If you’re a writer, chances are that you have an inner muse. Some writers wax poetic about how their muse brings them glittering plots that they pull out of the air like magical, sparkling fairy lights that appear out of nowhere. Inspiration finds them everywhere, because that diligent little muse of theirs has spent some time (obviously) floating around the universe hand picking the best and most important characters and plots, poems and lyrics just for them—like an Etsy store for your writerly soul. Of course, mostly the whole idea of the muse got really old around the time that ancient Greece did too. So why am I talking about invisible writing friends? Either I need to get out more, or there’s some truth to this madness.
My muse and I are a little more like frenemies. She (he?) does eventually show up to work, but sometimes she would rather do something else. I can imagine her out there, coasting around and daydreaming about whatever invisible people daydream about. I can’t blame her, exactly. Sometimes the going is tough. Sometimes, it’s hard to sit down at the desk and feel blank. This is usually when the muse has decided to not show up or instead sits on my shoulders and pulls my hair into odd little curlicues –it is so not helpful.
In her TED talk, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about the “elusive creative genius” of ancient Rome and Greece as being a divine spirit or “Daemon” that was a magical entity that lived with the artist and helped them to create things. Muses have been around for a long time. Of course, back in the day, it was completely normal to say something like “yes, I realize that book I wrote was kind of lame, but it was my muse’s fault. She had an off day.” What is particularly interesting about this lecture on muses is the idea that at some point, we stopped thinking of our writing in relation to muses and instead took on all of the blame, praise and stress ourselves. Writing became a solo task.
What I think is kind of sad about this lack of belief in the muse is that the pressure is high—if something doesn’t turn out the way it was supposed to, there’s no one to chastise but myself and that isn’t very conducive to the writing process. Elizabeth Gilbert’s point about believing in muses for our sanity is a good one: blaming the muse does kind of alleviate the stress of having to come up with something that is pure genius all the time. It’s like blaming the dog when you’ve eaten one too many enchiladas. We all do it, so why deny it? Blame it on the Muse.
See? Zombie ninjas do exist.
When I remember the run that I went on yesterday afternoon, I can still feel the burn of snow as it blows like a sheet of sandpaper in my face and the heart-pounding heave of my heart as it feels like it might just give up at any second. I remember the run taking forever, because it totally did. There were so many streets that we ran down that by the end, when I hobbled up the stone path to my front door and said “Screw this. Let’s make new New Year’s resolutions to get all fat and lazy,” Matt laughed at me and said “It’s only been twenty minutes.”
Okay, so I might have remembered the run a little differently.
Memory is a funny thing. Prior to the run of doom, I was listening to a podcast from Radiolab.org on memory and imagination. Apparently, neuroscientists have discovered that the two are closely linked in the brain so that every time we recall a memory it is being altered by the part in our brain that operates the imagination–meaning all of your memories are totally wrong. Or at least kind of messed up.
As a fiction writer, this makes for some interesting writing. It’s always my goal to try and reach those deep inner truths that make scenes come alive, but this notion that our memories are always being re-remembered from an imaginative perspective based on our current situation makes for some difficult discoveries in the way of truth. How can you find truth when the truth that you remember is kind of fiction?
Perhaps, when whoever said “truth is stranger than fiction,” what they really meant was “our memories are all kind of screwy anyway, so let’s just call it some damn good fiction and leave it at that.”
Anyway. I’ve decided to take this whole memory-and-imagination-are-kind-of-the-same-thing-thing to mean that when I write my memoir I can totally lie and say that I was in a huge ninja fight with all sorts of zombies and ninjas instead of just having had surgery. True story.
On a more realistic note (if one can even claim that this exists on the topic), I’m starting to think that writing with truth means writing the true feelings that emerge out of a situation and not necessarily the details that really happened.
It was sunny and crisp outside so I couldn’t help going for a walk, which led nowhere in particular since I didn’t really have any place to be. Observing the newly melted water glistening in the sun and the flecks of snow as they glinted in the cold wind was interesting, but there is also a certain amount of discomfort in not having a plan. I kept thinking: people are going to wonder what I’m doing! Why am I wandering aimlessly?
Later, when I was home and working on a short story I encountered a similar feeling. Instead of writing it on the computer I chose to write it by hand in a notebook. I didn’t stop to think hard about my choices or plot points–I just wrote the story as it came to me. In the end, I liked the rough draft a lot better than I thought I would and it made me think that part of the creative process needs to be this uncomfortable act of divining the thoughts from…wherever they come from. Even though it feels weird to not know where the story is going, I think in the end the picture becomes clear.
What do you think? Do you begin with the end in mind or leave it up to chance?
I used to think that free writing was something that we did in school when the teacher wanted us to practice our writing skills without us knowing. In high school, there was creative writing class, and we did free writing again, but those snippets of ideas were forgotten after the notebooks were graded and filed away. Everything that we did back then was for a grade; it didn’t really hold much dedication, rhythm or meaning to the act of free writing.
This week I started free writing again, but somehow it felt different. Why this act of free writing felt new eluded me until this morning when I realized that it was the ritual of writing without borders or criticism that changed the feeling. There is something meaningful when you open a new notebook and sit at the desk for five or ten minutes and simply write about nothing in particular. The pen becomes a divining rod for ideas. The writing feels more real and deeply rooted in emotion when it is all about putting pen to page rather than staring at a blank Microsoft screen. It just works better.
I hadn’t really intended on learning anything today, but then sometimes that just happens, doesn’t it?
Out on Georgian Bay there is a rocky outcrop that hangs out over the water. On a clear day, if you stand at the edge of this cliff, you can see straight down into the deep, cool waters. There aren’t any rocks jutting out below, making it the perfect spot to take a leap of faith–feel the balmy air on a summer day rush past as your feet meet the lapping cold below. It’s kind of a scary feeling to take a leap like that. To be honest, I’ve never liked the feeling of falling, even if you know with absolute certainty that the water will be there to embrace you (perhaps with a bit of a spanking if you land the wrong way). Needless to say, I’m usually that person who says “I’ll just slip into the water on my own time–just give me a minute, won’t you?”
But this morning I took a different plunge of sorts. I started a writing course which I think will inspire me in new ways and it made me remember this cliff. Every summer, I would drive my little aluminum boat out to the cliff, or past it on my way to wherever I was going for the day and I would think about whether or not I was brave enough to jump from the top.
Confession: I still haven’t taken that particular plunge. Maybe it is the organizing, worry-a-holic who keeps on stopping me from jumping off of that rock. It might just be common sense, because who really thinks it is a good idea to fall from such a height?
So why did I return there, to the rock that I never leaped off of this morning while working on writing exercises?
I think it is a reminder that even if you think jumping off of cliffs is imprudent, there is always a good leap–an important plunge–that you need to take.
Making lists are sort of a guilty pleasure for me. I like to make lists about everything, leaving a trail of scattered papers around the house. Naturally, I had to make a list of New Year’s resolutions. It went something like this:
1. Go jogging once in a while (hey, you never know when zombies are going to take over the world)
2. Finish another novel
3. Be more social (I tend to hide behind my MacBook in my office)
4. Learn how to pluck own eyebrows–no, really, I don’t know how…
5. Learn to appreciate the little things…and avoid junk food.
Inevitably, when making a list of resolutions the items on said list usually end up being things that I want to change about myself. So I had a thought. While change can be good, maybe it’s time that we spend the wee hours of the New Year appreciating what we think is awesome about ourselves. If positivity and inspiration is a state of mind, then it is up to us to cultivate that feeling.