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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 http://tinyurl.com/yc853uer 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.
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