Courting the Muse


Then, rising with Aurora’s light,
The Muse invoked, sit down to write;
Blot out, correct, insert, refine,
Enlarge, diminish, interline.
                   Swift, On Poetry

Most of us allow our characters more foreplay than we allow ourselves. I’m not talking sexual foreplay, but creative foreplay. Think about it. Do you plunk yourselves down to work! Do you sit, staring at a blank page or an empty computer screen, demanding your creative side to get busy and produce. Do you tackle your manuscript with a red pen and the attitude that you’re going to get through that entire sucker tonight and make it shine? Is this any way to really be creative?

I thought about this article for some months before I sat down to write it. I mulled over the title, made a few false starts, tried to force out a few paragraphs. Then, sitting in the hot tub up to my neck in bubbles and staring up at the stars after a very unproductive day, it all came together in that one key word–courting.

How many of us court our creative muses? Do we send our creative side flowers? Do we mutter soft flattery? Do we evoke an inviting environment with soft light and music? Do we honor any of the rituals of courtship–or even half of what we’d like on a first date?

For me, it’s more often a matter of, “Gee, muse, I’ve got an afternoon to get some work done, so get your tail in here and get down to it.”

Now, I’d toss any potential romantic hero out on his semi-colon if he showed up in my manuscript with that kind of charm. But I’m guilty of approaching my ‘work’ with that same knuckle-dragging grace. Too often, I’m under pressure to produce, or I’m trying to squeeze in that extra bit of writing into an already packed day, and so I demand roughly, “Strip baby!” as I try to get under the skins of my characters. Their usual response is to freeze up, and refuse to even participate in the story. Wit turns wooden and dialogue flows about as well as lumpy oatmeal pours.

To court…to woo…to try and gain the favor of. From court we get courtship, courtesy, and even courtesan. The word implies grace, irresistible charm, and facinating allure. But exactly how do you court your muse? How do you woo creativity so that you don’t waste precious writing time.

Well, for me, I’m better off wasting that time.

You see, I believe that for a writer, no time is ever wasted. Half of writing is figuring out what to write, when to start the story, who the characters are. Personally, ‘down time’ is as vital to me as breathing. Sometimes the bad writing, the stiff dialogue, the stuff I look at and go, “yuck!” that’s really just my muse screaming for some attention. She dries up like an old heifer and sulks at my poor treatment of her. So, I do as I would have done to me. I take her out for a date.

The nice thing is that she’s a cheap date (really cheap). I can lie in a park and stare at clouds. I can garden a little (meaning pull a few weeds and just poke around). Or I wander around a farmer’s market (with no intention of buying anything and every intention to sample the sights, smells and produce). Or I just sit somewhere. And drift.

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about this as taking an artist date. For me, it’s even less structured than that. It’s a matter of clearing away the rest of the world so I can get quiet enough to hear my muse. It’s a matter of soft lights, of sitting in a hot tub, of not having anything else to do. It’s not having the TV on, or a book open, or the radio playing, or a record sounding, or someone talking at me. It’s just wandering–sometimes physically and always mentally. Because that’s when my muse comes to me.

She comes on soft and darting feet, as elusive as a dandelion on a summer breeze. She speaks in whispers quieter than a moonless night. She stays long enough to laugh at mortal whims, and then she glimmers out of sight. And if I’m lucky–and have nothing else in my head–I see that what she leaves behind are golden rays of ideas. And these pour out of my fingers in such a rapid flow that my keyboard clatters late into the night.

That’s how this article happened. And all because I got up from my chain and keyboard and stopped trying to work. I started goofing off. I started wooing and stopped demanding.

It is called foreplay for a reason. Fore as in before, play as in have fun. Let’s face it, writing is not work. It’s hard. But it’s not work. Ditch digging is work. Writing is art. It’s black magic. It’s farce and tragedy, and bloody amazing that anyone can learn to speak to another soul so directly with print on a page and this clumsy, lovely, mysterious thing we call language.

So next time, before you sit down to write, waste a little of that precious time. Treat yourself, and your muse, to some creative foreplay. Don’t just slam, bam on the keyboard. Goof off a little. Let your characters roll around in your head without the encumbrance of shopping lists and chores. Ease yourself into it as if you were going out on a date with someone you greatly admire–and lust after. Apply a little courtship, but then, be warned–when the muse whispers to you, you must write.

Write at once. Not tomorrow, not later. Grab a pencil, switch on that computer. Get that hot flow of words onto paper before they dart away.

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