Poking the Muse: Weird, Wacky, or Wonderfully Worthwhile?
The Muse can be a fickle and cantankerous beast. Give it a deadline and it will run away and hide behind any number of obstacles and excuses, be it a flu virus, a family crisis, or the sudden need to binge watch six seasons of a thirty-year-old television series because, you know, you can never experience too much historic authenticity in research mode … (a worthy cause according to The Right Honourable Idle Pro Crastination). Yet that same muse will shove its stubborn creativity under your nose when you’re trying to grocery shop, work the 9 to 5, drive a car, cook dinner, shower, catch up on desperately needed sleep, or during any number of awkward and inappropriate moments.
Despite her unpredictable (and unreliable) nature, I’ve learned to truly appreciate my creative writing muse. Her weird, wild, wasteful, wistful, and wonderful moods have inspired some worthwhile words over the years—not to mention several truly wacky ideas.
But hey, I love her anyway.
When we first met, I thought my muse was amazing—funny, clever, sophisticated—and, with my typing prowess, we had to be a match made in heaven. First love …
Truly great relationships don’t just happen. Ours was no exception. Our relationship needed nurturing. It took time and effort for us to discover each other and to develop an understanding of each other’s hopes and dreams. It demanded tolerance, patience, persistence, perseverance, and mutual respect (we agreed Alliterers Anonymous meetings didn’t work for either of us).
We spent our courtship hours creating quick responses to writing prompts for uni, socialising with other writers (and their muses), dreaming and scribbling together, chatting about all the wonderful places we could visit, all the friends we’d make along the way, arguing over which of us would take the rap for the characters we planned to kill off, choosing cream and white sheets to make up our literary bed, picking out names for our book babies …
Though I speak tongue-in-cheek, for a writer, the relationship between inspiration and actual, useful text on a page requires active encouragement, engagement, and frequently, some outside assistance (like education and counselling). Poems, flash fiction, memoirs, novels, informative and/or inspirational works of non-fiction don’t magically arrive, perfect and mature, on the first draft. It takes informed effort to transform ideas into useful and entertaining literature. For this reason, I say kudos to every writer who perseveres to improve their craft.
But today, I don’t want to focus on the hard slog of editing and perfecting. I simply want to rejoice in that crazy, delightful ‘something’ that calls and inspires people to write. I want to celebrate the huge variety of writing styles, voices, forms, and expressions arising from the relationship between muse and writer. I want to sing and splash around in the bubbling flow that springs to life when the muse turns on the faucet. I want to thank God for it. Thank him for the fun and the frustration alike. Thank him for the solid, worthy ideas that translate into powerful text. And thank him for the absurd, quirky ideas that remind me to embrace the momentum of words and enjoy the ride.
Speaking of quirky ideas, 10% of the marks for some of my creative writing university subjects were earned by completing ‘Quick Writing Exercises’. Students were required to read the prompt, write for ten minutes by the clock, post the piece to the forum, and engage in mutual feedback and discussion. I found the challenge daunting at first, but also very fruitful, because it taught me to think beyond the obvious, to stretch my imagination, to get words on the page without stressing about their initial quality (big ask for a pedant and perfectionist) and, ultimately, to not only discover my ‘voice’ but to trust and treasure it. But you know what? During one such exercise, a curious character invaded my psyche with such presence and force, I knew I would have to tell Mac’s story, and Licence to Die (GRUnGE.001) was conceived.
Like all good relationships, I believe our connection to the writing craft grows in quality as we invest in it and strengthen it through engagement. If your relationship with the muse is a tad stale, if you’ve been neglecting it (willingly or reluctantly) of late and it needs a bit of a jump start, or if your muse has been persnickety, hiding behind excuses when it should be making you a cup of tea, perhaps it’s time to try a quick writing exercise or two. All it takes is a prompt not unlike the example* I’ve posted below (or a word, an image, the poke of an umbrella …) and ten minutes of your time. It’s a small but invaluable investment for such an important relationship don’t you think?
One of my favourite uni prompts was this:
*Write a piece that begins with the words, ‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink …’
The variety of responses posted to the forum ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous, but it was a great deal of fun. Here’s what I wrote way back then. Why not give it a go? If you’re game …
Sitting in the Kitchen Sink
‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink’ is an intriguing opening to a story. It raises so many questions at so many levels.
At level one, I consider the grammatical structure and its implications; if the absence of a full stop and capital letter is intentional and not accidental, the introduction proposes several truly mind-boggling possibilities. For example, I can envisage a scenario which quite reasonably puts me in the sink. I’ve cleaned the gable windows above my kitchen sink before and very nearly come a cropper. A landing in the kitchen sink would be a more viable option for survival than a continuance of movement downwards to the floor.
If, however, my comfortably large posterior is actually lodged in my kitchen sink, I doubt that I would have the peace of mind or inclination, given the unlikely and clearly uncomfortable circumstances, to engage myself with pen and paper and wile away several minutes, hours or days in creative composition. I suspect my first, and only, priority would be to dislodge myself from my constricted circumstances with as much haste and as little pain as possible.
At level two, conditional upon the previous assumption of grammatical correctness of course, another possible scenario involves my accidental exposure to some strange beam of light which has transformed me instantly into a midget. Or a teacup. But teacups don’t have hands, so the ‘writing’ part of the opening becomes problematic in this instance also. Perhaps the beam allows me special new skills, such as the ability to project an image across the room onto a piece of paper or onto an interactive whiteboard using purely the power of thought. That could be cool.
Of course, there’s level three, where I might not actually be me. I could be someone else. Or something else. That raises even more mind-boggling options. I could be a cockroach in search of a tasty morsel left dangling on a dirty dinner plate. If so, I am not only intelligent, but extremely skilful—and I have access to miniature writing implements, unless I intend to cocky-poo my message on the illicit bacon rind which should be residing in the bin.
I could be the mouse that I once clobbered with a rolling pin and then drowned in the kitchen sink. (Ick! Disgusting, right?) I doubt that in the midst of all that violence, with the threat of imminent death looming, I would have the presence of mind to write, not even my last will and testament. Hmm … Imagine that …
‘To my darling great-great-grand-nephew, Horatio Mousling, I hereby bequeath my summer nest in the pile of left-over roofing insulation in the rear right-hand corner of the Brown’s garage. To my cousin, Katrina Ratspring, I leave the directions to the dog-bowl at 57 Evinrude Avenue, St. Kilda …’
Sadly, given my current predicament, the creative juices just aren’t flowing as swiftly as they should. Perhaps I should play it safe—and punctuate. Therefore:
I write this. Sitting in the kitchen sink are the questionably salubrious leftovers of my husband’s first adventurous exploration into the world of gastronomic creation. I have to say, for a first effort, the dinner didn’t taste too bad. Even the aftertaste was reasonable. After the third and fourth regurgitations however, I have begun to suspect that something was not altogether kosher.
I would rise from my chair at the kitchen table and call an ambulance, but the slightest movement results in another violent altercation with my digestive system. Thus, I write this, just in case I don’t survive, so that any investigation of my demise will be straightforward.
I write this so you will know there was absolutely no ill or harm present in my husband’s intent. He’s just never tried to cook anything more adventurous than a fried egg before!
As for the lengthy verbosity of my report, I simply offer, in my defence, that I never do my best writing when I’m throwing up.
© Mazzy Adams