Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Fertile Field

Now that I've shared my thoughts about what writers are and why artists do what they do, I feel the need to discuss the environment that spawns artistic creation.  Almost any artist can tell you, after years of experience with trying to "set the mood," that this just plain doesn't work.  You can't set the stage for creativity.

It's not like getting set up for relaxation.  In that scenario, you draw bath water, light scented candles, turn on peaceful music, and pour a glass of something tasty.  If you take your time with the preparation, your mind begins to disengage.  If you focus on the flickering candlelight and immerse yourself in the water with full appreciation of Here and Now, you really can't help but be lulled into defenselessness.

I've often tried to set the scene for writing.  I've closed the door to my office in an attempt to block distractions.  I've turned on music that's gotten my creative juices flowing in the past.  I've opened an empty, pre-formatted Word document, taken a swig of water, then waited for my Muse to arrive.

She doesn't oblige me.

You cannot summon a Muse.  They don't respond well to commands.  Unless you are a very powerful writer (think: Patterson, King, Evanovich) who has the Muse on a leash and can crank out new books at a blinding clip, the thought of directing the creative urge becomes laughable, and fast.

Think, instead, that the Muse comes to you when she's ready.  You can be sitting in the middle of a job interview, sweating bullets, when you notice the original art hanging behind the interviewer.  You latch on to it, hoping that the tranquil mountain scene takes you to a peaceful place psychologically -- and that's when the dizzy bitch finally shows up, cooing over the pattern of the clouds and handing you an invitation to WriterLand.  "It's time," she whispers in your ear.  "Now.  If you come with me now, I'll explain to you why your character did what he did in the last chapter.  It's brilliant.  You'll love it -- but you have to come now."

And you can't.

Some of my writer friends are reading this and nodding their heads.  Some are raising their fingers in polite protest.  "But," they say, "you can't excuse writer's block so conveniently.  You should still be writing something every day, whether your Muse is with you or not.  There's no better way to weave a leash than to let her know she's wanted."

You may be right.  Daily writing exercises (like blogging) do open things up.  It keeps the pump primed; it keeps the tools sharp and ready.  You can every day practice the art of transferring concepts into words, and, like artists do, share your perspective with people and hope they get your point.  But that's not the same thing as the art itself, and I hope you understand what I mean by that.  A blog should not be confused with a short story.  A blog is a thought, an impression, a means of communication.  It's casual journalism.  Sometimes, frequent blogging can lead to discussion of topics that may appeal to the Muse, but the blog is not the will of the Muse.  Even short story exercises, where a plot is indicated and resolution is sought, can't be confused with true creative inspiration.  Real creativity, the kind that comes from your Muse, comes in a forceful rush, and it's dizzying, inspiring, and a little like madness.

On a personal note, I've discovered my Muse loves road trips and travel.  When I'm flying along in a metal tube more than 30,000 feet from solid earth, gazing around at my fellow travelers and watching them amuse themselves, she whispers and giggles in my ear.  The experience of seeing new places is my fertile field.

What's yours?


  1. For me? Driving or jogging. Both suck for taking notes. I think my muse secretly chooses those times precisely because I don't have a pen and paper nearby.

    I have to admit I've written without my muse only to discover later that the carp I thought I wrote was really good after all. It's more fun to feel that forceful rush of madness, but now I'm beginning to see how good stuff can come even when I'm not feeling inspired.

  2. 11/11:

    I agree that a lot of good stuff can come out of keeping the pump primed. It's just . . .different. Somehow.

    Okay, I'm losing my ability to express myself. Silly Muse is on vacation. ;)

  3. She loves live music, my muse. I could easily be the weird girl with a laptop in the corner of any local band's bar show. That, and walking the half mile to the cafeteria at work. My kingdom for a laptop that floats along in front of me and never interferes with my ability to get anything done.

    As for the spark of inspiration--I agree, so much easier than shoveling through mud like the other times can be. When one project starts to bog down, I like to start collecting sparks for other projects in jars to light my way like fireflies. Or the landing lights at an airport if you prefer. Sparkling ahead to keep my fingers fleet, even when the writing is agonizing.

    So, why do we do it? Because my worst day of writing is better than any day I've ever had at any job.

    And MJ, for the record, you at your most inarticulate are still one of the finest wordsmiths I know.