Monday, 19 March 2012

How To Find Your Writing Muse

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.
If you found this post somewhat interesting, please give it a retweet. Cheers.


Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

I think my muse is music. I get inspired when I hear beautiful tunes floating over the airwaves and they send my mind churning.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

So our own views on the world can guide us to write? Makes sense, since my views tend to appear in the story anyway.
My wife asked me out and that was a very long time ago.

Hektor Karl said...

"Sure, your muse can be an opinionated idiot who says dumb things"


Probably true as well. I like the sense of the muse as a collision...

mooderino said...

@Michael-I listen to music when I write too, bit mostly to block out all the screaming and shouting from the rest of the house.

@Alex-obviously some men are irresistable to the ladies.

@Hektor-not all muses are good people.

McKenzie McCann said...

My muses are wonderful, but sometimes they tease me. Sometimes I get an idea that I love, and can't write it. Those are the worst.

Unknown said...

I was driving to work one day when a fantastic idea struck me. It began with a question (as most ideas do). Intrigued, I began asking more: who, what, where, when, and why? By the time I got to the office, I knew it was my next big story. There were still many questions that needed answering, but what I took away was that during that long drive to work, my brain being on auto-pilot--daydreaming, if you will--and it was probably the best time to come up with ideas. So i do that more often now. Any chance I get to let my mind drift into a fantasy world. That's where my muse hides. :)

Thanks for the good read!

Anna Soliveres

Christine Rains said...

Great post! Opinions and beliefs can lead to great stories.

Nancy Thompson said...

How's this for a moody muse: For months (and months) as I've been revising and getting ready to restart querying again for my first novel, my muse was silent on my next WIP. I had to pry every idea from his miserably greedy mind. But as soon as I signed a pub contract for that first novel, the plot, subplots and everything else came rushing into my head at warp speed. 'Sup widdat? At first, he wouldn't share a thing. Now I can't get him to shaddup!

dolorah said...

I have lots of "views" on things :) And it does propel my writing. Good to know I don't have to have a specific writing muse to be a writer.


mooderino said...

@McKenzie-I'm not normally a violent person, but some muses need a poke with a stick to get them out there.

@Anna-thanks for sharing your process.


@Nancy-the brain is a mysterious organ. I sometimes wonder if mine is working for or aganst me.

@Donna-no, just a specific viewpoint.

Thanks for all the comments, much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I used to have a couple small parrots who sat on my shoulder. They never said anything intelligent, but they did an awesome job of cleaning my ears.

Sarah Foster said...

My muse usually manifests him/herself as the narrator of whatever I'm working on. They like to convince me that they're real, living in some deep corner of my brain.

Carmen Esposito said...

I struggle with my writing especially since my muse doesn’t have much to say. But every once in a while, I get hit hard with an idea that I must work on right away. Maybe my muse needs to work on people skills – more talking and less hitting.

mooderino said...

@Stephen-clean lugholes are vital for writers.

@Sarah-and probably havin a lovely time living rent free and not paying taxes.

@Carmen-I find most of the writers who say their muse is non-communicative usually turn out to have locked theirs away in the attic, in case they behave inappropriately when company comes round.

Charmaine Clancy said...

I've never embraced the muse idea - seems like an excuse when the words don't come, but mostly I don't like sharing the credit when I actually get it right. Bugger off little muse fairy, this trophy's mine!
Wagging Tales

Julie Daines said...

"When things annoy you, excite you, or make you laugh, those are the things to investigate in narrative form."

Excellent advice. Thanks!

mooderino said...

@Charmaine-fortunately muses have no address to send invites for awards.


Anonymous said...

Odd farty noises? Are there actually common farty noises? My muse is laughing.

Gail said...

Very good information!

I always think of writing about my heroes but never about the ones that just get on my last nerve.

chazalou said...

I'm often advised to write regularly but it's difficult unless I'm feeling particularly inspired, when the writing just flows.

If the muse wasn't home I wouldn't even try, but then I read this quote

“What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat,’.... And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.”

― Maya Angelou

So I will try to write regularly, in the hope that my muse can be called up on demand after all!

I find visual prompts such as photos or artwork that represent the scene or situation I'm currently writing about can help too:D

Unknown said...

I'm still confused about what a Muse is. I mean I've had ideas pop up from seemingly nowhere, like the story I'm starting now came from a monologue that started in my head at work. I've also had an idea for a story sit in my brain for two years before it started to snap at me to write it down, if that doesn't sound too weird. Maybe that's my own Muse? I dunno, I don't have many friends that write, and do artists have Muses? Sorry for sounding like an idiot.

mooderino said...

@Suzanne - artists were the first to have muses, but ultimately it just means something that inspires or puts you in a creative mood. Could be an object or a song or a magical spirit. A way to acknowledge the inexplicable nature of art.

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RobertKY said...

Yeah i think in my case i am so boring and have no words about such stories. Writing muse is blessing and i can only write if i have for many purposes.

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