Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury has many gems hidden among his essays on a history of his publications and how he views writing. “What can writers learn from lizards? Lift from birds? In quickness is truth. The faster you blurt, the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are. In hesitation is thought. In delay comes the effort for a style, instead of leaping upon truth which is the only style worth deadfalling or tiger-trapping.” I have found this to be true in my own writing as well. If I sit and think of a particular word, or try to make up how something looks or sounds or tastes, or how my mother might feel by reading a particular passage, then it comes across as being false. It’s as if the faster we write or paint or play an instrument, then it takes thought out of it and allows the Muse to create through us. Then we can say we’ve done our best, that we’ve created the truth.
“How do you commence to start to begin an almost new kind of writing…? You stumble into it mostly…It evolves out of your own life and night scares.” This is what experts refer to as ‘writing what you know’. And for part of what we do when we create, we begin there. I may write about horses, teaching, yoga, traveling, or music because that is what I know. That doesn’t mean that I don’t write stories that contain elements that I know nothing about. I have two novels set centuries in the future. I have no direct knowledge of that time, yet I’ve written about it. How particular characters act or respond may be based on our own personalities or people that we know. But we don’t have to stay in the ‘known’.
Bradbury has a wonderful way to describe the Muse. He begins by saying, “It is my contention that in order to Keep a Muse, you must first offer food. How can you feed something that isn’t yet there is a little hard to explain. But we live surrounded by paradoxes. One more shouldn’t hurt us.” How do we feed our Muse? “We stuff ourselves with these impressions and experiences and our reaction to them. Into our subconscious go not only factual data but reactive data, our movement toward or away from the sensed events. These are the stuffs, the foods, on which The Muse grows.” Even if we’re not consciously filing away the things we see, hear, taste, smell, touch, or experience, it does get saved, and if we engage with the Muse, then we recreate those sensual inputs in our writing, our painting, our prepared meals, our dance. Sometimes, we spend hours locked away creating, and our well can run dry. How do we refill it? By filling the senses. We go to a play, a museum, a concert, a gallery, or a movie. We take ourselves to the zoo, on a picnic, or fix a four-course meal. Julia Cameron refers to these as “artist dates”. How else are we to replenish what we use up than by giving ourselves more experiences?
The Muse is nothing tangible. For some of you, that may be a bit too “woo woo”. That’s okay. Here’s how Bradbury describes something that I’ve not been able to quite put into words so that everyone might understand where my creativity comes from: “What is The Subconscious to every other man, in its creative aspect becomes, for writers, The Muse. They are two names for one thing…Here is the stuff of originality. For it is in the totality of experience reckoned with, filed, and forgotten, that each man is truly different from all others in the world…I wanted to show what we all have in us, that it has always been there, and so few of us bother to notice.” Proof, then, what I’ve always believed: every one of us can be creative if we so choose. All of our life experiences are stored away, and because we are unique, our take on the world is the only one there is for us. Even if we share ideas and opinions with others, our view of things are still our own, colored with our perceptions. We continue to feed the Muse by reading wide. Poems, essays, short stories, and novels. We can absorb the words, the descriptions, love or dislike the characters, the vocabulary, the setting, pieces of the plot.
Now that we know how to feed the Muse, how do we keep it? “By living well, by observing as you live, by reading well and observing as you read, you have fed Your Most Original Self. By training yourself in writing, by repetitious exercise, imitation, good example, you have made a clean, well-lighted place to keep the Muse…Consider everything you have fed yourself over the years. Was it a banquet or a starvation diet?” If we’ve been starving ourselves, it’s never too late to change, to alter how and where and with whom we spend our time, and thus, the food we feed our Muse.
Since I began to entertain my Muse, invite it to dinner, I have been rewarded with pictures to paint, stories to tell, poems to write. Some of these can be viewed on my website: www.myjoyenterprises.com
How do you feed and keep your Muse? How do refill your creative well?