Chasing—and Catching—Your Muse: Part 3
© Catherine Castle
Today’s blog is the final installment 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, and as a sneaky way to hopefully bring you back for the remaining parts of the series. I hope you’ve enjoyed this series. For those of you who missed parts one and two, I’m including the original introduction to the series. Please check the archives for the first two articles. For those returning, new stuff follows, I promise!
The Muse of Poesie
“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 …
“I put things down on sheets of paper and stuff them into my pockets. When I have enough, I have a book.”–John Lennon
When I’m pressed for an idea I have a ton of them waiting for me in my idea file and in my blog idea notebook. Every writer should have an idea file, or two, or three. Ideas are everywhere. A scrap of conversation. An article in a magazine or newspaper. An interesting, exotic, or historical place you read about or visit. The way the trees look like black lace on a red winter sky. A sound. An off-hand comment someone makes.
As writers we should see stories everywhere. Nothing I see, hear, or read is exempt from becoming fodder for my idea file. The words “There’s a story somewhere in that!” should be ones you, as a writer, find yourself saying often. My minister probably thinks he’s the greatest orator that ever hit the pulpit because when he’s preaching I’m always reaching for my purse, pulling out a notebook and scribbling in it. I’m not writing down great religious platitudes, but story and skit ideas, bits and pieces of description, something I heard the teenager in the row behind me whisper. All fodder for a story or book.
“I type in one place but I write all over the house.” –Toni Morrison
Thinking about what you’re going to write can be a lifesaver. It makes things flow much better at the keyboard. A few years ago I really need a fast shot from the Muse. I had an assignment from the Community Press to write a story about a local entrepreneur. I had notes, lots of them. I had the photos taken, and I had been thinking about the story, which was due in a little over a week ¾ or so I thought. On a Wednesday afternoon, about 2:30 I was working on some things that were due the next day and I got a call from the editor for whom I was writing the Jungle Jim story. She wanted to know where the story was. It was due today, and since I always got things to her early, she wanted to know what had happened.
“Today!” I said. “My notes say it’s next Wednesday.”
“Oh, no,” she assured me. “It’s today. I need it by 5 p.m. at the latest.”
Imagine my panic when she asked for a 1000 word article to be finished and on her desk in less than three hours! Fortunately for me, and her, I had been thinking a lot about this story. I was able to sit down and pound it out in the allotted time. Granted, it didn’t get my usual one-day-first-draft-wait for reviewing, but I got it done. Had I left thinking about the story until I actually sat down to write it, I would have never made that ungodly, and unexpected, deadline.
“It seems to me that those songs that have been any good, I have nothing much to do with the writing of them. The words have just crawled down my sleeve and come out on the page.” –Joan Baez
In this article series I’ve talked about the ordinary places and ways to catch the Muse. Although I’ve emphasized the practical, I still believe in the magical aspect of writing. Sometimes there’s no explanation for where, or how, you get your ideas, keep the plot going, or create unforgettable character. Sometimes stories jump into our heads, nearly full-blown. Other times it’s just plain hard work.
To keep that magic flowing you need to work hard, daydream often and love your work, because if you don’t love what you’re writing you’ll avoid the keyboard. You must use whatever means you need to make the trip from the living room to your office one that you can’t wait to start.
Take a minute to finish this sentence. A day without writing is like a day without ______________ .
I believe that when you get to the point that writing is important to you as breathing or some other essential thing in your life, and when your fingers itch and long for the keyboard, you’ll finally catch and capture the Muse. In fact, you’ll probably have to chase her out of your office chair.
“Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink up and be filled.”–Stephen King
Is there anything you do that I haven’t mentioned to catch your Muse?
This is it for this series. If you have anything you’d like to see featured on the blog, drop me a comment and I’ll see what I can come up with. And thanks for sticking with me during this writing craft series. Catherine