This is a lightly edited version of an email exchange between me and the editor working with my forthcoming book on writing process for Apocalypse Ink Production. I said a number of things I thought might be worth repeating, and with their permission, am doing so here.
> Here’s the question I’ve had from the beginning but waited until I’d
> read everything there was to read cause I figured there was an
> explanation somewhere. Fred has always been something I understood,
> but did not know was a particular reference. I will admit to being a
> little disappointed that the name “Fred” wasn’t something you’d come
> up with, as it seems to be reasonably rare for male writers to denote
> a male persona to the unconscious writer brain. Maybe it’s a holdover
> from using the term “muse” but in my (albeit limited) experience it’s
> more common for female writers to denote this as a male persona.
I copped the name Fred (indirectly) from Damon Knight. I find it occasionally useful to think of my writing brain as a separate entity, as it certainly sometimes behaves that way. I will note that the longer I do this, the less it feels separate to me. Sort of like developing a new personality and then integrating it?
I did seriously propose to a psychologist friend some years ago that he do EEG scans of writers in normal conversation, then do EEG scans of those same writers deep in their writing process. (This would require a fairly phlegmatic crew of subjects, a quality not often associated with writers.) I have this very half-baked hypothesis that the language centers engaged in writing fiction are different from the language centers engaged in ordinary discourse. Sort of like how different parts of your brain light up when speaking English rather than Spanish, or whatever. I hold up as my tattered shred of evidence the observable fact that for many authors, myself included, the syntax and vocabulary we use in fiction can be very, very unlike our commonplace speech patterns.
So Fred is both a signifier for what you refer to as the Muse, and a shorthand of my own for my perception that the cognitive processes of writing are distinct from the cognitive processes of everyday life.
Which may, of course, be me saying the same thing twice.
> Do you think of Fred as being sort of an internal person or persona
> that does the story magic, or is it simply a four letter term to
> reference the not-quite explainable part of writing?
More the latter. I’ve never literally (or even hard-metaphorically) thought of Fred as a distinct internal persona. He’s an aspect of my writing my mind, given some anthropomorphic character.
Some writers do talk about their characters telling them what to do. I’ve had that experience from time to time myself. I think very few if any of us take that literally. Rather, that’s a special case of Fred talking to us.
What I do believe is going on, aside from the neuropsychobabble above, is that as with most people, the writer’s subconscious mind is a lot smarter than the writer’s conscious mind, within its given domains of expertise and experience. Good writing, writing with power, is of necessity tapping that deeper well. Otherwise it’s just words on a page. The style, the intensity, the sweatiness, comes from reaching beneath and beyond the casual stringing of descriptive words and phrases.
It’s a truism that the human mind functions on two levels as expressed in the classic model of logos and mythos. This is the basis of the Apollonian-Dionysian tension that has driven much of Western culture since pre-Classical times. We see it in everything from the psychoanalysts’ description of the ego-id conflict to the dynamic between Spock and Kirk.
(Digression: one of the best expositions ever in popular media of this tension is the quartet of Terry Gilliam movies that starts with Time Bandits [ imdb ], goes to Brazil [ imdb ], then The Adventures of Baron Munchausen [ imdb ], then The Fisher King [ imdb ]. In Time Bandits, essentially nobody wins. Baron M. is about the triumph of Dionysian culture. Brazil is about the triumph of Apollonian culture. Fisher King is about an imperfect fusion between them that finally restores balance.)
Writing, in the sense of simply putting words on a page, is an act of logos. Writing, in the sense of story telling, is an act of mythos. The journey of becoming an author is the journey integrating those two, of learning how to use the objective tools of vocabulary and grammar and structure to tap into and feed the deep, subjective experience of being human.