The Muse – Illusive but friendly…

Every Writer has one of these Creatures sat on your shoulder. As do Artists, Musicians, Dancers, Crafters, Cooks… any creative pursuit attracts the Muse. So what on earth are they?

Muse Species

There are the species that I (personally) have encountered:

The Pen Muse
This is the muse that is attracted to Writers. It can look like anything; it’s a sneaky Bugger at the best of times, always changing form and hiding when you least expect it.
It delights in whispering in your ear just as you drop off to sleep or inspiring the weirdest of dreams… and when you try to write them down somehow, it runs off again, leaving a trail of gibberish behind it that is a pain in the arse to decipher the next morning…

The Paintbrush Muse
This one loves to sit in warm sunny places and will often curl up on whatever it is that you’re drawing or trying to work on. Yes, it often takes the form of a cat or dog – mostly because it adores getting in on the action and leaving hairs in the paint (clay, plaster, glue etc).
It’s also the best Muse for Dreamtime because they love to sleep.

The Tool Muse
This one usually takes the form of a Magazine, brand new tool, pattern or material. It is primarily a Crafting Muse , but I have seen it appear in the kitchen as well, usually after a visit to IKEA  or receiving the Lakeland catalogue through the door. It usually inspires a new crafting pursuit, but will jump ship to the next new tool / crafting idea after you’ve used it a few times, thus forcing you to collect tools and materials!

Care of Your Muse

Feeding
This is completely different from person to person. The Muse tends to enjoy your own favourite foods and beverages, so make sure that you imbibe and eat those things that it likes on a regular basis or you risk losing it to a Creative that will feed it in the way it likes.

Bathing
Muses like to bathe regularly, they can get strangely obstinate when they feel they are dirty. Again, the method of bathing is different from Muse to Muse. Some like to soak in a bubble bath, others enjoy the bracing experience of a shower.  I’ve come across some species that like to swim in pools and still others that appear to prefer salt water.

Rest
Muses appear to have different sleeping schedules to Humans. They can be awake and bouncy, ready to play, at the oddest of hours or sleeping soundly for hours. However, (in my experience) they seem to function best when you’re warm and snuggled into something soft.

Personally, I’ve found that the Pen Muse is the worst for inappropriate sleep – when I’m sitting at the desk ready to write; he’s curled up somewhere warm asleep and when I’m just about dropping off to sleep on my keyboard, he’s awake and inspired, poking me with his inky paws and telling me what to write next.

Sickness
You will find that when your Muse is ill, you will find it VERY difficult to concentrate on any creative endeavour. There is no real cure to this other than time and proper care.

Sorry if you were looking for a quick fix…

Play / Exercise
All Muses like to play.  What they play with varies. Some Muses like to exert physical effort and enjoy Team Sports, Running, Swimming, Walking… the list is a long one! Others will be drawn to Music and you can take them out Dancing or to Zumba.
There are more sedentary Muses as well; these tend to like watching TV, going to the Movies or playing Console / Computer Games.
The third type is in the middle of these two. These Muses that will work best with a varied play routine.

Playtime is usually when you can get the very best ideas out of them, but be warned; not every idea will be a viable one or will be what you are looking for for the piece you are currently working on.  Just make a note of them (mentally or otherwise) and keep playing until the Muse indicates that it needs to rest.

Training Your Muse

It is possible to train your Muse to produce ideas on command. They are fickle creatures though and you will find that if you try too hard to train your muse it could get upset with you and disappear on you.
Sadly I cannot advise you on what the best training is – it’s entirely personal to the Muse in question and often takes considerable trial-and-error over many years to perfect.

I have not yet found the perfect training regime.
I know there are writers out there that have trained their Pen Muses; they seem able to produce books / stories / articles  time and again without seeming to break a sweat (Yes, I know that’s not exactly true – I’m having fun here, leave me alone) and they have different routines that don’t work for me.
This is fine – part of the work of becoming a good writer is discovering your Muse’s training regime.

Meet My Muses

I currently have two Muses, this is what they look like in Resting Form:

This is Puff, the Faerie Dragon and Pen Muse.

Puff

 His favourite foods are Chips, Chocolate and Starbursts. He enjoys drinking Dr Pepper and Gin & Tonic, but will function (with many complaints) on Coffee and Tea. Puff is a Sedentary Muse, so prefers to watch TV / Movies,  play Tetris / Candy Crush etc and go Walking or Swimming.

This is Stardust, the Faerie Unicorn and a  Paintbrush / Tool Muse hybrid

Stardust

Her favourite Foods are Tortilla Chips-and-cheese dip, Ice Cream and Cake. She likes to drink Tea (mostly Chai and Earl Grey) and Wine. Stardust likes to go Swimming, Cycling and Walking. She also likes reading and browsing the internet.

Over to you

I know that there are other species of Muse and I should imagine there are as many forms to each species as there are ways of being creative.  I also apologise for the lack of pictures,in the Species section of this post; Stardust (my Paintbrush/Tool Muse Hybrid) has gone on holiday and I can’t for the life of me get the images in my words onto paper in visual form.

Feel free to add to my list of species, tell me what your personal muse is like or contribute images of what you think that the different species look like in the comments below – let’s have some fun!

The Lessons of Failure

 

Failure is a word that doesn’t get much positive use these days, except in snappy articles with titles like “How to avoid failing at…” along with “10 ways to avoid Failure.” and so forth. Inevitably, my post is going to get lumped into those results, but I’m not going to talk about how to avoid failure.

Why?

Because I don’t believe that we should.
If it’s going to happen, then I feel that we should let it happen and learn from what caused it. I’ve had this particular lesson quite a few times in my life and while I haven’t enjoyed the experience at the time, I have appreciated what each one has taught me – usually well after the fact.

This year’s lesson in failure is possibly the easiest one I have ever done…

As I said a month ago or so, I did NaNoWriMo this year.  The aim, as always was to write 50,000 words in thirty days.

I had a couple of additional goals:
1 ) Actually finish the story by the end of the month.
2) Try out working to a detailed plotline.
3) Be disciplined about my writing.

So here we are on the 1st of December. The 30 days of NaNo have been and gone… and for the first in since I started this once a year writing rocket, I have failed to “win”.

There are many reasons why I failed.

There was a massive technological problem in the first week and it not only complicated my writing life totally, it messed up my mindset.

It was a bit like watching dominoes fall over. I’d managed to actually fulfill one of my goals before NaNo started – I had a detailed plotline worked out in my notebook, along with my usual character sketches and maps. I started the month well; the first two days I was strong and disciplined and hit the word count target perfectly…

Then my HDD refused to work.

Cue panic and upset and arguing. I tried everything and anything to get it back up and running. I consulted Mr Google; talked to those of my facebook friends who are IT experts; scrambled to make sure that I had the most important files (for my published books) safe and well somewhere…

But by the time I had calmed down enough to restart writing, my mindset was gone. I was lost in my own head and nothing I wrote seemed to fit, despite the fact I was following the plotline I had created… I had literally lost the plot.

I rallied and found my way back, but by that time I was 10,000 words behind. I’ve been there before and caught up, so I wasn’t too worried… but every time I tried to sit down and write more than a couple hundred words, life seemed to conspire against me and keep my mind out of the right place.

I finished the month with 26,633 words written. That’s 23,367 words short of the 50,000 needed to “win”.

That’s more than I started with, so it’s not a total failure and because I have the plot line done, I can carry on with it and get the story finished. Strangely, I’m not upset about it.

A lot of the articles on “failure” talk about it as if it’s something that is so awful that you must not let it happen to you. They’re wrong.

Failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something.

Morihei Ueshiba
In this case, I learned:
1) I need to backup all my important documents regularly in more than one place.
2) Mindset is the most important part of writing for me; if I can’t get my mind into the right place then nothing else goes right.
3) I’m not a pure Plotter. I can create an outline but I can’t stick to it. There’s just too many interesting things that pop up along the way to work in such a rigid manner.
4) Numbers are useful for keeping track of what I am doing, but when I obsess about them, the words they’re tracking run away.
5) I need to learn to relax.
So while all there are thousands of writers out there that are celebrating hitting that 50,000 word goal and writing a whole novel (maybe for the first time ever), I’m going to pour myself a glass of wine and celebrate learning to fail.
******************************************************************************
If you want to take a look at what I did manage to write, head over to Wattpad via the graphic below and have a read. I’ll continue to update it as I write the rest of the story, so check back regularly. Enjoy!

The Search for Headspace.

I watched a TED talk the other day by Ken Robinson – the one  on the link below in fact… I’ll let you watch it for a moment before I go on…

https://embed-ssl.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity
One point sticks out.. well more than one, but this particular one is peculiarly applicable to me personally –

“There’s something curious about professors in my experience — not all of them, but typically, they live in their heads. They live up there, and slightly to one side. They’re disembodied, you know, in a kind of literal way. They look upon their body as a form of transport for their heads.”

I’m a Writer… and an Artist (of sorts). I spend so much time inside my head that it’s a wonder that I can communicate with real people!

If I’m sat somewhere, not talking and staring at something or someone, it’s because I’m not actually looking at that thing or person. I’m too busy talking to the characters in my head or trying to figure out the best way to get a character to where he /she will meet their untimely demise…

It gets pretty noisy in there (in my head), so if you combine that with the general household noise of three children, two cats and a partner with back problems, it can get VERY uncomfortable.

(I get a lot of headaches…)

Anyway, I went for a wander down into the village today. I refused to take the baby with me because I needed the quiet of the walk to sort what was going on in my head out. I’ve been trying to sort out the story for my NaNo 2015 attempt (yes, I’m doing that again) but for some reason I haven’t been able to get very far.
I’ve managed some back story, and created a situation for my character to get out of, but other than that, the details are coming really slowly… I may have to do an outline – I haven’t done one of those since I first started writing!

Ahem… usually the quiet of the walk allows me to work my way through any problems. I can’t be distracted from what I am thinking about and the fresh air (we live on the coast) often jiggles the niggly bits free.
But today, I had nothing. A completely blank mind… not something that happens to me very often.

Then that quote from the TED talk popped into it. I think I was sitting on a bench staring at a crow trying to pull a worm out of the ground at the time.  As the worm popped out of the ground, the quote popped into my head… and I realised something.

I am a lot of things to different people. To my kids, I’m Mum; washer of clothes, cooker of dinners and provider of pocket money. To my partner, I’m Muse, Lover, Best Friend, Counsellor… (as well as General Cook, Cleaner and Teasmaid). To the Brownies & Brown Owl, I’m Barn Owl; helper and advisor.
That there is a lot of pressure. I have to multitask an awful lot to get things done sometimes… which is why my writing train has a tendency to get derailed.

I live in my head… but I have no space in here for me.

As I was walking, I mused about this. Writers, like academics, tend to see their bodies as encumbrances, transport for the mind. But one thing that exercising does is give you that Headspace.
Our society revolves around physical effort (it’s the reason that Dance and Drama are more important than Art and Literature) and to everyone else, writers seem to spend a lot of time doing nothing at all.  They don’t move around a lot; they stare into space or daydream instead. It’s a mental effort rather than a physical one and society doesn’t like that.

A month or so ago, I sat on a bench (the same one I sat on today) trying to work out a plot point that had been eluding me. I must have looked like I was in pain, because someone came over, shook my shoulder and asked if I was okay… you can’t sit still and not be undisturbed because everyone assumes that you’re available if you do.

But if you move while you’re day dreaming, people leave you alone. Exercise can give you the headspace to work in without being interrupted. It’s a similar effect to sitting at your desk googling things – they assume that you’re doing some kind of work. If you walk / cycle / swim while you are day dreaming, no one bothers you.

So I need Head Space.

I need to be left alone for an hour or so a day without being interrupted. So I’m going to start exercising daily. Not anything majorly strenuous; just a gentle walk or cycle so that people will leave my mind to do its thing…