Finding the Muse…

A lot of hoopla is made over finding the muse. This is especially true of writers. While musicians and painters certainly spend their fair share of time pontificating about the elusiveness of inspiration, writers especially seem preoccupied with ‘getting  in touch with the muse’.  ( Perhaps I’m bias. )

While finding the muse is great and all–and if you have found the slippery sucker, by all means, hold on tight and don’t let go–I think the idea of muse does more harm than good.  A generation of English majors spend their days haunting coffee shops, laptops in tow, in search of their muse, when they should be writing.

As a published author I’m often asked by frustrated would-be authors, “Where do you find your muse?” Or, “How do you get your creativity flowing?” What they are really asking is this;  How do you write a book from start to finish? The answer, I hate to say, is terribly simple and frustratingly pedestrian. You write a book one word at a time.

I don’t have any rituals. There are no secret formulas. If you are waiting for your muse, you’ll die of old age long before inspiration strikes. The uncomfortable truth is that a book is a long and difficult undertaking. Earning your living as a story teller is even more difficult. Gone are the days when a writer could publish a carefully honed book every five or ten years and still make the rent. Now days a writer has to be prolific. The top earners, guy like James Patterson and Clive Cussler, are turning out a book every few months. Most other household names, Jim Butcher, Lee Child, Stephen King, are managing at least a book a year. That sort of writing schedule is incompatible with waiting around for inspiration to strike. Those uber successful writers sit down at the keyboard every day, whether or not they feel like writing.

The only secret I have–and it’s not much of a secret– is that I write everyday, even on the days when the car won’t start and the bills are overdue. By the way, that’s most days.

By disciplining myself to write every day, I have learned something pretty nifty. The path to finding  the muse, is by starting to write. At first it’s like pulling teeth. Every single word has to be yanked from my uncooperative brain and hammered onto  the screen by uncoordinated fingers. But the first two hundred words are the hardest. Once I’ve been at it for ten or fifteen minutes I get up a head of steam. Soon I’m humming along, really into it, enjoying what I’m writing and God help anyone that cuts off my flow.

It is only after I’ve started that I manage to track down my muse. I compare it to being the manager of a rock and roll singer. The concert hall is packed. The lights are low. Hungry fans are chanting. Everything is ready, but my star performer is passed out in his dressing room, face down in a mountain of blow.

I have to pour hot coffee down his throat ( I drink at least two cups when I’m writing ). I stand him up and walk him around the room a couple times to get the blood flowing before he’s ready to go on stage. But once he’s up there, man oh man, he can really sing and dance.

So instead of looking for your muse at Starbucks, try a little bit of hard work and effort. Your muse may just surprise you by meeting you halfway.

Oh and kudos to Slash who, as I hear it, has given up smoking and drinking. Good for him.

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