To Muse or Not?

As writers, we will all experience times when our creative energies seem to leave us; we spend our mornings staring at blank pages, or worse still, for months nothing seems to inspire us to commit our thoughts to the page. At such times we are left believing that we are without the Muse. But, do we need the muse to write well or to even write at all?

For a number of months this year, I seemed to be without inspiration to write. I told my writer and author friends about it and they made various suggestions from taking a course, walking in the the country, going on holiday or even falling in love. As I struggled with my seeming barrenness, I came across a poem in a notebook that challenged me to reconsider my dependence on the Muse. I had written it in a ten minute slot at a summer school at Millers Yard, an exciting Alternative Living Centre in the city of York. Having decided to use the Creative Writing class as the centre for my piece, I approached the event with trepidation….what if I couldn’t write on tap? I thought to myself. Lizzie Linklater the instructor was inspiring and encouraging as she hurled people into the art of creative writing with nothing more than a brief introduction and an “Okay, you have ten minutes to write a story on ‘My Memory of London’. Amazingly, I did not stare at the paper for a moment! Off I went and in ten minutes had my story written…of course, it was a first draft, but a story nonetheless.

That Saturday afternoon, I learned that if the Muse was not around, I should not wait for inspiration, but rather, create inspiration for myself. Now I actively look for ideas in the exciting and different, and yes, even the ordinary and mundane that goes on around me every day.

I have come to see for me at least, that the Muse is as much about me throwing excuses to the wind and beginning to engage with whatever is to hand.

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Art or Frustration?

I have a good friend, (let’s call him Jim) who admitted to me last week, that he was furious that he hadn’t been offered even a free copy of an anthology in which his work had recently appeared. “I redrafted that poem over 30 times” he complained and his frustration was obvious. So, is writing easy for the experts and harder for the rest of us? Well, take a look at these quotes from famous authors sent to me by my friend David Kelly:

“First of all, if you want to write, write. And second, don’t do it. It’s the loneliest, most depressing work you can do.” Walker Percy

“Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead.” Gene Fowler

“Writing is so difficult that I often feel that writers, having had their hell on earth, will escape all punishment hereafter.” Jessamyn West

“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” Red Smith

“It should surprise no one that the life of the writer – such as it is – is colorless to the point of sensory deprivation. Many writers do little else but sit in small rooms recalling the real world. This explains why so many books describe the author’s childhood. A writer’s childhood may well have been the occasion of his only firsthand experience.” Annie Dillard

“In general, very little happens to a writer. Now do you understand why we put so much emphasis on artificial reality? Our actual reality is insufferably dull. A Federal Express delivery is far and away the most dramatic event in my day.” Philip Yancey

“I turn sentences around. That’s my life. I write a sentence and I turn it around. Then I look at it and I turn it around again. Then I have lunch. Then I come back in and write another sentence. Then I have tea and turn the new sentence around. Then I read the two sentences over and turn them both around. Then I lie down on my sofa and think. Then I get up and throw them out and start from the beginning.” Philip Roth

“Every writer I know has trouble writing.” Joseph Heller

“The first draft of anything is [poop].” Ernest Hemingway

“Writing is just having a sheet of paper, a pen and not a shadow of an idea of what you’re going to say.” Francoise Sagan

“Writing is no trouble: you just jot down ideas as they occur to you. The jotting is simplicity itself – it is the occurring which is difficult.” Stephen Leacock

“Writing is a form of therapy. Sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human situation.” Graham Greene

“The secret of good writing is to say an old thing a new way or to say a new thing an old way.” Richard Harding Davis 

Thanks to Al Hsu of The Urban Christian blog for these quotes.

Watch out for the new Poems page coming soon and be ready to post your creations.