12 Most Winning Ways to Woo the Muse
The muse, that mysterious source of inspiration and creative ideas, can be elusive and irritatingly mercurial. She refuses your regular office hours, but wakes you up in the middle of the night when you are groggy and lack proper tools to scribe her demands.
Although the muse might never be tamed, I believe there are ways to woo inspiration on a schedule that doesn’t leave you completely sleep deprived. My focus is in the realm of poetry, memoir, and creative writing, but I believe these twelve tips can be applied across a wide range of disciplines requiring the occasional visit from the muse.
1. Explore the best examples in your interest area
So you want to write poetry. Good for you. First, find the best examples of the types of poetry you wish to write, and read your heart out. The point isn’t to be a parrot, though, but to get the rhythms into your system and let the images inform your imagination. (If writing poetry isn’t your thing, replace the words “poetry” and “writing” with whatever is your “thing.” The principle stands.)
2. Read widely in other subjects
The more material you have composting in your brain matter, the more you have to draw on when inspiration is needed for that special project. Also, stepping away from your particular domain of expertise can provide a fresh view on your subject. You start to draw parallels; make connections. It is how benchmarking works, and it is frequently where the muse waits.
Whatever your area of interest, there are others out there finding new ways of doing that thing you do, exploring different aspects of your craft, and simply enjoying each other’s company. I hear the muse hangs out with them, too.
Many aspects of creative work require great attention to instruction prior to getting to the “creative” part. For example, with proposals, grant applications, white papers, and other highly structured forms of writing, compliance with the form has to come first. Same thing can be said for sonnets and other structured poetry. When I get these required things out of the way first, I find inspiration built into this compliant scaffolding.
Clients/employers/friends/editors/readers — ask them what they’d be interested in seeing from you creatively. Then respond.
6. Look at pretty pictures
7. Use prompts
The Twitterverse is full of poetry prompts, “challenges” to tweet a poem about a particular word or phrase. I find these fun, surprising, and useful ways to add the unexpected into writing practice. Many such prompts can be applied across disciplines.
8. Be still
Get comfortable with silence, and don’t try to fill it with the next big thing, the next idea. Sometimes the muse just needs a chance to get a word in edgewise. Going a hundred miles a minute is way too fast for the muse (who happens to be pretty lazy, truth be told). Give her a chance to catch up with you. Leave space in your day for her visit.
So you stopped moving and have been staring at a blank screen for an hour waiting for your muse to arrive (late again!). Perhaps it’s time for a walk or run, maybe lift weights, or pull weeds from the tomato garden — anything to get the endorphins working for you. I walk a few miles daily and my muse never fails to show up like a bossy Chatty Cathy. I’ve learned to take my iPhone with me to jot down a few words if needed, or take a picture of something that my muse insists (nag, nag, nag!) I write on later.
10. Listen to your life
Everyday ordinariness can be full of wonder — and material from which to create. The insistent hum of locusts in late August; office chatter heard over coffee-making heard over the screech of tires at the corner stoplight; how it feels to tweet on Twitter versus post on Facebook versus connect on LinkedIn versus talk to my best friend on the phone, and what that means about me and the world. It’s all legit idea material.
11. Eavesdrop on someone else’s life
I was sitting at the outside café part of a Starbucks in a busy city square recently, and overheard the following remarkable exclamations: “You are no longer welcome in the city.” “I love this country.” “Maurice!” “You talk, not me. I’m not talking.” All completely unrelated, and yet each statement sparked my imagination and led my mind on a merry chase for story after story.
12. Set goals
Ah, yes, goal-setting. Sure, I would write every day without some external impetus — or most days. Or maybe most weeks. Well, at least monthly, right, because I mean, who would care if I missed an appointment with myself to write in my journal. Certainly not my muse. She’s too busy getting a mani-pedi to notice my lack of goals. Take my point?
And a bonus tip: Whatever your “thing” is, write about it. And just write, don’t edit yourself, not now. Let the ideas pour into some place of safe-keeping. Journal your progress, goals, ideas, random brain flurries. Take stock. Take yourself seriously, and so will your muse. And for those times when the muse shows up uninvited at three a.m., by all means, keep a pen and paper next to your bed.
I could go on with another dozen or more muse-taming tips, but I really would like to know: How do you woo your muse?
Featured image courtesy of patnz licensed via Creative Commons.