Spend time every day listening to what your muse is trying to tell you.– Saint Bartholomew
If you are anything like me (though I’m certainly not accusing you of that), you’re a burgeoning writer who spends much of your time trapped in a small room, possibly surrounded by cleaning supplies, staring at a computer screen and praying for enlightenment before the fumes get to you.
My writing room/kennel/coat closet holds many wonderful memories … a few triumphs, a few failures, and any number of finished pages that I can look back on with pride and a wonderful sense of accomplishment. The only problem is, short of a rejection letter avalanche or a major lunch spill, the scenery seldom changes.
After long hours at the keyboard, those four walls can start to close in, becoming a creativity deprivation chamber.
The same old sounds: the whir of my computer, and the hum of the overhead fan. The same old smells: the aroma of books and paper, a whiff of potpourri from my wife’s chambers (also known as the rest of the house), and the occasional, unwelcome olfactory contribution by my basset hound, Phlash.
In this void of sensory input, nothing is refilling the reservoir of creativity that I’m pouring into my work, and eventually both begin to dry up.
In the deafening absence of productivity, I grab a jacket and a leash, and head out the door.
On a walk, I can get a coffee, find a park bench, read an article, and just watch the world go by. The constant flow of sights, sounds, and smells stimulates my creativity. Seeing a car with a funny bumper sticker chug by, smelling rain on the warm pavement, or watching the sway of cedars against a blue sky. My senses become more attuned and details sharpen, bringing new thoughts and washing up old memories.
After a while, my muse cracks an eye, yawns, stretches, and finally comes awake, demanding a swallow of my coffee. Soon, that guy in the funny hat becomes the quirky doorman in my current short story, the shriek and off-pitch warble of a police siren weaves its way into my novel …
The reservoir is filling back up.
In fact, at this very moment, we (my muse and I) are sitting on a park bench in a light morning fog, dog at our feet, reading this month’s issue of a favorite writer’s magazine and sipping a strong Italian espresso.
Here are some suggestions we’ve come up with on taking your muse for a walk:
1. Consider Walking Alone
Your muse is extremely polite, and not likely to interrupt your conversation with a spouse, significant other, or walking buddy. She tends to want our undivided attention.
I find that my most creative times come when it’s just my dog and me. He never wants to talk about the bills, or the ball game, or where we want to go for lunch (though I’m sure he has suggestions), and it doesn’t feel unfair to expect him to keep quiet while I struggle to find a funny way to use the word weasel in a new article.
More importantly, he usually thinks my ideas are great, seldom comments on my sentence structure, and always wags at my jokes.
Note: If you want to be a happy, successful, married writer, it’s a good idea to plan some additional walks with just your spouse and leave your muse at home.
The dog is optional.
2. You’ll Need a Means of Tracking Your Thoughts
I’m old enough to remember trading in my old mini-cassette dictation machine for a “state-of-the-art” compact digital recorder. I was cooler than an Eskimo’s outhouse, baby!
Of course, these days it’s all about the apps, of which there are thousands. I’ve found that like my faithful old cassettes, a recording app is invaluable for saving my raw thoughts and ideas on the go, with minimal distractions. Plus, many of these applications will automatically transcribe your words, allowing you to download your notes, or whole articles, in written format.
Versions and features vary greatly, and you can peruse to your heart’s content on your favorite app store. Prices typically run from free to around $15.
A voice recorder, digital or app, allows you to get ideas down quickly without losing your train of thought or the feel of the moment, by trying to find the perfect words (that part comes later).
3. Find a Quiet Place, but not too Quiet
Make sure there’s enough going on to invoke the senses. Try to focus on your surroundings, identifying sights, and sounds, and smells, and record your description of them. Look for locations where other people’s conversations will not distract you, and where you are not interrupting others by taking verbal notes (I tend to get self-conscious about recording my ideas in public, and nothing will send the muse into hiding as quickly as embarrassment).
I also like to walk as varied a route as possible, through a busy section of town to a quiet park or playground, a shady spot along the river, or an outside table at a favorite coffee shop.
This is not the time for “finish work,” but an opportunity to create new ideas and expand on current projects; to sweep up as many images, and feelings, and words in your butterfly net as you can, knowing that you’ll fine-tune in the quiet of your writing space, undistracted, and with your reference materials at hand.
Walk it off!
So, if the walls of your office are starting to close in, if your creative pool has become dusty and leaf-littered, try taking your muse for a walk.
Give her some fresh air and sunshine, buy her a Frappuccino, and be ready to listen to what she has to say …