Monday, February 18, 2013

Finding the Muse

Calliope, Muse of Epic Poetry
I have always loved the idea of the muses. The concept of beautiful spirits who whisper inspiration into the ear of the artist, giving ideas shape and form, makes the entire messy birthing process of art—and writing—seem so romantic. It probably helps that there have been so many romanticized depictions of the muses in art throughout history: always female, always beautiful, always with that dreamy, benevolent look on their faces. Because I am a child of the 80’s, my muses tend to look like their counterparts in Xanadu, complete with flowy dresses and roller skates. This is probably why I often feel like they are skating just out of reach, mocking me, on those days when I really just can’t find any ideas.

Some days—and these are rare—I’m pretty sure muses exist as full-fledged sources of inspiration. Those days when an entire scene or a brand new character pops into my head fully formed, the times when I can’t get to the computer or a piece of paper fast enough, I know muses exist. But more often than not, muses must be found, often in unlikely or unexpected ways. And most often, we have to forcibly remove the muse from that shady dark corner where she’s hiding and force her to work.

Because let’s face it: true out-of-the-blue, downloaded-from-the-mothership, children-of-the-gods inspiration is rare. The reality is that more often than not, muses are nothing more than writers’ favorite scapegoats. Writer’s block? My muse didn’t visit me! Can’t find the right words? She’s not paying attention! Don’t feel like writing? My muse abandoned me! She went shopping or fell asleep, that lazy wretch, so now I have to do laundry, wash dishes, grade papers, go the movies, or just lie around and mope, and it’s all the muse’s fault! That poor little muse, so pretty and sweet in her statues and artistic renderings, ends up sitting in the corner wearing rags and sniveling from all the abuse. We love our muse and we hates her, precious, oh yes, we do. We court her, we scorn her, blame her and praise her, until it’s a wonder she doesn’t just give up and go find someone else to inspire.

The Muses of Xanadu Skate into Your Consciousness
That muse is given an awful lot of responsibility, but the truth is that inspiration is created, not found; and when it is discovered, it is most often seeded in a thousand small ways, and rarely as a magical hotwire from the universe’s great mystical USB cable in the sky. And like all seeds, it must be nurtured to fruition; left on its own, it will wither and die. My books—in fact, most of what I write—often begins with a dream. Song and the Sorceress began one day after a really intriguing dream that involved portals between worlds, friends from school, and Duran Duran (don’t judge). I started writing it down the next day. Eventually, after many drafts, years of experience, maturity, and a general overhaul of what I wanted the novel to be (sorry Duran Duran, you had to go), that initial inspiration resulted in only a few main elements of the final novel: Ki’leah, Breyveran, and the country of Sildehna. Other characters developed along the way, based on smaller sources of inspiration. Llyrimin of Norr was modeled after a friend of mine who struggled with infertility; her children are based on my girls, my friend’s nieces, and another boy—a child for my friend (who, incidentally, did end up having a boy—intriguing). Much of what Aria, the protagonist of my short story “Faire Aria”, experiences on her first trip to the Renaissance Faire are direct observations and experiences from my own culture shock when I attended a faire for the first time. Some characters are based in look or mannerism on someone I once met, knew, or even just heard on the street. But very little of what I write is a direct result of the muse’s whisper, and everything I write is carefully considered, shaped, re-molded into characters, settings and plots that are wholly new.

So, yes, I do like to believe the muse exists. But the true work of the writer—and this is the hard part—is recognizing inspiration when and where it happens and shaping it into its true form. In every interaction with others, every place we visit, everything we see and experience, there is the muse. It is up to us to find what she leaves us and turn it into something tangible and real.

Kim Vandervort


Karin Rita Gastreich said...

Kim, I'd say the muse definitely visited you in the writing of this post. ;)

And wow -- you are a child of the 80's! What a fun film, Xanadu. Only an 80's imagination could produce muses on rollerskates.

I've always envisioned my muse -- that imaginary friend who accompanies one in the writing process -- as masculine. But one of the many great things you point out here is that our muses are many and varied -- the people we meet, the experiences we have, the places we visit, the stories we're told, the books we read.

That spark of inspiration certainly feels divine some times; but as you point out, it takes a lot of hard work to hone inspiration into story.

Thanks for another great post!

Terri-Lynne said...

I, too, love the image of the muse. And, like you, I'm not a fan of giving it too much credit. That whole, "My muse has abandoned me" thing bugs the crap out of me, because it's shirking the responsibility that rests SOLELY on the writer's shoulders.

And the good thing about that is, when we are successful, we don't have to credit the muse at all! Ha! Because if we take responsibility for the less than stellar moments, we get all the glory when they're quite stellar indeed. :)

That being said, the muse in my head varies with the project. Hmm...or that might just be the schyzophrenia kicking in.