The Muse

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by Paul

Writer's block versus inspiration.

It's amusing how we regard the first as a physical barrier, but often personify the second? One prevents us from moving forward and the other galvanises us into action. (The Greeks cornered the market on personifying inspiration, of course, fixing the number of Muses at three to begin with, but later, in response to popular demand and their growing job descriptions, increased the team to nine.) Nowadays, when we talk about having a muse though, we're often laying the role at a particular person's door. Dante had his Beatrice, Leopardi his Silvia, Rosetti his Lizzie Siddal. The muses are no longer the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, but a beautiful woman (or a beautiful man - depending on gender preference) who the writer/painter/composer has the hots for. And why not? If it works, go with it.

Now, I don't believe in writer's block any more than I believe that, if I stand still for a few hours, I'll forget how to carry on walking, but I didn't reckon I had a muse either. Maybe they come in job lots, I thought - Block and Muse - and you can't have one without the other. BUT, and it's a big BUT (so worth putting in upper case), there are certain times of day, I've noticed, when moments of inspiration hit me like... well, like moments of inspiration.

The first is between 2:30 and 3:30 in the morning, when I'd much prefer to sleep. It's at this time that I'll wake and start remembering the names of obscure bands/actors/films/songs I'd forgotten the previous day, which were 'on the tip of my tongue' at the time and which choose this moment to reintroduce themselves. And it's at this time that I realise just what isn't working in a piece of writing and how important it is to change it. For this reason, I keep a stack of Post-Its next to the bed so I can scribble these inspired ideas down in the dark, even if I can't decipher more than a word or two the following morning.

However, the second and more muse-like occasion is, for some reason, when I'm in the shower. I haven't a clue why it is, but my best ideas come out of the shower head and saturate me at this early point in the day: better words, better phrases, more interesting character dynamics, weird story-lines. Sometimes, the quality of the water takes me by such surprise that, despite having installed a water-saving shower head (being the good drought-stricken Australian that I am), the length of my shower becomes ridiculously long. It's the reason, I guess, I'm late to work so often and why our water bill needs serious attention.

This is where the muse wants to live, it seems, and I reckon it's not a bad arrangement. I am looking, however, into getting a waterproof pad (or inventing waterproof Post-Its) so I can scribble the ideas down directly, and I'm looking into building a bigger shower so I can share it with all nine muses.


A version of this article first appeared at Paul Burman's blog.

7 comments:

Mike French said...

Good job your muse isn't personified into a beautiful woman in the shower with you or I think your wife may take issue!

kathleenmaher said...

Kudos to all writers who don't believe in writers block, Paul. Certainly a writer can always write something.
My kids used to tease me (or worse) because I couldn't refrain from rewriting teacher notes. I'd made them late, which would require another excuse...
Then I read that E. L. Doctorow's kids had the same problem. They refused to let their father get started on these pleas to excuse his child due to illness. Their mother (who wasn't a "writer") must write their notes, no matter the circumstances.

Paul said...

Well, Mike, if wishful thinking had anything to do with it...

Definitely, Kathleen. I always feel that something, however rough, is as good a place to begin with as any, even if it's just stream of consciousness stuff. And I like the comment about "rewriting teacher notes" - when honing prose becomes a habit, or an addiction perhaps?

Stella said...

Paul, it's not surprising your muse is water-related. If muses are inspiration - an idea welling up from some source - then it's perfectly logical.

Paul said...

Stella: And all the more precious in a drought-stricken country! :-)

Stella said...

Paul - Isn't it great when the forces of nature/universe back up one of your theories? ;)

Jane Turley said...

My muse is in the pantry.