The Ghost at My Shoulder

Do you believe in ghosts?  I do.

Allow me to elaborate . . .

One aspect of the writing life, at some point or another, is insecurity.  If you keep at it, and write for any length of time at all, insecurity is inevitable, unavoidable.  You worry that the novel you’re working on isn’t any good, and if it is, then you worry you’ll get stuck halfway through, and won’t know how to end the story.  You worry that you peaked ten years ago, and anything you write from this moment forward will signal a steady and depressing descent.  You worry that the ideas will just dry up, evaporating like steam rising from a woodland pond on a crisp October morning.  You fret that, maybe, you’ll become burned out and lose the passion that has fueled your writing for years.



You worry, in short, that every lyrical sentence is fleeting, every well-written short story a momentary triumph soon to be replaced by a long line of duds.  You worry that writing itself, the birth of ideas, the sculpting of sentences and paragraphs, the creation of well-rounded characters, is transitory.  There seems to be an impermanence to the thing, as if, at any moment, the light will dim, the flow of creativity dammed up like a lost and forgotten river.



And for me, that’s when I need to trust my ghost.  It’s not a ghost that creeps in the shadows of the night and haunts my dreams–though I believe in those, too.



This ghost, this lifetime companion, if you will, views me from afar and plays hard-to-get.  But just when I feel frustration building to red-line levels, when the urge to give up on a story is disturbingly close, the ghost returns.

Some people call the ghost a muse.  That’s a fine term, muse.



But for me, he is my ghost.  He’s a ghost because I can never anticipate his arrival–I can only hope for it when needed.  I can’t force him to come.  He visits and leaves when he will, capricious, like the New England weather.  And when I’m stuck, when the dreaded writer’s block has me in its grip, my ghost is the only way out, the only pathway to creative freedom.  I can try to force ideas all day long, I can craft a meticulous, detailed chapter-by-chapter outline, but those methods have never worked for me.  I have always needed to keep the faith in my ghost.

When I wrote The Eye-Dancers, there were portions of the novel that flowed smoothly and easily, like a cool and welcome summer breeze after a torrid hot spell.  These sections were a joy, when the words poured out of me and the story completely took on a life of its own.  I felt like a vessel, a conduit, tapping into a current of energy that poured through me and onto the page.



This is a beautiful and heady feeling,  the apogee of the creative process. Perhaps in these “in-the-zone” moments, my ghost is standing right there beside me, at my shoulder, though I am unaware of his presence.  I think the ghost works best that way–when I’m aware of his nearness, the subconscious loses its hold, and the conscious self threatens to short-circuit the process.  My ghost works best in the background.

But then there are moments when I distinctly feel his absence, when the words and thoughts seem to be spiked with barbed wire, slicing and cutting and going nowhere.  These are the times when I know I’m alone, when my ghostly ally is nowhere to be found.  Some chapters in The Eye-Dancers were like this–daunting Himalayan peaks that needed to be scaled.  I would write the chapter, but I knew it wasn’t close to what it needed to be.  I would rewrite it, reread it, still shaking my head.  I would start to doubt myself, doubt the story, and when no answers came, I felt an urge to fling the keyboard across the room.  I would struggle and wrestle, but nothing seemed right.  I needed my spectral friend in the worst way.



And then, when I felt completely unraveled, after taking a dozen long walks trying to work out the tangles of the plot, the ghost would finally come, tiptoeing along as if daring me to miss his arrival.  “Sssh,” he seemed to whisper.  “Stop trying so hard.  It will come when it will come.”  And it did.

He comes with a feather-light step, my ghost does.  He comes when he’s needed, and he always has–a lifelong helper, a friend of the writer.  He is a constant reminder to allow the story to be the story, to let it unfold as it will, at its own pace and in its own time.  When I worry over the direction of the plot, when I doubt that I have a single worthwhile word left in me to write, he reassures, softly, and he leads me along the path I need to travel.

So, you see, when I am asked if I believe in ghosts, I answer, without hesitation, “Yes.”

Because if I doubted, if I didn’t believe, my creative well would have gone dry long, long ago . . .

Thanks so much for reading!


68 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. worldsbeforethedoor
    May 30, 2013 @ 14:50:38

    Love, love, love! !!! Beautifully written and so true!


  2. Sue Dreamwalker
    May 30, 2013 @ 16:51:32

    Oh Yes!!!… Our unseen friends are often at our shoulder guiding us within our thoughts and thinking… If you have read my inspired poems you will see I often say they come in moments,, No pauses.. no mistakes,,, all rhyming perfectly… These I know are from my own invisible friends… Who want to inspire and bring their wisdom through the words I write…

    Lovely Post Mike… ~Sue


    • The Eye-Dancers
      May 30, 2013 @ 17:52:43

      Thanks, Sue! And when that happens, when those invisible friends pay us a visit–there is nothing else quite like that, is there? A magical feeling . . .


      • Sue Dreamwalker
        May 30, 2013 @ 18:06:25

        Yes… Being sensitive to those invisible realms I feel extremely honoured when those visitors come in close..
        But then I do often link with those in spirit… as you may have read on my Life with Spirit posts.. 🙂
        So good to know you feel that connection to that realm too 🙂

  3. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83
    May 30, 2013 @ 18:47:00

    Yes, I do believe in those friendly ghosts. If yours become a problem, please send them over to me! Whatever they are doing for you is so delightful I need them as well.


  4. Charron's Chatter
    May 30, 2013 @ 19:37:42

    i can totally relate to the apogee AND the abyss. For me, exercise is KEY to unlocking that stubborn Pandora box–or at least her neighbor, Second Draft…and hey. You’ve only FELT the urge to toss keyboard, but not given into it? Brav-O!! I am on PC number 3..heheh…and just to be truthful: I tend to overload ’em with data, and fry their iddy brains. Surprising, yes?


    • The Eye-Dancers
      May 31, 2013 @ 16:39:44

      Your comments make me smile as always, Karen!:)


      • Charron's Chatter
        May 31, 2013 @ 17:04:54

        Hey Mike–I am off for the weekend, and intend to buy the Eye Dancers today or tomorrow–I downloaded the kindle for PC app–but also want to go to Best Buy to maybe get a real one. So that is where i am at–slow off the mark as yet, but fully on board!!

        Hope your day is faboo, and i will be “in click”..:)

  5. eemoxam
    May 30, 2013 @ 22:32:20

    A great way to describe the writing process, I love it!


  6. Sam Han
    May 31, 2013 @ 02:36:18

    in and out of zone, yes and the burn out feeling!!! keep at it Michael, you’re doing fine 🙂 now i need to get back finding my ghost 😉


  7. 2embracethelight
    May 31, 2013 @ 03:16:16

    What a creative talent you are. I enjoyed it very much.


  8. sakuraandme
    May 31, 2013 @ 14:59:26

    Hey ghosts are cool and if you have one walking by you? I want to walk with you too! I loved this post…Hugs and have a great weekend, Mike….Paula xxx


  9. kaligrafinusantaraonline
    May 31, 2013 @ 15:35:02

    very nice


  10. SerachShiro
    May 31, 2013 @ 17:15:56

    Love this post , bewitching!


  11. Angela Grant
    May 31, 2013 @ 18:19:20

    You are simply brilliant at inspiring ideas. Thank you, that was a NICE post! -Angela


  12. gelakel
    May 31, 2013 @ 20:01:45

    Great blog. Great way to put it. Thank you 🙂


  13. reocochran
    May 31, 2013 @ 20:44:55

    I have never been afraid of ghosts, the ones that haunt old house and slam doors. They seem to be wanting attention. But the ghost that is your muse is wonderful as your writing shows! Take care, Robin


  14. Deborah Hawkins
    Jun 01, 2013 @ 05:25:09

    The creative process is so interesting. I always feel Mark Twain said it best for me, you write until the tank runs dry. I don’t know exactly how it fills up again, but it’s there next time. When it hasn’t refilled yet, sometimes I just read the last bit I wrote and either it begins again or I leave it once more and next time its ready to go. I just love that a whole story is coming from a side of me I don’t access in my linear world. It’s so much more fun than law practice!


    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jun 03, 2013 @ 18:07:58

      Yes, I imagine it must be.:) And you’re right–sometimes reading the last bit you wrote can help when you’re stuck. But what a relief it is when the words do begin flowing again!


  15. Christy Birmingham
    Jun 01, 2013 @ 17:16:24

    I am always thankful when the muse takes time to visit me! You are right to say that we all do have those insecurities about our writing (though not all writers will freely admit it!)


  16. Trackback: How it happens | Filling up, Pouring out.
  17. Anne Chia
    Jun 02, 2013 @ 19:13:40

    Well said. I do have those insecurities myself, but I have learnt that it is ok to feel it, but to recover and “soldier on” with my writing.


  18. kyrian777
    Jun 02, 2013 @ 20:37:53

    Thanks for sharing this post!


  19. Jane Dougherty
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 06:32:27

    Very good post Mike. I know the feeling, when there’s something about a section that doesn’t work, and you begin to doubt that it ever will come right. I’d never thought in terms of an extraneous presence though. It’s a good idea—gives hope that the muse will kick start the story again, even if you, the writer are having problems sorting your ideas out.


    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jun 03, 2013 @ 18:12:41

      Yes, my “ghost” has gotten me out of trouble many times! He is a trusted and old friend. It’s odd–but true. When writing creatively, there is often a sense of being a conduit–the creativity takes on a life all of its own–almost like an out-of-body experience. It is the ultimate high!:) Always great hearing from you, Jane!


  20. laurie27wsmith
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 11:08:35

    When I was writing my first book I had created a character from a prisoner I knew when I worked as a prison officer. The man had robbed a mail van and the money had never been recovered. He served his ten years, got out and was murdered two years later. I wrote it so my man survived and went on with his life/adventures. I built up a background for him, then a funny thing began to happen. I would write late into the night and I began to feel him standing behind me, sometimes I would get a glimpse of a tall, dark shape out of the corner of my eye. There would only be a desk lamp going and the glow from the computer screen. The writing would flow and I found some hidden depths in my character and his motives. I love the idea of the muse and its many manifestations.


  21. Fashion Mayann
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 13:09:20

    Keep on believing in your ghost because it makes your writing so interesting and so real …


  22. joseyphina
    Jun 04, 2013 @ 09:15:20

    Nice post. Very interesting.


  23. honeydidyouseethat?
    Jun 04, 2013 @ 14:52:00

    As always very insightful. I would love a ghost. I really would. Where can I get one?


  24. stormy1812
    Jun 10, 2013 @ 19:01:26

    this is awesome! im with honey – where do i get a ghost that can help me out? i write for a living (small town weekly newspaper reporter) but the writing on wordpress is pretty amazing and this particular post/blog is awesome. i’ve wandered a little bit and im humbled that you stopped by my little blog, liked my “congratulations class of 2013! mustang pride” post, along with following. im not sure im all that good of writer (despite my job) so i feel blessed when genuinely great writers stop by! Thank you!


  25. jjspina
    Jun 10, 2013 @ 21:02:42

    Mike, you are incredible! You write like Pavarotti sang – smoothly, mellifluously, melodiously, flawlessly, perfectly! You are really a talented writer. I am proud to say that I know you! Keep writing in your inimitable way.


  26. mlhe
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 00:13:59

    There is art in the word ghost. Gee. Host. Gee = wonder, awe, question. Host = someone who greets you at an open door.


  27. Sheryl Wright Stinchcum
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 11:22:27

    Hi Michael,

    You are one incredible writer! Your book is beautifully written, clever, and full of suspense. Although it is geared to young adults, people like me who are many decades beyond puberty, will be intrigued by your references to WWI and other historical events. Reading your book is like going back in time. I haven’t finished reading it, so I can’t pigeonhole it yet. It crosses genres. As you say, it’s science fiction and fantasy. But it also hints of other genres. Sometimes I think I’m reading about time travel. Your story hints of many possibilities, and that’s what makes it fun to read.

    Regarding ghosts and muses, you’re a great writer and don’t need either. Ghosts are “familiar spirits” or demons impersonating the dead. The occult–Ouija boards and all–is a snare (Deuteronomy 18: 9-13.). I’ll write you a private letter about my first-hand experience with the occult.

    Back to your book, it’s a page-turner and I expect it to do well. You write like a seasoned writer, not like a first-time novelist.. .

    . .


  28. Brook
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 18:56:04

    You help us keep believing. A wonderful piece Mike! *Thank you.* (and *thank you* for the “likes” at my place…I believe in the Ghost too…and you understand the insecurity, of living with a Ghost).


  29. stockdalewolfe
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 19:38:10

    Well, I believe in ghosts, too but never thought of them as muses. You might have something there… I wanted to thank you for reading and following my blog. Will poke around yours some more.


  30. WordsFallFromMyEyes
    Jun 15, 2013 @ 06:46:31

    What a great post – I really enjoyed it. Magazine quality!! Really interesting, & I relate.


  31. Jilanne Hoffmann
    Jun 17, 2013 @ 16:45:44

    I’m struggling right now. Thanks for the pick-me-up! I’m going to lie down on the floor and wait for my ghost to show up. Or maybe I’ll try typing and see if it sneaks up behind me.


  32. Mary J. McCoy-Dressel
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 21:20:45

    I don’t know how I missed this post when you wrote it, but it’s fabulous! What a great way to describe your ghost/muse.


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