The Variable Muse

My muse can be a pain in the butt. Anyone who has a cat can sympathize—sometime around four in the morning, or some other equally inconvenient time, I’ll get a poke, poke, poke. Cats usually want food, to crawl under the covers, petting. string pulling—cat things. Muses want to tell you their ideas. The following is a nearly word for word conversation between the pain-in-the-butt and me. Nearly.

“Are you awake?”


“Yes, you are.”

“I wasn’t until you poked me.”

“Yeh, but you are now. So, I have this great idea for a story.”

“I’m trying to sleep.”

“Yeh, but it’s a great idea. It goes like this.”

And off she goes. Sleep is a distant memory. Sometimes it really is a great idea—or at least it seems to be at four in the morning. It needs work. The details need to be hammered out. That takes thought and time. By six I’m up and writing. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. But she is a persistent bugger. And if I ignore her, she gets huffy and doesn’t speak to me for a long, long time. That is a bad thing. A very bad thing.

She is extremely unreliable, my muse. If I court her and pursue her and beg her for her attention, she pretty much blows me off. Worst of all, she’ll sometimes show up when I’m having a party night, and if I’m drunk, so is she. She has great ideas. She pokes me. I write them down. If I am sane, I wait until I’m sober to look them over again. A drunk muse is not a dependable muse. Never, never write a story and submit it while drunk. That way lies embarrassment. Yes, I have done it. Only the once, and thank goodness the editor politely told me to take a flying leap. Otherwise I would have publicly embarrassed myself and her. My muse and I had a stern discussion after that.

I’m not sure where she gets her ideas. She might be stealing them from other writers. Maybe that’s where she goes when she’s gone for so long. Maybe she’s hanging out in a bar with other muses, trading ideas, brainstorming, eavesdropping. Sometimes I wish she’d steal ideas from a better class of writer. But I suspect it’s not her inspirations that are wanting but my weakness as a writer. She does her best.

Two nights ago she poked me. I did not want to be awake. She had this story. It was good. It was really good. I mulled it and chewed on it, wrestled it to the ground, beat it into submission, coaxed it, coddled it, and got it all written down. I waited a little while, then reread it and adjusted it. I sent it to a friend. He had great suggestions. I fixed it. Then I fixed it some more. Then I sent it away. It may flop. It might get published. But my muse, for all her being so annoying, really came through.

Now if she would just get back to work on the novel I’m currently trying to write. But like I said, unreliable.

Image: Muses partying. Source unknown.

Brain Full of Poetry

I suspect my muse is an insomniac. For decades, I’ve kept a pencil and pad at my bedside for those nights when my brain is so full of poetry that I couldn’t sleep until I write it down. Poems that come to me in the night can never be retrieved as completely as when they first appear. I don’t really write poetry any more, but story ideas still come in their place–characters, plot lines, scenes, turns of phrase–they come to haunt my hours between waking and sleep when the muse is restless and pacing, when my mind is most vulnerable to her.

My poetry was pretty bad, doggerel, probably, but that didn’t keep it from being relentless. Just the other night, after a long silence, a poem came to keep me awake that was an ode to camping. I love camping in spite of ticks, chiggers, mosquitoes, sunburn, poison ivy, thunderstorms, and raccoons that steal my food and try on my clothes (long story). I even broke my foot on a camp out–full disclosure, there were darkness, uneven ground, alcohol, and flip-flops involved, so possibly inevitable. In spite of all this, I love camping, but an ode to it keeping me awake seemed a bit perverse. Who writes odes to camping? Who would read it? Yet, there it was, tapping its foot and waiting impatiently to be acknowledged.

Some writers, I’m told, sit down and write. Others write in their minds for a long time before pen ever touches paper or fingers rest on keyboard. I’m of the latter school. I think about characters, plot lines, scenes, turns of phrase for a good long while before committing them to print. When I’m stuck, I take a walk and wait for my muse to stir  herself from her nap and get back to work inspiring me. I don’t mind so much that she is erratic and unreliable, that she parties at night and snores during most of my waking hours, as long as she’s there now and again. And sometimes, without my asking or thinking about it, she comes in the night to fill my brain with stories and poetry. Most of the time I dutifully write them down.

Image: My brothers, Paul and George, and me on a camping trip in 1957. Photo by John P. Evans (Yes, my family included John, Paul, and George. No, you may not call me Ringo.)