Being Ready: The Myth of the Muse

Being Ready: The Myth of the Muse

May 24, 2018 1 Comment

“What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?”
William Stafford, “You Reading This, Be Ready”

There are no more words. I have eaten all the words and now my stomach hurts. I have been sitting in this chair for hours trying to write, eating words as fast as they find the page. I don’t have hours to spend like this just staring at a screen now absent of words. I have other things to do.

But I keep writing words, chewing them up, spitting some out, swallowing others, swallowing many. Now there are no more words to put on this page. I have eaten all the words worth eating. I have eaten my weight in words.

I have a book deadline, and I’m not at all close to finishing in time. For someone like me, who usually thrives on a deadline, it’s disconcerting. I have not been avoiding the task of writing this latest book, I promise. I approached this book the same way I have always done it: Reading and listening and waiting and then writing it all down.

This time, though, the waiting did not stop. There was no signal, no flight of birds, no break in the clouds with sunbeams coming through the window. Ah, the light of inspiration which signals the Muse!

Nope. Nothing at all.

The deadline won’t wait, so I start to write and nothing comes. Or something comes and I eat the words as they leave my brain and put themselves on the screen. I eat them all, backspace, delete. Spit a few back on the page. Swallow many. Where is that damn muse? Why won’t she show?

I have a friend who is a talented songwriter. She’s been in the business for over twenty years, and has had some pretty reasonable success at it, in fact. Once, at a party, a young singer-songwriter joined a conversation she and I were having about inspiration. He proceeded to tell us his process of creation. “If I don’t feel it, I can’t write. I have to be in a certain mood, the conditions have to be right.”

She shook her head and she laughed a little. “No,” she said. “you have to learn to just show up and get to work. It’s hard work.” He didn’t like that answer. I didn’t like that answer either. I want the flight of birds, I want the break in the clouds. I want this Muse to tap me on the shoulder, tell me she is here, whisper the words in my ears. I want her to tell me so many good things that I can hardly keep up with her as she dictates it.

“I am waiting, Muse. Come and give me something good to put on the page,” I think as I wait for inspiration to strike, as I wait for more words to come. My stomach hurts. I have eaten too much.

Then I hear my friend’s voice in my ear, her advice ringing in my chest, “No. You have to show up.” So, I’m here, butt in chair, as Anne Lamott has said, and I’m chewing on words, spitting them onto the page. I leave a few there, being careful not to eat them up too. I let them hang there and hope they stick, hope I find the rhythm, hope I find a groove. It’s awkward and messy and laborious and I hate it.

This terrible first draft is taking too long because there are no more words. I have eaten them all and my stomach hurts. Perhaps I’ll take a walk, gather more words from the trees, from the rocks, from the lake. Perhaps when I return to the chair, I’ll be able to pull them from my pockets, place them on the page, keep a few, throw away a few, rearrange and re-order. I’ll get some rest, then show up, be ready, drink some water. There’s no need to wait on the muse. There’s no better time to start. There’s nothing greater than now.


Be inspired by this too: I Don't Like Writing About Writing, But This is Overdue


Photo by Andrea Reiman on Unsplash

1 Response


June 20, 2018

What imagery! Eating words!
Your post made me think about my own process. I often feel that when I am struggling with the dreaded writer’s block, it’s because I am too much in my head, or rather, I am trying to write from my mind. I relate to the songwriter who said you have to feel it. I don’t feel things that come from my head. I think about them, and I understand then or don’t understand them, but I don’t feel them. It’s when I listen to my gut that I get my inspiration in any creative venture. I write those things that sit in the pit of my stomach, the ones that give me butterflies, that make me nauseous, that make me feel hungry or full. All my emotions go to my gut, it’s not pleasant when things aren’t going well in my life, and it can also be an inconvenience when things are going great. Ha!
I’ve gone to other writers for advice on getting over writer’s block, and more often than not I also get the “show up” approach, the “just keep writing and something good will come out” advice. I haven’t found that to work for me.

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