Friday, August 28, 2009

When We Are Not A-Mused

Hi all - given that I'm filling in for the Muse Queen, Janet, who, as Helena said last week, may or may not have been in touch with her Muse on her trek, it seemed appropriate to further discuss muses and ways to entice them into action, as it were. In order to be sure I was using the term correctly I took a quick peek at my New Illustrated Webster's (well, new in 1992--one wouldn't want to be too quick to replace a classic, hmm?). I found not only some definitions but a bit of history. The noun 'muse' refers to "something regarded as the source of artistic inspiration", while the verb means "to consider thoughtfully or at length; ponder; meditate". Synonyms for the verb include brood (yup, I do that over my stories alright!), cogitate, contemplate, deliberate, reflect, stew, study, think, and ruminate (as in moo-o-o-os??--sorry, couldn't resist).

Historically, the term refers to any of the nine goddesses in Greek mythology who presided over poetry, the arts, sciences, etc.: in alphabetical order, they are Calliope, Clio, Erato, Exterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia, and Urania--thank goodness I'm writing, not verbalizing, this post. (Apparently there were said to be three muses originally, and I certainly found a number of different counts and names referenced over the centuries, but according to Wikipedia, by the "Classical times of the 400s BC" that had expanded to nine. The most modern version I noted was in the Disney movie 'Hercules' where nine muses were reduced to five--rather presumptuous of them, but then again we are talking Disney here.) Again, according to Wikipedia, "In modern English usage, muse (non capitalized but deriving from the classical Muses) can refer in general to a person who inspires an artist, writer, or musician." Further comments include "Not only are the Muses explicitly used in modern English to refer to an inspiration, as when one cites one's own artistic muse, but they also are implicit in words and phrases such as "amuse", "museum"(changed from muselon—a place were the muses were worshipped), "music", and "musing upon". You may have heard the term the "tenth muse", which was a compliment given by Plato to the archaic poet, Sappho of Lesbos. Wikipedia indicates that "The phrase has become a somewhat conventional compliment paid to female poets since." Verily, even Shakespeare used it!

So, brief history lesson over (because frankly, I didn't pursue many links on this one), what does it take to lure one of these mythical creatures out into the open (and mythical seems an appropriate concept for them on days when I'm doing some of the aforementioned brooding)? For that I chose to review a couple of the books on creativity I've collected, and methods I've experimented with myself. Overall, the most important tools you have are your subconscious, and the discipline to practise, regularly. No matter what material I read, or re-read, the predominant message in enhancing your creative ability, aka enticing the muse, was to give your brain a specific task, then write, write, and write some more to give it the opportunity to accomplish that task.

For example, in "How to Write While You Sleep and other surprising ways to increase your CREATIVITY", Elizabeth Irvin Ross refers to her Write-Now method and discusses the creative process in terms of stages: preparation (an idea appeals to your imagination, be it for a character, plot, scene, situation, etc., and you begin to analyze its potential, gathering information); gestation (the idea incubates in your mind, evolving and taking shape); illumination (the idea emerges as a finished product); and finally verification (test the idea in conjunction with other story elements to determine whether it strengthens your story or not), which will lead to incorporating the idea, or abandoning it, or to further preparation. I'm just starting through her book, so I can't give you a personal example I've worked through using her approach, but an example she provided relates to the idea of creating a new character for your story (preparation), the character's appearance, voice, behavoiur and personality forming in your subconscious (gestation), the realization after a time--anywhere from overnight to a few months--of the role the character will play (illumination), and once that's considered in context with the rest of the story elements (verification) a decision to include or abandon the character, or to do more preparation (gather more information--why you need him or her, what's his purpose, what he adds to the story, etc.) then repeat the other stages. A scientific approach that can enhance a process we often go through without conscious thought.

In "Writing on Both Sides of the Brain", Henriette Anne Klauser explains that while the right brain "expresses itself randomly--in pictures, patterns, rhythms--and cannot articulate in words", the left brain is logical, articulates in words, and "this articulation is often carping." She provides a number of techniques and exercises to give your right brain, aka "the Muse", equal time as your left (wait your turn, Evil Editor!). I've done some of her exercises, and one in particular was very productive for me: I visualized myself walking into a familiar bookstore, approaching the romance section, turning the book rack, finding my book, turning it over, and reading the back cover blurb. I immediately wrote down what I "read" and used it to clarify the essence of my story.

Everyday Creative Writing (Panning for Gold in the Kitchen Sink) by Michael C. Smith and Suzanne Greenberg reviewed a number of exercises, or "prospecting" tools: freewriting, brainstorming, listing, clustering, free association, puzzles, games and computers. I've seen these discussed in a many resources, and as I expect most writers are familiar with them I don't plan to go through them in detail, but if you'd like more info on them just comment with a question and I'll describe the particular tool. Personally, I've found clustering very useful: in my ballerina story it enabled me to see both the similarites and differences in character perspectives. Something these authors mention is to bring a combination of these tools to creative exercises as each tool "tends to work best with specific facets of our minds." They recommend that a writer "become adroit at shifting" from one tool to another; for example, "begin with freewriting, shift to clustering, switch over to brainstorming or listing, look up a word on the computer thesaurus, and so forth".

So how about it fellow "muse-ers"? Do you have any favourite tools, or resource materials, that have worked for you?


Silver James said...

Great topic, Molli. My problem is not how to get in touch with my Must but how to corral her. She sees scissors? Off and running. She hears a phrase in a song? Off and running. What if? Her first and middle names! (There's a reason I call her Iffy - lol)

Speaking of, I need to converse with her so I'm going to go ride around (and do some errands). When I get her locked in the car and belted into a seatbelt, she'll talk to me so long as I don't turn on the radio. Or she sees a squirrel...

Karyn Good said...

I'm going to have to admit to not knowing much about 'clustering' or using it as a tool. But I'm curious about it? How about storyboards? I find that tool very helpful and useful for keep my muse on track.

And as much as I'd like to take credit for last Friday's very clever post, I'm going to have to pass that honor on to Helena.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Molli,
I can't say that I've ever used any of the methods you speak of with any success. For instance, I've tried to make a collage about a WIP, but it didn't really spark any new ideas or clarify things for me. However, I have heard that this method works wonders for some writers. What seems to work for me is simply taking the time to think about my story and characters, writing down ideas, perhaps finding pictures of characters and settings. That and actually writing. The act of writing my story is what triggers ideas and put things into perspective for me.


Molli said...

Hi Silver -- you make a good point. Once she shows up it can be a challenge to get her to focus, hmmn? Also, I hadn't thought about it, but there are times when a ride in the car gives me a chance to put not only the vehicle but my brain on automatic, and ideas can surface without the static interference of daily busy-ness.

Molli said...

Karyn, thanks for the heads up on last Friday's post--don't know how I did that, but I've fixed it now.

Storyboarding - a good tool, definitely. I think it's a mix of linear (scene by scene layout) and non-linear (add, remove, change the mix) approaches. Clustering is definitely a non-linear approach to waking up the muse, and is akin to free association. You take a sheet of paper (lined or not, doesn't matter, because you don't pay attention to the lines anyway). On it, and it's usually best to start in the middle so you have plenty of space all around, you put a word or phrase or sentence based on the subject or idea you want to pursue. Circle what you put there, then somewhere aroung the circle just jot down whatever comes to mind when you think about it, circle that and join it to the first, and keep going from there or go back to the first circle and see what comes up next. Let your mind play, continuing to draw straight lines away from each of the circle "balloons" for each new thought. You'll often end up with clusters of responses that can be used to initiate a scene, plot line, complication, character motivation, etc. Another way of doing this visually is branching, where one thought leads to another and again you just jot them down on the paper "hung" off the end of a branching, free-hand line drawn to look like, well, a tree branch as the ideas come. Just a different way of using words in a picture format to encourage the right side of your brain to keep up the flow, as it were.

Hope that helps....

Molli said...

Hi Jana - I hadn't thought about using a collage. I've heard of setting up a binder with pictures, clippings, notes, etc., and I've done a collage to represent my personal goals, but not a story. Interesting, and may be worth a try for others even if it didn't create any sparks for you. Thanks.

Nayuleska said...

My muse is very entertained by this post. To her, there is only one way of communication. As only a few inches high, with a face that can sour milk when she's mad, she'll just dig her heels into my shoulder and yell 'write' and not give up until I have written what she believes are good words.

She needs no enthusiasm. Ever since she appeared (around a year or so ago) I've had no break. She doesn't get lost for words. Ever. She pelts me with all her story ideas - including the ones for other wips.

I love her to pieces, but, just sometimes, I'd rather she wasn't a little person, and was just an idea which I could forget about. And people thinks Muses are nice! My shoulders are so bruised.

Molli said...

Ah, thanks, Yunaleska. Despite the potential for bruised shoulders it's marvelous to know that those mythical creatures really are out there.

Helena said...

Molli, you have to be our 'word guru' with your precise and in-depth analysis of the meaning of words, always on top of every nuance. Last Friday I checked out some of the definitions and history of the muse, and Muses. But didn't include any of it, didn't want to scare Muse and EE away; they weren't too interested in past history, even their own origins, just wanted to wallow in their present quandaries.

Sorry I wasn't here on Friday (I know this comment may be totally unnoticed (being two days late!) but I was on the road that day. I drove more than 700 km west -- a relocation for about three weeks. Along with some family time, I hope to use the change of scene as somewhat of a writing retreat.

At the moment, I'm waiting for my muse to catch up with me. Must have taken the scenic route?

Excellent suggestions in your post, Molli, and I should check out the books you mentioned as well.

Molli said...

Thanks for catching up on the posts, Helena. Late is fine - I won't mind in any case, but this summer I've been lurking more than not myself so don't always comment.

Hope your trip gave you some time to "muse" on your story, so to speak. I often find driving time to be a mini-retreat in itself, and if that's the case with you, too, those 700 km may lead to something interesting in the next few weeks.