We Are Mused.

There’s always been this legend, mythology, or wishful thinking even, around The Muses. Fathered by Zeus and born of the personification of memory, there were nine Muses in the ancient Greek version of pop-culture.

the_nine_muses_by_wegs

The Muses were goddesses and water nymphs. Some ancient Greeks (ancient Geeks?) considered them to be primordial deities – children of Titans (Uranus and Gaea).

The nine Muses delivered inspiration like hot pizza. They covered all the creative bases,  literature, art, music, science, mathematics, geography, and like totally drama.

Poets like Homer invoked them at the beginning of epic poems. Later epic poets like Samuel Taylor Coleridge invoked opium.

Homer’s contemporary, Hesiod, said there were nine Muses. Mostly focused on poetry (I wonder why a poet came to that conclusion?) According to the Roman scholar, Varro, there were only three; Melete (Practice), Mneme (memory), and Aoide (song).

Varro sounds like a straight-talking guy, even if he was a miserable sod.

The number of guests at dinner should not be less than the number of the Graces nor exceed that of the Muses, i.e., it should begin with three and stop at nine.

~ Varro.

If nothing else, this quote indicates that Varro didn’t have more than 3 friends and therefore changed the number of Muses to make his soul-destroying dinner parties less awkward.

It is also said that King Pierus of Macedon named his nine daughters after the Muses. Because in ancient stories, kings are known for doing things that piss-gods-off. Seriously, you never hear of an ancient Greek farmer calling his kids Zeus, Apollo, and Uranus (still the funniest word the Greeks ever gave us).

The princesses were turned into magpies. No I don’t know why magpies as opposed to say, swallows. Gods move in mysterious ways.

In true visual movie style – we now cut to Present Day.

Goddesses are harder to come by these days (unlike opiates). So, finding someone to fill in the role of Muse can be challenging. Unless you are living the tortured artist trope, you probably have at least one person who loves your poetry, your Twilight fan-fiction, your finger-paintings, and that song you wrote about how your love is like a tea-towel.

If you have a Muse in your life. Treasure that person. I hit the jackpot, because I married my muse. Damaris is hard to explain. I mean, she’s a perfectly normal and wonderful human being – obviously. The hard to explain bit is a bit…. hard to explain.

Damaris generates whimsy. She has a sense of humour that often leaves me gasping for air having laughed so hard I almost collapse.

She also has a sharp mind. She is good at puzzles, and at their core, most stories are puzzles. You are presented with a situation where questions are asked. Conflict arises and drives the plot – questions are resolved by the end and everyone feels smug for having worked it out by page 120 (that’s position 2347 of 4693 for you Kindle users who have never read an actual book with page numbers).

Sometimes I find myself with an idea, that has a blockage. It’s an obstacle that is locking a story down. I can’t write it because it’s just not hanging right. It’s the creative equivalent of being OCD and trying to hang a picture of the Leaning Tower of Pisa straight on the wall.

At times like that, I go to Damaris and I say, “Hon, this is the scenario. This is the problem.”

She immediately tells me the solution. It can be as simple as two words. Like, “He’s married.” Or, “Corn chips.” Sometimes she asks the right questions, like; “Why is the secret agent wearing lingerie to the PTA meeting?”

I love Damaris. She’s as close as an atheist like me can come to worshiping anything and as a Muse, she is the best.

BETA NOT

BETA THAN YOU

BETA ROUND THE BUSH

BETA THE DEVIL YOU KNOW

BETA, MISTREATA

BETA NOT

For a blog post on beta readers it seems appropriate to have a range of options for the title. It’s the sort of thing that a beta reader might have an opinion on.

Which is the entire crux [nub, heart, essence, most important point, central point, main point, essential part, core, centre, nucleus, kernel, bottom line] of beta readers.  Opinions.

Opinions are what beta readers provide. Somewhat humorously there are people who charge for this service. I don’t know what they offer that unpaid beta readers don’t provide, because I have never felt the urge to pay anyone for a second opinion (unless they are a doctor and that rash is just not healing).

Opinions are the core of what beta readers provide – hence the collective noun, an Asshole of Beta Readers.

Editors, formatters, book cover designers, these are services I expect to pay for if I am self-publishing (or the publisher will pay for). But why not beta reading?

It comes down to what I am getting for my money; expertise is the main thing.

I expect that an editor, a cover designer, or anyone else being paid for a service in relation to a book, is doing something that I cannot do myself. More importantly, I expect that they will add value to the project. They will do some sorcery with Photoshop. They understand the subtle nuances of grammar and know their prepositions from their propositions. They can make a book layout work in any device.

These are all things that are worthy of payment due to expertise and a saleable service.

Beta readers on the other hand read books and give opinions. I’ve had beta readers say the kinds of things about my books that I would normally expect from my mum (not, “Oh God, you gave me nightmares!”) but the “I’m very proud of you, well done!” variety of response.

I’ve had other beta readers who completely missed the point of a key element of a character. Things that were pretty clearly laid out and while I could have included a handy diagram and bullet point list – to really make it clear, this writing thing is about suggestion, implication and not giving all the details because when a reader reads, they put their own perception goggles on and view the story through their filters.

The result is I am left wondering if they were on the kind of medication that has a warning on the label advising you not to operate machinery, drive or beta read while under its effects.

Because their output is opinions, beta readers are not objective. An editor may not give a monkey’s pancreas that your main character is a gender-fluid, nihilist philosopher alien who is in love with a trombone. There are simply there to make sure you make words good.

A beta reader will either enjoy the story or they will reject it because it doesn’t fit with their gender-static, life-affirming, brass instrument phobic world view.

Mostly, I don’t bother with beta readers. Sometimes a publisher will use them, which is their prerogative. The bit that grates like bone dust in my synovial fluid, is when the opinion of a beta reader is taken as so important that the story must be changed to change the bits that they did not like.

On the flipside of this is the creepy reader who reads a horror novel and sends you fan mail about an implied act of sexual assault from a scene in the book. While you wrote it as a ‘most-goddamned-awful-thing-I-can-imagine’ they write to tell you about how much they liked it. I mean, really liked it.

At least the creepy fan with a rape fantasy paid to read the book.