How to Bait Your Muse

This post started its life as a tweet:

I want to find a ‘How to Bait Your Muse’ class, or even better, ‘Abducting Muses 101.'”

I wrote it using my Droid around 10:00am this morning. It then went onto Facebook where it generated the following comments:

…CREEPY!!! :P”


Put cheese on a musetrap


Now, I suppose I could (should?) allow this tweet to disappear into the nether regions of twitterverse, consumed by the black hole of inanity that consumes most of my 140 constrained characters. But my inanity knows no bounds, certainly not those imposed by Twitter. Plus I still want to know How to Bait My Muse.

It perplexes me where ideas come from. I mean, the good ones. The ideas that keep me up (like this blog post is currently keeping me up) until 2:00-3:00 in the morning, even though I have to be up for work at 7:00.

I used to believe that ideas were like fireflies – a writer would go in the woods, alone, in the dark, and patiently scoop these glittering jems out of the sky, bottling them up for the world to see. But oftentimes (and maybe this is just poor me) they are not so obvious.

If it was this easy, if any old bloke could go bumbling around the woods with a big enough jar and cram that sucker full until it could power up the Bat-signal, well -any old bloke would.

But ideas are not like fireflies. Sometimes they light up in the dark, but if they flicker, they flicker slowly, almost imperceptibly, and it’s up to the writer to go chasing them down, hoping that he will be able to find his way out of the dark woods; hoping there really is a trail that led him in; and once he finds what he came for, that a trail will lead him back out; and more hopeful still, that he can somehow remember the way so he can tell others where he went.

Maybe ideas are less like fireflies, and more like the darker things lurking in the woods, the “semi-domesticated animal” that Stephen King writes of:

There’s a mystery about creative writing, but it’s a boring mystery unless you’re interested in this one small animal, sometimes quite vicious, that makes its home in the bushes. It’s a scruffy little thing with fleas and often smells of whatever nasty mess it’s been rolling in. It can never be more than semi-domesticated and isn’t exactly known for its loyalty. I’ll speak more of this beast — to which the Greeks gave the comically noble name musa , which means song…” – Stephen King, “The Writing Life”

It’s interesting to me that Stephen King describes the creative process in terms of waiting for a beast, as though the Muse were just some vicious animal, nearly feral, and that which can never be controlled, only caught for short periods of time, usually at the price of scratch marks and bite wounds.

I also think of the creative process in terms of a hunt, but it’s less like Buckmasters and more like eHarmony; less the bear trap metaphor, and more a courtship. In fact, I can almost picture the Muse’s eHarmony profile:

She enjoys walks on the beach under moonlight, followed by romantic fireside dinners with baked brie and blood red wine the color of former heartache. She enjoys dancing under undying stars where the Milky Way pirouettes into the infinite reaches of heaven. Her favorite colors are sadness, melancholy, exquisite delight, and loneliness. Her worst fears are too much happiness, too little joy, and being suffocated. She is looking for men (and women) who are content in their solitude, afraid in their fears, hopeful in their joys, and  generous with their lives. She also likes cats.

Mr. King and I agree that the only way to meet this Muse is by getting alone with her (standing on the edge of the woods, waiting for it to arrive), which really means getting alone with oneself. The greatest gift the writer can give to the world is solitude, for it is the price of meeting one’s Muse.

She will flirt in books; she will play coy at parties; she will send love notes throughout your day at work, even while you are out with the boys; but it’s not until you get back to your desk, back to that park in the bench where you’ve stopped to enjoy the sun, back to the driver’s seat of your car while trying to get from social event A to social event B – yes, that’s when she arrives. You won’t always know how she got there, may not even know she’s there at all until she bumps you on the shoulder, but you’ll always know it’s her – the world stops; time hangs on a single, yet eternal, thread of decision: continue along the way, ignore her and all she stands to give, or accept her in that moment, that moment that hangs in eternity.

Make no mistake, writer, if you spurn her presence here, there is no guarantee she will return. Oh, she may come back again, but not like she was in that moment, not as the sun caught in her hair just so. If you ignore it, you’ve lost it – whatever idea, whatever inspiration, whatever gift she would have given, it is gone.

So writer, woo her. Writer, cherish her. Writer, pause. Listen. Hear.

And writer, whatever else you may do

Wait for her.

Published in: on March 10, 2010 at 4:57 pm  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. And be sure to carry a small notebook and pen at all times because that darn Muse only lets you taste the words for a short time, then runs away and takes the words with her/him, leaving you with a vacuum in your head.

  2. Love it, Scott! My favorite part is “She will flirt in books; she will play coy at parties; she will send love notes throughout your day at work, even while you are out with the boys; but it’s not until you get back to your desk, … yes, that’s when she arrives.”

    May you meet with her long and often during your upcoming vacation! :o)

  3. Well, that auto-smiley mangled my non-traditional manual smiley… Oh well. 🙂

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