If you’re lying awake in bed, and you look over at your sleeping partner with their tongue hanging out, snoring, making odd farty noises, and your heart starts beating faster and you think, “Of course! What a brilliant idea for a horror story,” then congratulations, you have a genuine muse on your hands.
Sadly, that’s not the case for everyone. Having someone who can inspire great ideas and put thoughts in your head that lead to marvellous stories is something we would all love, but the muse as an independent being who feeds out creativity is a rare and unreliable creation.
So where can you go for a refill when your well runs dry?
For most of us the real muse is ourselves, or to be more specific, our viewpoint. Having opinions and ideas about the world and the stuff that goes on in it, is what fuels a lot of storytelling. An objective and simplistic tale told in a balanced and reasonable manner doesn’t have the inner spark of a story told by someone with strong beliefs and firm ideas, even if those ideas are complete hogwash.
If you’re writing a romantic story about a man and a woman, what is it that you’re really writing about? What do you feel about relationships or dating or marriage or whatever?
It’s easier to put those thoughts aside and just write and see what turns up on the page. The muse in this case is seen as an otherworldly force who will whisper in your ear and if you’re lucky what they whisper will be a 600 page international bestseller. And occasionally this is what happens.
Will it happen to you? Probably not. Will it happen to me? Definitely not. However, you have every right to play those odds if you wish.
Stating what you think about something beforehand is often difficult for people. It can be embarrassing, or others can use it to make you feel foolish (You really think that?!). But I have found if I sit with a writer and just ask them questions about the subject matter they’re planning to write about, they, like everyone, have very definite ideas and opinions.
If you asked me about romantic relationships, I might say I think it puzzles me that a woman asking a man out is still considered odd. Even though men might say they have no issue with it, they tend to find it a little threatening, an attempt to take control. And while we should all be assertive about the things we want, if the woman I’m with makes me look like a follower rather than a leader, what will my friends think? Maybe an assertive but understanding woman will allow her man to take charge when they’re out with friends, just so he doesn’t feel embarrassed, but what if he starts to like being top dog and wants things to be like that at home too?
My point being my interest in women asking men out (not whether it’s right or wrong, just my view that it is an interesting idea to me) acts as my muse. It leads me to a certain issue in relationships, which might not even be central to the story I’m writing, just part of the make-up of the characters. The scene where a woman asks out a man scene may not even appear in the story. But that muse only exists because I asked myself what I thought about the premise.
This can be a tricky thing to do on your own. Possibly sitting down with someone (preferably who doesn’t hold the same views as you) and asking them conversationally what they think about a subject, and using that to investigate your own position, can help.
Of course, some people have no problem working out what they think about these sorts of matters. In fact they have too many views and won’t shut up about any of them. Having a muse surplus is not helpful. You have to be able to cut through the background chatter and focus in on the meaty parts you can get stuck into.
And once you have your muse, your definite spark to start your fire, you don’t want to over sell it. Acting like you have the one true answer and there’s no other approach is going to read as anodyne and one-note. That’s why you have a cast of characters, to challenge and shape your muse.
Having a viewpoint, no matter what it is, fuels ideas and creativity. Sitting on the fence, taking an even-handed apporach, waiting for your subconscious to do the work for you, are approaches which will peter out into a dithering mess.
Things that don’t seem right to you, or when people seem to miss the obvious, these are your muses.
When things annoy you, excite you, or make you laugh, those are the things to investigate in narrative form. That part of your brain that you don’t really understand, that decides what you approve of or what you don’t, that’s where your muse lives.
Sure, your muse can be an opinionated idiot who says dumb things, and gets you into all sorts of trouble if you go round spouting these things in real life, but when you’re writing, there’s no better friend to have sitting on your shoulder.
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