Slavery to the MuseAuthor J-L Heylen muses on the creative process.

Anyone who asks will soon find out that I didn’t start writing fiction until my mid-forties. You might conclude from this that perhaps I am new to writing.

Of course I’m not. I’ve been a writer for years.

I’ve been a writer since I was capable of stringing two thoughts together.

It’s just that I never showed my writing to anyone. I couldn’t. My writing comprised of personal journals that I wrote for the sole purpose of relieving whatever angst I happened to be feeling at the time. They were a way of sorting myself out – of making intellectual sense out of physical and emotional confusion.

They were records of personal discovery; railings at things I knew I couldn’t change, but which still hurt; attempts to teach a future self what I once was; and testaments to what I would become.

In the pages of those jottings I see loves lost, or ultimately won. I see insights that I didn’t realise were so profound at the time, but which make perfect sense in hindsight.

I see me.

When I started writing novels, I thought I had reached a different stage in my writing. I thought I was finally free to write what came to my imagination, rather than what sprang from a deep well of desire or despair.

As a Science Fiction, Steampunk, and Speculative Fiction writer, I managed to convince myself that I wasn’t writing about me anymore. I was writing for me.

I was writing for the sheer joy of sharing my inner worlds, and the characters that populate them, with others. I was writing for the story. I was writing to be read.

Ah, how wrong I was.

Lately, I’ve been having some ‘issues’. The usual things, you know. Work stress; relationship anxiety; a crush I couldn’t shake; a complete overhaul of who I thought I was and what I thought I wanted.

A complete surprise? Out of the blue?

“Read your own books, woman,” a friend told me. “They’re full of this stuff.”

And they were right. Amongst the story, within those pages, buried in plain sight in the way the worlds are designed – there lies me.

It’s a me I always convinced myself wasn’t me. It’s a me that I thought others couldn’t see, or that I thought I would never let anyone see.

My books are full of a secret I thought I would take to the grave.

And it turns out that the only person who ever thought it was a secret, was me.

The creative muse can be a fickle Mistress. Servitude to her can be beautiful, and cruel.

Any writing will help you find yourself. Especially when you aren’t looking.