Waiting for the Muse
If you’ve ever read a book on writing, or been to a writer’s conference, or taken a writing class, you may have heard a variation on this very fundamental piece of advice: If you want to write a book, get your butt in the chair. In other words, books don’t get written unless you actually write them, so quit thinking about writing the book and talking about writing the book and actually write it. If it were really this simple, of course, everyone who wanted to write a book would simply do it. I remember this every time I put my butt in the chair, which, like every writer I know, is five or six days a week. I do not wait for The Muse to call me to the chair. In almost every instance, I go there without her. Or I should say, I go there without any awareness of her. She’s around; I’ve just lost all track of her.
I lose track of her because I’m a grown person with a bunch of things I must attend to that have nothing to do with what I’m writing. I don’t mind attending to these things; I like the business of being alive and having relationships with other people and watching television and reading people’s Facebook statuses and all the other things that aren’t writing. But I also like writing, a fact I must remind myself of five or six times a week, because writing isn’t much fun without The Muse, and, as I said, I’ve usually lost track of her.
Then I put my butt in the chair. The chair isn’t magic. It cannot summon The Muse as a lamp summons a genie. Once I’m in the chair, I must wait. I must wait until my attention sinks to the level where writing occurs. When I’m attending to the business of being alive, much of my attention is on the world I can see and hear and touch and taste and smell. When I’m writing, my attention must be wholly elsewhere, for that is where what I want to write can be found.
That is also where what we call The Muse can be found, a source of inspiration and surprise and discovery that simply cannot be perceived with those other five senses. I wouldn’t bother writing if I were not inspired and surprised by the discoveries I found there. It would be boring. I’d rather be attending to the business of being alive, where I am often surprised and inspired by what I discover talking to other people and watching other people on TV or reading other people’s Facebook statuses. Other people are quite interesting if I pay attention to them.
Which is why I like waiting for what we call The Muse. She’s the one I pay attention to when I’m writing. She’s like the best friend you can imagine. If I’m willing to listen, she’s always got something very interesting to say. She has her own language, of course, and so I have to translate what she says so other people can understand it. That’s my job in this arrangement. It’s a good job. It’s the only job I’ve ever wanted.
So if you have a book you’d like to write, do put your butt in a chair somewhere. But don’t be surprised if you don’t immediately have anything you want to write. You’ll have to wait. Maybe you’ll wait a minute, or an hour, or a week, but by and by that friend will arrive, and she will have much to say, and you will want to do nothing more than listen and translate, listen and translate.
"A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com