. Telling the other projects and characters in the mental line to shut their pie holes so I can finish something has always been my biggest challenge, particularly when so many of the characters are screamers (or, in the Banshee’s case, a wailer).

I don’t have a good conclusion to this post: I’ve been struggling with the push/pull of inspiration vs time and self-imposed-obligations for a while, and I’m a chronic starter of new books. Cancer is giving me a kick in the ass: it’s finishing time.

2 thoughts on “The Well of What Ifs

  1. Hi, Jess! I read your comment on Jenny Lawson’s blog and followed you back here to let you know you’re not alone. I finished chemo and radiation in December and am now a pile of sores and burns waiting for my body to rebuild itself after treatment. I am truly sorry we have to go through this, but glad to hear we both have good projected outcomes.


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