The Muse

writingMany people ask writers (and I presume, other artists), where do you get your ideas?

I think, though I’ve never done a study, that some people get their inspiration always the same way. But for the majority of mortals the muse may or may not come and our ideas flow from various sources. My ideas come from many sources. The least likely is that I see a call for submissions on a particular themed anthology, say, spotted flying pigs. If the idea really hits me, or I have something in the works, I’ll give it a go.

A fair number of my ideas begin with dreams. It might be a world, an image or a conflict. Dreams are tricky things, though. They follow their own logic. They make sense at the time but the scene changes are sudden and sometimes psychedelic. A story based on a dream often takes straightening out on the chronology, as well as adding a flow and logic that might be missing or too obfuscating. The novel I hope to work farther on this summer (a fantasy novel on a different and complex world) was based on a dream. It was very detailed, with conflict, hierarchy and politics. I couldn’t pass that up.

Often I will think a what-if. What if people breathed through their eyes? What if flowers grew underground? What if we were invaded, not by highly intelligent and technologized lifeforms, but by microbial life that changed us into creatures unfit for our world? A galaxy of what-ifs. They’re only the starting point, the basis of a setting. The conflict, personalizing (adding the characters) is always the hardest, for me anyways.

Sometimes stories start with a random image, a phrase, something someone says or does. I once had some day surgery, a laparoscopy, which involves several small incisions. Anything invasive takes the body time to heal. I had to wear loose clothing for a couple weeks and would experience some pain and discomfort. I said at one point, “It feels like I have a black hole in my stomach.” From that phrase I started working out a story, which started with, “Jenny has a black hole in her stomach.” I sold that story “Consuming Fear” very quickly to the Northern Frights anthology.

Once in a blue moon the muse truly hits. I’m not sure she’s truly taken over more than once. I was in the middle of a story, writing along when these phrases and images started pouring into my mind. I finally had to just put aside the story I was working on and write the other one. It flowed out in just a few days, in a lyrical style quite different than my style in other stories. “The Fishwife” sold to Descant, again on its second or third submission.

But most of the time we can’t wait for the muse. It’s no surprise though, that through history writers sought their muses in opium dens, drugs of various sorts and drugs. We look for things to inspire us, to move us beyond the norm, to fire our imagination with a story that should be told. I try to remember the muse moments and see if I can sometimes draw on those styles. But in the meantime, I look for ideas and sometimes plod through a story, one paragraph at a time.

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4 Comments

Filed under Culture, entertainment, fairy tales, fantasy, myth, Publishing, spirituality, Writing

4 responses to “The Muse

  1. 94stranger

    This muse thing is strange – when things write themselves. I suppose it begs a question: what part of creativity is just the struggles of the ego and what part does not belong to ‘I’ at all? Should I then be on the side of what my ego produces (which is probably second-rate) or of what the muse dictates – which in a very real sense is not ‘my’ work at all? After all, how far is it from the writer being dictated to by the muse to the medium acting entirely as a channel for the beyond – for people who have ‘passed over’ for example. So far as I know, mediums don’t claim to be creative artists of speech.
    What do you think?

  2. colleenanderson

    When I speak of the muse I don’t necessarily mean that the inspiration is beyond me. Perhaps some part comes from beyond, but I don’t believe I’m channeling Mark Twain or some other dearly departed, nor have I been seized by Ramtha or some other denizen of the ethereal realms.

    Though it is possible, that there is something from beyond that flows into me, I think some of it is, as you say, dropping the ego, perhaps freeing oneself from the thinking process to let ideas flow. There are exercises such as automatic writing but I think inherently it’s still me, just on some other level.

    Also, what my ego produces isn’t necessarily second rate, nor what my muse produces, first rate. To tell the truth, the muse may have been there more often but somehow tempered (or slowed) by my ego. It’s an interesting question though. I wonder if any research has been done on muse art over ego art.

  3. 94stranger

    hi Coleen,
    I didn’t respond at once because I was – and am – thinking about it. It’s all making me feel slightly uncomfortable: because it’s well known, for example, that a scientist can worry about a problem to the nth degree and then get the solution in a dream: in fact the Naskapi Indians of Labrador, if my memory serves me correctly, used to use dreams systematically as direction-finders for hunting.
    There’s no doubt that some poems, or sections of poems, ‘write themselves’ – in fact, I’ve written things which didn’t have any clear meaning for me and which, years later, I discovered what they had meant – yet my unconscious – or however you want to express this – knew what was going on all along.
    I recently had a similar experience with the following poem: the first two lines came on their own; the next two almost at once, and the rest was a struggle to do something with what had arrived from ‘out there’. I don’t know what the references in those first lines are – but maybe one day I will.
    http://94stranger.wordpress.com/2008/03/22/poem-camelot/

    I don’t know if this conversation of ours is going to go on: are you O.K. with me re-publishing it on my blog? In my experience, this is a subject which greatly interests the writing fraternity. Over to you!

  4. colleenanderson

    I don’t have a problem with you re-publishing it. In fact, I’m going to take your comment and put it as a post. Look there for my comments.

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