words about words

nga-calliope-allI absolutely believe in the muse. Not literally a daughter of Zeus, but the creative inspiration that comes from “out there.” Muse is as good a way to describe it as any. Sometimes she comes as an idea appearing in your mind like a bolt of lightning. Sometimes she draws your attention to something: a news article, a scent, a flavor, an overheard conversation, or the way that guy is edging away from the woman with a shopping cart at the bus stop. And once in a while the muse will sit down beside you and whisper words in your ear and you’ll have to scribble or type like your fingers are on fire to keep up with the flow of language.

Each visit from the muse is a gift. And like most gifts you must remember two things: don’t expect them, and be grateful for whatever you get.

The other thing to know about the muse is that she’s willful and unpredictable and nothing pisses her off more than being taken for granted.

If your plan is only to write when the muse inspires you? You ain’t gonna write. To wait for the muse is to disrespect the muse. You need to meet her halfway. You do this by sitting down at your weapon of choice—keyboard, legal pad, voice recorder—and getting down to business.


Think of it like this. You know when you’re a kid and you go to the playground and no one’s around or everyone is already involved in their own games? If you stand there on the peripheries with a glum expression, no one will invite you to play. People want to join in when you’re doing something fun. Remember the long summer evenings when a couple of kids would start playing Kick the Can and before you knew it the whole neighborhood was out? The muse is drawn to creativity like kids are drawn to fun. So sit down, start creating, and see what happens when she comes around to investigate.

Of course, she won’t always gift you while you’re in prime writing position. Oftentimes you’ll suddenly have the answer to that dicey third act problem while you’re in the shower. Or wake up in the middle of the night with a character name you’ve been struggling with on the tip of your tongue. With me, it’s almost always in the car.  Here’s the solution: always always keep a pen and notebook close by. Trust me, do whatever it takes to capture what the muse gives you; you will not remember it later. There is the equivalent of the lost library of Alexandria of great ideas, jokes, and plot twists that authors have squandered for the lack of a damn pencil.

If you want a visit from the muse be respectful, be prepared, be grateful, and be ready to work.

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