Nourishing Your Muse
Diana M. Raab -- January 23, 2006
The third installment of Diana's excellent series on getting comfortable with your muse, and getting work done.
The term muse comes from the original Muses who were the nine daughters of the Greek God, Zeus. In today's world, a muse may be thought of as a source of inspiration for a writer and can be either a person, situation or even a fantasy. In Ray Bradbury's book, The Zen of Writing, he says this about muses: "What is The Subconscious to every other man, in its creative aspect becomes, for writers, The Muse." Bradbury believes that they are two names for the same thing.
I believe that people and situations nourish our subconscious, in fact, some people so favorably tap into our subconscious that they provide us with ongoing writing inspiration. In my own life, I try to surround myself with those who inspire or nurture my writing-those who exude positive, creative and nourishing energy.
Bradbury says that there are many different ways to nourish the muse, and one ritual he advocates is reading poetry every day. "Poetry," he says, "is good because it flexes muscles you don't use often enough. Poetry expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition."
Even though I haven't written poetry until recently, I've been reading it for many years. In fact, I keep a poetry book on my bedside table and read a few poems before retiring for the night. It's like taking my daily vitamin. There's also the possibility that this ritual not only makes me feel good, but has subconsciously nurtured my own recent urge to write poetry.
Another way to nourish the muse is to read writers whose style emulates our own. Many of us do this intuitively. If you're like me, and write in multiple genres, it's a good idea to read in the genre which you are working on at the time. Some of my writing colleagues cannot even read other authors while working on their own writing projects because they subconsciously emulate the voice or writing style of that writer, which has the potential to interfere with their own originality. If that's your dilemma, you might choose to alternate your reading and writing schedules. One writing friend reads intently and writes intently, each for a few weeks at a time.
Last year I went to a reading by the New York author, Barbara Moss Robinette. After her reading and during the Q & A period, she spoke about how she studied art in university and not writing. She explained how she taught herself to write by spending hours copying the words of her favorite author. She felt compelled to mimic that writer's style and thought that was the best way to do it. In this way she called herself a self-taught writer. It must have worked because she's now the author of two acclaimed novels, Fierce and Change Me Into Zeus's Daughter.
You also need to be hungry for people-watching and need to be exposed to many situations. Being a writer is not a nine-to-five job. You must keep our eyes and ears open all day long. In other words, writers need to be professional eavesdroppers. It's a good idea to frequent public places, such as restaurants, bars, coffeehouses, hotel lobbies, malls and doctor's offices. If you're like me, in order to do this, you must extract yourself from your computer and drag yourself into the public arena, which may seem like a daunting task, but, essential activity. Balzac was known for sitting in Parisian cafes for hours, writing and watching people. So pack up your journal, turn up your hearing aid and head out!
In public places, the best thing to do is to jot down nuggets of conversations. This tunes us into the everyday common muses. After performing this task for a while, it becomes habit. Before long, you'll notice the utterances which address you, and in turn, you might choose to write about them. It's important to capture these gifts from the muses in our environment.
In his book, The Muses Among Us, Kim Stafford writes, "I don't begin, the writing does. I don't try. I yield. I have written in trees, on planes, by flashlight, during symphonies, by the light of a movie screen, while driving (I've lately sworn off this), during faculty meetings, and while making dinner. Every shirt must have a pocket and every pocket a notebook and a pen. Once the muse bites, it's delicious anywhere. For the act of writing begins before you consciously know if you have time. Your hands do it."
That's why you should always carry a journal. You just never know when the muse will visit with a thought which could be a seedling for the next breakthrough writing project.
Some writers also use music and art for inspiration. Music can be used to set a mood, help find an appropriate voice or establish a writing rhythm. Music can help fill the reservoir of our creativity. In my own writing, I play fast music if I'm writing a fast-paced essay and slower instrumental music when writing poetry.
Poetry, people, places, art and music-the everyday world is a garden of nourishment for your muse. If you are open, listening and eager to take it all in and make it your own, then your writing will reap all of the benefits.