The Muse (guest post by Mr. Todd Skaggs)

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 Muse

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:

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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.

Peace,

-A.T.

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Treetops (Or, Why Jackson Pollock Has Nothing on Me…)

I have this interest that very few people are aware of. It’s a bit different, but then all the great ones always have been. Here goes…(deep breath…exhale)…I like to take photographs of nature. Ah, you say, so does everyone else. And you would be correct. But my interest goes beyond the everyday photos of a duck on a pond or the purple of Spring’s first rhododendron bloom. What I enjoy is taking photos of treetops. From the ground up. Here, let me show you…

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 Utilizing the sky as a canvas, the treetops add a splash of color against it. To me, they resemble abstract paintings, each one beautiful and different. Mother Nature’s own Jackson Pollocks. Just like any other photos, the results are altered by the amount of light and shadow…

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 Every season offers a different canvas, a different palette of colors to choose from. Autumn presents a very broad palette…

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While Winter can be stark, yet just as remarkable…

(and no, this is not a B&W photo)

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 Now, I could go on and on about why I enjoy photographing treetops, (it’s like painting the sky)but I’m not an art instructor. And as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. So for me, these speak volumes…

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(I seemed to have misplaced most of my Spring and Summer treetop photos. They’re stunning and probably on my old laptop. When I come across them, I will post them at a later date.)

 

The First Rule of Write Club…

Writing, like boxing, is an individual sport. Unless they’re co-authoring a research paper or in the rare case of attempting to collaborate on a novel (many of us like the idea of this, but fear the execution), writers generally spend countless hours working solo, locked away in self-induced solitary confinement. True, there may be other people around at times, (if they’re writing at a coffee shop or local drinking establishment) but the writer won’t know these people personally. There’s no pressure to keep up conversation with them, nor match them shot for shot while trying to forget someone. To the writer blistering their laptop’s keyboard or feverishly draining their pen’s ink onto notebooks, those other people may as well not even be there. The only company a writer keeps whilst writing is that of their characters. Hemingway probably said something like that once, but nobody really knows for sure.

But every once in awhile (like every third Wednesday or second Saturday of the month) we writers like to seek out the fellowship of other like-minded souls, which often comes in the form of a writing group. If you’re considering joining a local writing group, keep in mind that just like any other club, there are both pros and cons to the association. And above all else, there are rules. Unspoken as they may be, there are definitely rules that govern writing groups. Especially if the group is to be successful. And if you don’t want it to be successful, then why bother?

Ergo, the rules of write club are as follows…

  • The first rule of write club is you DO talk about your writing group. Especially to other writers. There is no need for secrecy here, and gaining new members occasionally is actually beneficial. There is the potential of a group becoming too large, but if kept to a manageable size, the broader and more diverse the group’s members in terms of experience and level of knowledge the better. Like with any good business, you want your group to thrive and grow. New blood is seldom a bad thing.
  • The second rule of write club is that continued attendance, while not mandatory, is strongly encouraged. While life dictates that one must miss a meeting from time to time, a group can only function with purpose if those within it show up and participate on a regular basis. If members aren’t showing up, the integrity of the group is hampered and the work being done within it suffers. (Then Rule #1 comes back into play)
  • The third rule of write club is you must demonstrate goodwill at all times. When requesting a critique from others, you must be willing to accept said feedback graciously, regardless of your level of agreement. Most often, the critique you receive will be legitimate and useful, if not favorable. But this won’t always be the case. Just keep in mind that while you may not agree with the feedback, it shouldn’t be taken as an offense or an all-encompassing indictment of your writing ability. It’s one person’s opinion, and you know what? You even asked for it. Learn what you can from it and move on.
  • The fourth rule of write club is, if you are continually asking for feedback, you must be prepared to offer it as well. Reciprocation is paramount, and with more substantial feedback than simply ‘I liked it.’ Feedback like this wouldn’t help you, and it won’t help anyone else, either. Take the time. Do the work. They did it for you.
  • The fifth and final rule of write club is that everyone must do their part in making all group members feel secure enough to speak openly within its confines. If any member doesn’t feel comfortable speaking up, either at the fear of being ridiculed, their thoughts brushed off or otherwise, they won’t get their questions answered. Not only won’t they get the benefits of being in a writing group, but they won’t grow as a writer, either. And honestly, isn’t that why most of us join a writing group in the first place?

So there you have it. Now spread the love.