Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages…today I have for you a very special treat. I have commenced with beating my controlling personality into submission and handed over the keys to the blog to fellow writer, Todd Skaggs. He wants you to know that his blog, Cooking For One, is not a cooking blog and that this collection of thoughts, photos, rantings, music and other assorted crap that amuses him can be found at http://randomtzp.blogspot.com/. Show him some love, won’t you? And without further ado…
The concept of a muse has prevailed among creative types since they first graced the text and lore of the ancient Greek. Later adopted by the Romans, the Muses, still considered goddesses in the Pantheon, solidified their place in the collective unconscious of any one sitting in front of a keyboard at 12:01AM when they have to be up in five short hours to report to their “day job.”
The Muses–sometimes three, sometimes nine depending on which dead poet you consult–are the source and blame in most cases of inspiration or lack thereof.
But what is inspiration? That’s a good question.
Duh, Todd. That’s why you’re writing this post, isn’t it? To tell us what inspiration is and how to bottle it?
Maybe. The problem with that is, what inspires me may completely turn you off from doing anything creative in the least. None the less, as writers and wordsmiths, I think it only helps us in the long run to delve a little deeper in to this topic. If only to have a backup plan for when the Muses decide to pile in to a VW microbus and follow Phish around the Pacific Northwest on their tenth “farewell we mean it this time” tour.
I don’t think the type of writer you are matters in this conversation either. The planner with their spreadsheets and pages of notes and outlines or the pantser with their freshly cracked knuckles huddled expectantly over the keyboard will find the same sort of spark. Oh sure, the source is different for everyone. But that spark…that spark is unmistakable.
You know it when it hits–at least I hope you do. For me, as a consummate panster, the inspiration usually comes in the form of a movie. Not some reconstituted bilge water from Hollywood. No, the movies I’m talking about are the ones in my mind. The ones that threaten to take over my waking life so completely that some of the basic societal norms are overlooked. In the midst of working on a piece, I once showed up for work fully dressed, minus the shirt I had neglected to put on under my winter coat. For me it’s a movie that plays out. And when that movie starts, I know I have a limited window to capture the essence of that movie or it’s gone.
But Todd, you haven’t really told us what inspires you or how you know you’re being inspired.
I can’t tell you what inspires me. I don’t know where the stories, or blog posts, or poems actually come from. And if you’re being honest, you probably didn’t really expect me to.
I can tell you, though, what makes me receptive to the inspiration.
Being still. When I am in a place where I can be still, I find that ideas start flowing more freely through the theater of my mind. I see snippets of a scene, like a movie trailer. I write them down or describe them to the tape recorder. If I am awake, I very rarely find myself without a tool upon which to preserve those initial sketches–whether a notebook, recorder, or the voice memo app on my phone, I am seldom without a means to capture some facet of the story. It may be the barest of shells of the story. An outline which threatens to make me a planner. It may be the first and last paragraph of a piece. It could just be a title and a plot point.
The key is, it doesn’t matter what we’re fed. As authors true to ourselves, we have to have some way of recording even that faintest spark of inspiration.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I wrote everything above that came before this paragraph over two weeks ago. And it’s probably bullshit. That’s not to say that it might not resonate with you. I hope that it does. One of the things that inspires me as a writer is the hope that something I write will inspire some kind of creativity in others.
But I don’t have a muse. I find inspiration in the things that take my breath away. Like this:
This picture is from my family’s farm in Kentucky. It’s not nearly as breathtaking as the real thing–trust me on that. When something takes my breath away, it causes me to remember something very simple–living in the now. When I live in the now, I see beauty all around me and things fall in to place. That story arc….the remnant of an idea that I was fighting with as I was getting ready for work–all of it clicks in to one glorious place.
When that happens, I have to write. As much as I need to have that breathing start back up again, I have to expel those creative energies.
The inspiration is there. Inside me. It always was. I just have to stop long enough, be still long enough, to listen. And act.
And I guess, looking back over this, that whole bit near the middle about being still was pretty on point. Looks like I just needed to get out of my own way and let the words fall where they may. Full contact writing is never an easy thing to get used to. And if you’re going to heed the call of the Muses and actively seek your source of inspiration, you should take up your shield an armor. The battle you will fight to get those words to page is not without peril.
But the reward…that’s the good stuff. It’s why we do what we do and court the Muses in the first place.