Pondering the Muse

Sometimes I don’t remember writing what I’ve written. No, it’s not because I was drinking. Sometimes I’ll read what I’ve written and think, “Did I write this?” I’ll stare at the page for signs of tampering, as if I could decipher a difference in printer ink on a covertly swapped page. And it’s usually when I read something months or years after the fact that I stare in wonder at the words and mutter, “Damn this is good!” Too bad I don’t remember writing it.

Call it a muse, inspiration, divine calling. It, whatever IT is, works in mysterious ways. And whatever ‘it’ is usually won’t be harnessed. Try as an artist might, via drinking, drugs, the use of a special pen, the playing of a certain type of music, this inspiration is like a storm that the Weather Network can’t put a finger on. The only thing we can do is be ready for it.

We show up at the appointed time, pen in hand (or at the keyboard) and stare at the blank page. Then we wait. The smart ones, like Ray Bradbury, viewed the blank page as a doorway to adventure. Ray nearly ran to his typewriter every morning.  Stephen King writes to find out what he thinks. I think the difference is perspective — you can either view the blank page as everything that hasn’t been written or as everything that could be written. It’s a kind of glass half full perspective.

I haven’t written regularly for a couple years now. (I’d like to blame archaeology but I got a book out of that.) This blog was an exercise designed to get me back at the keyboard. I was to sit here, type, and position myself ready for when the muse hit. Sometimes the muse shows, sometimes not. What I do know is that the muse visits more often when I’m at the keyboard than when I’m not. When I was writing daily, the muse would keep me up until 2am or wake me up. It would have me racing through my day, back to my keyboard, just to find out what would happen next. But then the novel was finished. What next? Do you still arrive at the jobsite when the job has been completed? In this instance, I believe we all hope that divine inspiration will kick our ass out on the sidewalk.

And then there’s that question that every writer gets asked: where do your ideas come from? Hell if I know. Sometimes an idea does have a history and you can track it’s provenance. Other times, it falls from the sky.

During a flight from Calgary to London I was thinking that I’d written everything I was ever going to write. I’d finished the novel that I’d been working on two years previously. No other ideas, or ideas fit for a novel, had presented. That was it. I was done. I’d been writing nearly everyday for seven years and now I was dried up. Spent. Good thing I had a day job.

It was at that moment that an idea popped into my head. No word of exaggeration. It flew into my brain and I marvelled at its completeness. This nugget, once massaged and tempted, could fill a novel, maybe even be the start of a series. Ha! I have no rational explanation for this. But I also have no rational explanation for not remembering some of my past work.  I would like to be able to say that I’d sweated blood and worked my ass off to get the ideas, to get these amazing strings of words that sing. I can’t. I don’t know where they come from. They just come.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love,” has a talk on TED. She ponders this creative muse, coming at it from the view of sustaining success and avoiding the anguished grind typical of creative types. Frankly, I don’t care where it comes from just as long as it shows up. Like any writer, I’m willing to try just about anything. Once.

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