Chasing—and Catching—Your Muse: Part 2
© By Catherine Castle
Today’s blog is the second of a three-part series on Chasing and Catching Your Muse. The original article, presented as a workshop for a Ohio Valley RWA retreat, was way too long for the blog, so I broke it into three sections for your reading enjoyment. So, please check back in a few days for part 3! For those of you who missed part one, I’m including the original introduction to the series. Please check the archives for the first article. For those returning, new stuff follows, I promise!
“Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story.”
This classic invocation to the Muse, nine Greek mythology sister goddesses who preside over the arts and sciences, is the first line in Homer’s Odyssey and appears in many ancient writings. Apparently, ancient writers prayed for inspiration. Today, many modern writers also pray for inspiration. I know I have on numerous occasions.
Although I believe in inspiration, I tend to agree with Stephen King’s take on the Muse. King believes the muse is a guy who lives in the ground. He’s a basement kind of guy that you have to set up housekeeping for. King says, “You have to do all the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you.”
Chasing and catching the Muse is a different procedure for every writer. Maybe you find the music – in Beethoven’s Fifth or Puff Daddy - or while sitting in your garden. Some writers, like Frank Yerby, don’t even believe in the muse. He stops writing if he feels inspired.
I can’t begin to tell you where, when, or how to find your muse. I can only tell you how I chase mine down. Although my muse doesn’t live in the ground somewhere, like Stephen King’s does, I do find her all around.
I believe inspiration is hanging around …
- In deadlines and the daily grind of writing.
“Writing every day is a way of keeping the engine running, and then something good may come out of it.”–T.S. Eliot
When I worked as a freelance writer, I didn’t always have the luxury of walking away from the keyboard when I was stumped. I had to keep pounding out the words. Sometimes they were bad. Sometimes wonderful. But because I kept going, I could usually turn the bad stuff into fertilizer that made the piece bloom– at least a little.
Nothing gets inspiration going faster than a deadline. No editor wants a writer who can’t meet deadlines. One of the most frequent comments I get from my editors is “I know I can count on you to have it done in time.” In my years as a freelancer, I’ve only missed two deadlines out of over 600 published articles. One was due to computer screw-ups and the other I was sicker than a dog. But my reputation for getting the job done preceded me, and I got virtually no flack from the editors.
Don’t have an editor? Join a critique group who expects regular contributions from you, or make yourself accountable to someone for self-imposed deadlines. Contests are also a great way to commit to a deadline.
I personally believe half the work of chasing, and catching, the Muse is just showing up for the race.
- In the mutiny of your characters
“If you do your job, your characters will come to life and start doing stuff on their own…And it will solve a lot of your problems.”–Stephen King
Have you have ever experienced character takeover? I have and I rolled with it. Mutinous characters can be fun. Mutinous character can spark new inspiration and take your story in new directions and to new heights. However, if you don’t live with these characters on a daily basis, it’s hard for them to take over. Make sure you spend enough time visiting and thinking about their world.
- In the lives of others
“There is only one trait that marks a writer. He is always watching, it’s a kind of trick of the mind and he is born with it.” –Morely Callaghan
People watching nets a writer all kinds of things: character traits, story ideas, title ideas, emotions. Once on vacation my husband and some friends of ours stopped in at a McDonald’s for lunch. While we were dining a very strangely dressed young man and his date came in. The boy wore ragged jeans, a long-tailed tux jacket, and a tee-shirt. Spiked hair covered his head, his ears held multiply pairs of earrings, and he carried a small Munster’s lunchbox. We had a difficult time eating without staring at him. After the boy left, my friend leaned over and said, “He certainly doesn’t have any trouble standing out in a crowd. With a penchant like he has for being his own person, he’ll probably end up as President one day.” That image and my friend’s comment stuck with me, and later I co-wrote a skit with my husband based on that young boy’s weird wardrobe and my friend’s comment about what he imagined the boy’s character to be. You don’t have to go far to find interesting characters, places, or ideas. Just look around and grab what the Muse dangles in front of you. Then run as fast as you can to your computer and get the story down.
- In books and in brainstorming.
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”–Stephen King
Writers must be readers. Why? Because you need to know what’s being published. You need to know who your competition is. And you need to know how you compare to those writers getting published. By reading a variety of books you can learn styles and grammar. You can absorb the styles of other writers, and in doing so can help create and hone your own voice
Writers also need brainstorming times. Writing is solitary work, but we need the companionship and input of other writers sometimes. Some of you may already know the power of brainstorming for getting the creative juices flowing. When we take trips, my husband Donald and I often brainstorm skits, plays and book ideas. We throw out story ideas, plot ideas, character ideas, anything we can think of. We have a no-holds-barred rule. No idea is too crazy, too silly or too stupid to throw out on the table. It might not work for what we are doing now, but it could possibly used later. I’ve discarded scenes that I loved, but didn’t work for the WIP. Later I’ve come back, looked at the scene, and built another story around it. You know you have a great idea when the idea sparks and the story lines start to spill from somewhere inside you.
Well, that’s all for today. Please check back in a few days for the next installment.
Have you ever used any of these methods to catch your Muse?