I’ve talked a bit about inspiration previously and where ideas come from but I usually avoid talking about my muse (I’m not saying I don’t use this turn of phrase but it isn’t my favourite way to put things). The reason for this is that by calling it a muse and personifying the idea of inspiration it makes it sound like it is something external to the writer and not part of them.
I don’t usually like this idea.
For me inspiration is definitely an internal process and the ideas from within. Certainly my mind draws in things it has seen and heard and smelled and used these in combination to form what might become a story idea but that process definitely takes place within. No mythic being bestows the ideas upon me, fully formed or otherwise. And because it is an internal and slow process of bits and pieces being slotted together, the ideas become very much apart of the writer. You’ve raised the idea from just a tiny spark or notion to a fully fleshed out plot line that might eventually get written down.
Maybe the problem is that by externalising the idea it feels like it is cheapening the process. That somehow writers just get ideas. That nothing goes on, they sit around with empty heads and wait for a magic muse to hit them with some fairy dust.
Then again, at other times it does feel like something else is happening. The ideas move seemingly overnight (which probably means my subconscious is at work) but suddenly something that seemed unworkable has fallen into place. A line of dialogue that isn’t working can suddenly be heard clearly. That little voice in the back of your mind nudges you in just the right direction at just the right moment.
If my muse exists she’s probably going to clobber me after writing this. And yes, she would be female.
I think that if it is about the muse then we shouldn’t be waiting for her, we should definitely be out there hunting her down and demanding information right now. Hopefully with more success than Elmer Fudd ever had hunting rabbits.
What do the other writers think? Muses or not. Cheapening the process or giving writers a way to talk about something they sometimes don’t fully understand – their creative processes?
I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.
There are many tools writers need in their writing tool kits. Admittedly, mine has taken a battering recently and is threatening open rebellion. It probably goes without saying that a basic understanding of grammar and plot structure should be swimming somewhere amongst the collection of skills a writer has gathered in their time. I say probably because there are a few people who feel that this is an optional extra and as every tool kit is unique, you never know what you may, or may not, find in one.
Below is a list of things I’ve added to my tool kit that I have found invaluable.
- Binary Oppositions – I’m a fantasy writer. At the heart of so many fantasy stories, there is a duel between opposing elements (usually good and evil). I try to avoid this, as I have always found the world to be a far more complex place, however a basic understanding of the principle of opposing ideas is something I think every writer needs. As far as creating conflict, and giving people motivation, binary oppositions are useful in almost every genre.
- Bookmarks – This is one I will always kick myself for not utilising earlier. I never used to bookmark websites. If I found a really good one I would manually record the site, but that was as far as it went. I probably lost a lot of really informative sites that way. Now, bookmarking is something I couldn’t work without. And using folders correctly to file my bookmarks, so I remember what the site is about and why I bookmarked it. Saves me hours in search time trying to find information I already located.
- Trivia – Similar to bookmarks. It is amazing what some of your characters can know, if only you know it first. Besides, I find that small details add to the believability of characters and settings as a whole, so random facts can sometimes come in very handy. Unfortunately, when writing in a fantasy setting most of the trivia needs to be made up for the specific world, and you need to record it in someway so you don’t end up contradicting yourself.
- Time Management – A definite necessity for any writer. Particularly the yet to be published writer who is probably working in a different profession and is not yet really being taken seriously by family and friends so making time to write can be tricky. (Note that I said making time to write, not finding.) Using a diary, setting out blocks of writing time, and prioritising activities are all absolute essentials for writers and need to be a skill added to the tool kit.
- Speed/Skim Reading – Not necessarily an essential, but if I was working on a project and have since abandoned it, and then suddenly been completely inspired, returning to the project can be quite difficult. Particularly if I don’t recall all of the nitty-gritty details, and particularly if – like most of my projects – the outline I wrote at the beginning was rendered useless by my creative diversions in the plot. Reading the entire project could take days and by them whatever flash of inspiration will probably have withered with neglect and died, so skim reading to get myself up to speed within about twenty minutes is essential. Get the inspiration down, then skim through again to see if it fits.
- Dictionaries of everything – Actual dictionaries, dictionary of first names, dictionary of place names, dictionary of popular foods, dictionary of obscure herbs, dictionary of religious terminology… On and on the list goes. Collect and store for future use. My favourite at the moment is Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, but the Claremont’s Dictionary of First Names (pocket sized) has a permanent place on the shelf under my computer desk. Dictionaries are the best, quick reference tool for any writer and the more you have, the easier life can be.
- Friends and Family – Remember what I said before about friends and family taking time, so worth it. Even if it does eat in to writing time, friends and family are an invaluable part of the tool kit. They give you inspiration, encouragement, at times outlines for characters, dialogue, reasons to get away from the computer and into the world, editing assistance, audience assistance, sound boarding, etc, etc…
That was a peek in my tool kit. I would really love to know what is in yours.
And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.
Grocery shopping that is. How can writers use this mundane experience to inspire themselves?
1. Looking at all products. Normally when you shop you only look at the items you intend to buy but sometimes you can find the strangest things just by looking a little to the left of the item you were going to buy. Then you start to wonder who is buying it and what they are using it for and it can really help get you thinking.
2. Conversation. While buying meat at the deli or asking for assistance, and certainly while waiting to pay, there are lots of people you can strike up a conversation with fairly quickly.
3. Setting. Everyone (almost) has to go to the grocery shop at some stage (assuming your story is set in the real world). What could happen in the grocery shop that would be interesting enough to end up in your story?
4. Advertising. Advertising is always inspiring, even if it isn’t inspiring you to buy. Seeing language used for deliberate purposes (successfully or not) in bright colours can really start your brain moving.
5. Car park encounters. If the grocery shop didn’t inspire your writing then any number of incidents in the car park might. Did someone steal “your” spot? Did you steal someone else’s? Did someone bump your car and not leave a note? Is the child really throwing a fit in the middle of the drive way? All sorts of incidents that might inspire you.
How do you use your trip to the local store to inspire your writing?