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First Monday Mentoring, May 2018 – if you write it, muse will come

Last month my Swedish friend, Agneta Angie Probst, asked about the best places to write. In the comments she wanted advice on getting her muse to show up, a large enough topic to deserve a separate blog and here it is.

Firstly muses are unreliable partners. They arrive when they want and deliver only as much as they choose. But they can be encouraged with the right incentives.

In the 1989 fantasy film, Field of Dreams, an Iowa farmer played by Kevin Costner, heard voices telling him, “If you build it, he will come.” Believing that legendary baseball player, Shoeless Joe Jackson, was the ghostly voice, Costner’s character levelled a field of corn and built a baseball field. His neighbours thought him crazy but he was vindicated when the ghosts of history’s greatest players including Jackson emerged from the corn and played baseball on the field. Without spoiling the ending, suffice to say Jackson wasn’t the character’s only muse.

If a voice in your head told you to build a sporting field on your land, would you do it? What about if the same voice urged you to write a certain character’s story? There’s little difference because following your muse is as much an act of faith as Costner’s character ploughing his corn under.

Our stories come from deep inside us, agglomerates of people we’ve encountered, places we’ve been or read about, and events we’ve imagined. It’s said that our brains can’t tell the difference between something real and something vividly imagined so all our experiences end up simmering in the melting pot of imagination, emerging as story inspirations.

Your muse is timid, treat him/her gently

This may answer the question most asked of writers – where do we get ideas? Millions of non-writers have seen Field of Dreams. Few would connect Costner’s response with how we writers react to voices whispered in our ears. Or as I did, see Rembrandt’s painting, The Evangelist Matthew Inspired by the Angel and link the angel whispering to Matthew with my muse talking to me. I was so taken with this idea that I had a copy of the painting made to hang in my home.

Some writers name their muse; others hold that he/she lives in the melting pot of imagination. Or hovers over us, whispering ideas. However you visualise your muse, remember it’s an elusive creature. Here are three ways to coax  your muse to come to you:

  1. Be gentle

Just as yelling at a child tends to escalate a tantrum, mistreating your muse has the same effect. They shrink away and refuse to co-operate. Be gentle instead. When the muse whispers, close your eyes and listen. Be grateful that he/she has come out to play. Even if the muse starts talking when you’re in the shower or at a restaurant,  be welcoming. Keep a notebook or phone app handy to capture whatever you’re given.

  1. Be non-judgmental

As children, we were often told to do our best, fine unless it’s misread as “do it right.” You may automatically add, “or else” as a shadow of some larger person looms. It’s easy to fall into the critical state that was the lot of many children. If they show you a story they’ve written, it takes great self-control to avoid saying, “That’s lovely dear but you could have done this part better.” Thus treated, their fragile young muse may well go into hiding for years or forever. Be strong enough to praise the work without judgment and allow the muse to grow.

  1. Be open

Your muse delivers ideas in many ways. Sometimes the idea is only a beginning. While being gentle, don’t fall in love with the first idea the muse presents. Without criticism be playful and open to where the idea might lead. Look at it from all angles. Ask yourself, “What if?” What if the characters in this idea were children, or very old people. Or very old people who looked like children? What if the first part of the idea was given a different ending? Or happened on an island instead of in a city? Your muse loves to play mental games and may well surprise you when given a little encouragement.


Your muse loves to play mental games.

As we discussed in the April FMM Blog, setting yourself up to write at the same place, whether in a cafe or a corner at home, is one of the best ways to get your muse to show up, especially if you aim for the same time each day. As the habit strengthens, the muse gets the idea that this is “writing time” and will show up more reliably, keen to be part of the magic.

For more on muse magic, I recommend Anne R. Allen’s Blog…with Ruth Harris at Ruth Harris calls a muse visit a gift to yourself, “tapping us on the shoulder or bopping us on the nose just to make sure we’re paying attention.”

How do you pay attention to your muse? How and when is it there for you? Please share with us in the comments below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post can appear right away if you click on ‘sign me up’ at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,


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Check out Valerie’s online course, Free The Writer in You


Four agreements for writers

One of my favourite books about personal growth is The Four Agreements by Shamanic teacher and healer, Don Miguel Ruiz Based on a philosophy learned from his Toltec ancestors, this unassuming  book offers an everyday code of conduct that, at first reading look simple and even obvious but is surprisingly hard to live by.  When I reread this book recently, it occurred to me that the four agreements can be applied directly to writing, leading to clearer, more direct communication and a happier experience for both writer and reader.

1. Be impeccable with your words

Don Miguel Ruiz says with your “word” but I’m adapting here. Just as he urges us to speak with integrity and use our words in the direction of truth and love, we can use the words we write with the same intention. If we write our meaning clearly, without trying to impress an editor or reader, it’s far more likely the message we want to send will come across clearly as well. In line with the original agreement, we should avoid using our writing to do harm, to spread malice or to add to the weight of gossip already in the world. Instead, we can write as simply and directly as we can, telling our stories with integrity and the intention to entertain, inform or educate without doing any harm.

2. Don’t take anything personally

According to Miguel Ruiz, what other people say and do is a result how they see the world and has nothing to do with us. We save ourselves a lot of needless hurt if we refuse to be affected by what others say or do, especially about us. This even extends to our own thoughts, which are often more critical than helpful. I call this the “critic over your shoulder”, the small voice coming from inside that says your writing is terrible, no-one will want to read it, and you may as well give up. We can choose not to listen to these voices and write our stories anyway.

Writers can apply this principle in two more ways. First, when we show our work to others, we can refuse to take on board any comments or suggestions that aren’t helpful to where we want the writing to go. We can thank the giver of the comments for their help and look at how their suggestions might improve the work  but we don’t have to feel hurt or bothered because they didn’t fall in love with every word we wrote. The same applies to reviews we might receive after our writing is published. One reviewer may praise the work because what we wrote coincides with their own beliefs, or is what they wanted to read at a given time. Another review may be harsh or critical. If we refuse to take anything personally then good or bad reviews  have nothing to do with us. We have written the best work we can with the best intentions and that’s all that really matters.

In my next blog, I’ll explore the third and fourth agreements as they apply to what we write. Let me know what you think.


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