Monday Muse: Summoning the Muse

Inspiration. It’s a word, obviously; a noun, to be exact. “The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.” What a denotative meaning, eh? It’s funny, really, how the dictionary always seems to make even the terms most redolent of color and imagination into something dry and…uninspiring. I know that’s the point, of course, but the dictionary just can’t seem to get the feeling right. I guess that’s why words are so dangerous; it’s not the meaning, but the feeling–what most people would call the connotation–that gets people into trouble.

But that’s not what I’m writing about today. It is, but more tangentially than I really wanted. Today, I want to talk about inspiration as a concept. As that illusive necessity that sometimes strikes like a lightning storm and other times leaves your mental landscape looking like nothing so much as the setting of a Mad Max movie. No, you don’t even get the really awesome cars and over-the-top action sequences; those are actually quite inspirational. OK, so maybe inspiration is just like a Mad Max movie. Can we just make sure it’s the newest one? I try not to think about Mel Gibson if I don’t have to. No, it’s really got nothing to do with him being an asshole. It’s because I really hate both Braveheart and his Hamlet. Him being an asshole just confirmed for me that I’d been right all those years.

Anyway. On Saturday, I mentioned that I’d been having trouble writing since coming home from vacation. The Muse (I’d say Clio, knowing me) seemed not to have realized that I had, in fact, come home. She must have thought I was still in the theater with her sisters (Melpomene and Thalia, for those who are not as into the Classics as I am). Just a ridiculous level of unprofessional behavior, I think. (OK, that’s enough…don’t want to get on the bad side of the Muse of History.) In summation, I couldn’t write anything. The inspiration was just not there.

A lot of writers might just sit back and say they’ve got no inspiration. Writer’s Block, it’s often called. They stare at the screen (or the page, for those who still hand write or use a typewriter) and the white just seems to echo in the creative centers of their minds. It becomes amplified until Blank is all they can think about; it consumes them. OK, so I should say it consumes us because I’ve definitely felt that sense of nothingness before. It’s not a good feeling. In fact, for those of us who strive to be creative, it’s probably the worst of them all.

But it’s also a bit bullshit.

You see, saying things like “I have Writer’s Block” and “My Muse has gone missing” are fine, if you don’t leave it there. They should never be the end of your statement, just the first clause. “I have Writer’s Block, but…” As a creative person (and, of course, I speak as a writer because that’s what I know, but the same can be said for any creative endeavor), you are the creator. You are not at the whim of some random force or Ancient Greek embodiment. The difference between The Blank and writing isn’t going to come from the page; it’s going to come from you. A Writer isn’t someone who talks about writing, a Chef isn’t someone who looks at pictures of food and plans on making it, a Painter isn’t someone who thinks about painting and never actually puts their chosen medium to the page (or canvas…or whatever you paint on…I can’t draw to save my life). If you want to call yourself creative, you have to create.

So…what to do? Well, I might have mentioned before, but the secret is just to create. Even if it’s awful. Even if every single word/line/whatever is just plain awful, you are looking at the Muse and demanding attention. You are staring into The Blank and flipping it off as you throw color all over the place. You are creating, even if it isn’t any good. What I did when I couldn’t force myself even to write crap (yeah, it got that bad after Stratford) was look for a prompt that triggered something within me. It took me hours of looking to find something that I wanted to write. I didn’t settle for anything marginal; I looked for the one that I wanted. But I wasn’t going to stop looking until I had written something. I wasn’t going to let my body sleep until there were some words on that page. That night, I churned out 2000 words toward Rotten Wonderland, which is what I’m currently calling my Hamlet-meets-Alice project. The next day, I wrote a 1000-word fluff piece about Austen’s Emma that forced me to write like Jane. Today, there’s the blog (which counts). Maybe tomorrow, Mercutio will answer my call. If not, I’ll just keep writing until I can make the words my…OK, there’s been enough profanity in this post, but you know what I mean.

But that’s only half. You also have to find your own inspiration. You have to consume. Is that reading? Watching movies? Going to the theater? Visiting a museum? A great restaurant? Do whatever you need to do to fill yourself with creative energy. I love doing research because it allows my inner Historian free reign. She doesn’t get to come out often because I’ve found that she makes other people uncomfortable more often than not. But delving into the deepest corners of the internet learning about my chosen subject (or, you know, buying way too many books…thanks, Half.com!) not only brings me joy, but it is just a cornucopia of ideas. A lot of the time, I write stories with historical and mythological elements; learning about history and mythology is like having a conversation with Inspiration itself. The project I’m just delving into now (you know, the very basics like Googling and skimming Wikipedia, which is fine so long as you don’t cite it) requires me to know enough about two very real people that I can write them accurately. And the more I read, the more the thing seems to be writing itself.

Creating isn’t easy. It’s not like Mozart in Amadeus, where something comes to him and he churns it out in a night. On occasion it happens, of course, but you cannot sit there and wait for it. You cannot be at the whim of chance; you have to own it and create your own chances. You know the saying, “God helps those who help themselves?” Well, the Muse doesn’t want to wait on you hand and foot; you have to get your ass up and create inspiration for yourself, too. Because if you don’t, you won’t be half the creator you can be.

OK, so that’s the Muse for today. Looks like almost 1200 words, too! Maybe Mercutio is ready to tell me his story again. If not, I might just have to get him drunk…He’s a big talker when he’s drunk. Anyway, that’s it until Friday, when I’ll tell you want to read and what to drink.

C’mon, Clio…we’ve got work to do.

C

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