Novelist Keith Snyder posed an interesting question in the comments to my John Irving post. He wonders:
Personal muse-following vs. doing what you’re paid to do can coexist in theory, but in practice, how well does it work?
For me, it’s worked well. I "follow my muse" with the MONK and DIAGNOSIS MURDER books and have a great time. With the DM books, for example, I have been able to challenge myself and take some moderate risks with the franchise. The books are usually told in the third person and are set in present day. For THE PAST TENSE, I set half the book in 1962 and told it first person from the hero’s POV. That was risky for me in a lot of ways but I think it turned out to be the best book in the series so far. For MONK, I chose to write the books in first person from a woman’s POV, something I have never done before and that, at first, scared the crap out of me. But it also made the books stand out from the TV series and, in many ways, made them my own. So it’s possible to challenge yourself in a work-for-hire environment and still do the job you were contracted to do.
I also think it’s possible to when you’re freelancing a script for a TV series…which is also work-for-hire. Our first TV job was a freelance episode of SPENSER FOR HIRE. They bought our SPENSER spec… which was a comedy. It was a SPENSER, but unlike any SPENSER they had done before. A freelance script assignment usually begins with <i>your</i> idea, and you’re hired because it’s something that staff hasn’t come up with themselves yet. So, from the get-go, the script comes from "your muse." Of course, lots of other people get involved from that point, but every one of our freelance scripts has been a big challenge for us. I like to think that those scripts — for shows like MONK, NERO WOLFE, SLIDERS and the upcoming series PSYCH — gave the producers who hired us what they wanted but also expressed our unique voice.