Chasing—and Catching—Your Muse: Part 1
© Catherine Castle
Today’s blog is the first 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 parts 2 and 3!
“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 everyday life.
“The best time for planning a book is while you are doing the dishes.”–Agatha Christie
What do you think of when you clean the toilet? How gross it is? Why those scrubbing bubbles aren’t working? Use this time to envision your heroine surviving the sewers of London, or develop a funny scene. Humorist Erma Bombeck is a great example of using everyday life for inspiration. Use repetitive chores to space out and daydream. It doesn’t take much brain power to fold towels, drop clothes in the washer, or run the sweeper. Just be careful when driving or using sharp tools. The goal is to daydream, not end up permanently asleep. Several years ago I read Stephen King’s book on writing. In it he indicates that some of his best stories, Cujo,Salem’sLot, Desperation, Dolores Caliborne, came to him while taking a shower, while driving, while, taking his daily walk. He asked himself, “What if?” and while doing the mundane, everyday things of life, his stories formed.
- In insomnia.
“I put a piece of paper under my pillow, and when I could not sleep I wrote in the dark” —Henry David Thoreau.
What better thing to do with insomnia than write? I suggest you keep an insomnia notebook. I have written poems, skits, fleshed out dramas, written dialogue and even plotted out novels in the wee hours of the morning, sometimes perched on the throne, other times hidden away in my office. Some of the best things I have written have been created when I should have been asleep. I would advise you go to the far side of the house if you plan on plotting out loud. When I was writing music for the first musical my husband I co-authored, I got up one night to record a song that kept running through my head. I took my mini recorder from the nightstand, went into the bathroom, and very softly sang the tune into the recorder. The next morning, my husband politely asked me not to sing at 2 a.m. Apparently I wasn’t as quiet as I thought I was.
- In sleep, or daydreams.
“What no wife (and I would add husband or children) of a writer can understand is that a writer is working when he’s staring out the window.”–Burton Rascoe
Have you ever dreamed a story, or some part of one? I have, and it’s really cool when it happens. Sleep releases the ideas that are floating in your subconscious. Can’t remember your dreams? Try cat naps, daydreaming, or self-hypnosis.
- In solitude
“If you are a writer you locate yourself behind a wall of silence and no matter what you are doing, driving a car or walking or doing housework, which I love, you can still be writing, because you have that space.”– Joyce Carol Oates
Do you have the luxury of spending more than 3 hours a day alone? Or is yours a life that only slows down when you hit the mattress? No matter how little time you have alone, writers need solitude. We need time alone to create. We need time alone to chase the muse. We need time alone to rejuvenate. How you find that time is up to you and your schedule.
Sometimes I find my solitude and ideas in prayer. I’m not praying for an idea, but my mind tends to wander when I pray. I try not to beat myself up over it, but consider anything thing I come up with as divine inspiration, and thank God for it.
That’s all for today. Please check back in a few days for the next installment.
Do any of these methods work for you?