Waiting for the Muse


In my thousand years or so of writing, I have had probably two or three moments when inspiration set upon me like a caveman with a club. I specifically remember one Sunday morning back when we were living in Illinois. I woke up early, a particularly vivid dream stuck in my head. I was motivated–nay, obsessed–with a particular scene in my past when I told a girl that I cared about her and she turned me down. More than anything, I saw the environment; the sky, the brown swirling leaves around our feet, the ambience of other students talking over evening meal. The picture was crystal clear in my head. I woke up and knew that I had to write that scene before it disappeared from my consciousness.

That scene ended up in a book that I wrote later (which, sadly, was never published). And as I mentioned, the Muse has struck a total of about three times in the past 40 years. Oh, sure, I have had ideas for columns and come up with plans for books. But rarely do I see things as clearly as I did that morning.

Many of us want to write–correction, we want to have written; there’s a difference–but we feel we need to wait for the right idea to come along. We expect someone or something to put that perfect idea into our head and hands that will allow us to write the Great American Novel and make millions and retire to Key West. But it just doesn’t work that way.

There are moments of inspiration. But those moments are drowned in a deluge of moments of perspiration. Writing is hard work. And the hardest part for me, I find, is simply coming up with the ideas to write. As I tell my students: “Writing is easy. You just need to know where to start, where to stop, and what to put in between.” That’s tongue in cheek, of course.

I enjoy writing Fiction, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the most challenging type of writing there is. (Other than my dissertation, but there are other reasons for that.)  Fiction relies on taking the reader into the story, making them see what you see as the author. There are two necessities to this. First, the author needs to use language that’s descriptive enough, yet transparent so that the reader sees the idea without seeing the words. Second, the author has to visualize the scene he is writing so clearly that he can convey that to the reader. Unless the author can see the scene clearly, he can’t expect the reader to see it.

That’s one of my downfalls. I am a generalist and want to cut to the chase. I tend to be very good at plotting, but not so good at description. My visit to Park City has taught me that I need to focus on description and character development. As inticing as a good plot can be, unless the reader cares about the main character, they won’t care about the story.

But I digress. A lot. I was talking about inspiration. Most of the writing I have done I did while on deadline. And deadlines teach you to go ahead, inspired or not, and hope that the Muses can catch up with you as you write. The interesting thing I find is that stuff I write, supposedly “uninspired”, actually comes out just as good as the other stuff, most of the time.

You just have to crank it out. But always have a clear view of your vision before you describe it. Remember: your stellar, clever prose is nowhere nearly as important as your ability to accurately build an idea in your reader’s head.

Something to think about.

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3 thoughts on “Waiting for the Muse

  1. I find that writing becomes easier (at least in fiction) when you convince yourself why the scene/character/situation you’re writing is interesting. I used to say you have to fall in love with every scene, but I don’t think that’s necessary anymore. What is necessary is the conviction that what you’re saying is something you want said, and also what you want to hear. Tolkien and Lewis both said that they wrote fantasy because they liked reading it, and there never really was enough of what they wanted to read. Personally, I think that’s a very smart approach, and so when I write, I have to find out why I would want to read it in the first place, and make it exactly that.

    1. I, too, write fiction because I love to read it. And there are some situations when a story is eating at you and you find you just have to get it out there, on paper, regardless of whether it gets published or not. My Champion series falls into that category. No takers on publishing it–probably because it doesn’t fall neatly into one genre or another–but I love the story, I love the characters and I am determined to complete the third book in the series.

      It might get published someday, but my first priority was just writing it for me. And if need be, I will accept that accomplishment as a success.

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