When Inspiration Eludes: Finding Your Muse

CAROL K. WALSH

This morning I took my usual walk around our little local lake. I love my morning walk because it helps me connect with my inner muse and energizes my creative juices. There is no better way for me to trigger inspiring ideas.

Today as I walked, I realized how much I hate feeling creatively stuck. During those moments inspiration feels as stubborn as a two-year-old boy, whose first response is “no,” and as reticent as a pre-teen girl in her bedroom. Neither wants to listen to our needs. Both children need to be tricked into showing up for us. Our task is to find ways to entice him or her to do what we are asking – in this case, provide us with some inspiration.

Inspiration (which comes from the word inhale) is the most frustrating, unpredictable part of the creative process. Even if an inspiring idea shows up, it doesn’t mean I’ll like it, or that it solves my problem. As an artist and author I can desperately wish to be inspired about something I am writing — like this blog post — and instead, ideas will flood my brain for works of art. Sometimes I do lose patience. 

Just Let Go

Bringing forth inspiration requires us to repress our natural tendency to force it to happen. Instead, we need to let go of control and make the emotional, energetic, physical and intellectual space for inspiration to appear.

Today after my extra-long walk I entered my studio, a sacred space, which automatically sets the creative stage. (We all need a sacred space, even if it’s a corner of a room.) Once in my studio, I can more easily shift into a state of self-awareness that helps me focus and connect with my inner self. While I need to trust the process, I must also do the footwork. That includes: 

  • Engaging in a ritual of mental, emotional and physical readiness. 
  • Emotionally trusting the process — knowing that something good will come of my efforts. 
  • Shutting the door on negativity, self-doubt and the external world. 

Remember, we cannot force inspiration, but only create the space for it to occur. 

 The creative process is a process of surrender, not control. ~ Julia Cameron, The Artists’ Way Click To Tweet

Tricks to Tickle Your Muse

When inspiration continues to hide, I have a few other helpful tricks:

  • Change your medium. For example, if you are a writer, then doodle or paint.  
  • Move your body. Dance, walk or go to a yoga class. 
  • Brainstorm with creative friends.
  • Do a guided imagery. With closed eyes, begin with your stuck spot and visualize five different outcomes. Be as ridiculous as you can. 
  • Think of three or four unrelated words and put them in a sentence, i.e. toaster, red, couch, clouds. Then, take one of those words – like the color red – and write about everything you associate with that word. 
  • Go to a gathering place (store, coffee shop, park) and notice what you see, hear and think. What draws your attention? Write about your reaction. 
  • Take a one-day creative vacation. Do something playful without expectations. 
  • Watch for synchronicities. Carl Jung defined synchronicity as a “simultaneous occurrence with meaning.” For example, when I was writing my memoir I needed a scene demonstrating my mother’s temperament. In one afternoon I saw ads for candy, someone talked about fudge, and I was given a piece of candy. I went back to my studio and wrote scenes containing my mother and candy. 

In Andrea Patten’s inspired book, The Inner Critic Advantage, she suggests naming our self-shaming inner voice. Likewise, I suggest naming your imaginary muse and call on her when you need help. For example, before you go to sleep at night ask your muse to give you an idea. When you wake up, stay still for two minutes, which allows you to stay in that hypnagogic state, when ideas more readily float up into your consciousness.  

Finally, whenever an inspiration arrives, greet it with gratitude and express confidence that more creative ideas will come. 

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Carol Walsh LCSW-C   is the author of  Painting Life: My Creative Journey Through Trauma

                                                  

                                                                     

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You’re the Voice

You know the feeling. You’re reading back through the start of a new project, admiring the first 10 pages of what might be your next novel. Yet, you recognize that something isn’t quite right. You can’t put your finger on it, but it’s there – daunting and taunting you. So, you read through your words again, determined to find the culprit. Often, the obvious is overlooked. The problem plaguing you could be this: you’ve written your story in the wrong narrative. Instead of telling your tale in first person, you’ve opted for third person, or vice versa. The struggle is real, as they say.

While there’s no golden rule that a specific genre should be written in a specific narrative, this choice is often determined by novels that have come before yours. Take a peek at the first paragraph of the top-selling novels in your genre. What narrative are they being told in? The same as yours? Maybe you’ve decided to break the rules and change things up by heading down a third person path when first person is the genre go-to. This is a risk worth taking, but only if its true to your story.

The question of which narrative to use can be answered by determining the most important elements in your work:

  • Whose story is this?
  • Who is your narrator?
  • Whose perspective does this story need to be told from?

This choice is ultimately yours, my fellow writer. Yet, it can be one of the most difficult to make. I recently suffered from this very issue while working on a new short story of mine. I was three paragraphs away from finishing the first draft when I came to terms with the fact that the manuscript was fighting back. It took a few read-throughs over a few days to identify the problem: this was not a story that needed to be told in first person —  it needed to be told in third. So, I rewrote the story with a third person narrator, and it worked.

I encourage you to to do the same, especially if the story and the voice aren’t working. Make the change. See what happens. You’re the voice.

More Than Ever

More Than Ever

“What author inspired you the most while growing up?” This question was posed to me by a critically-acclaimed writer and professor on my first day of graduate school. I was sitting in an old classroom in an old college in an old Southern town. The other students all responded to the question with very “literary” answers: William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Jane Austen.

I answered with, “Judy Blume“.

In the world of literary fiction, writing for and about teenagers can often result in a steadfast stigma, labeling you forever as “the one who writes the teen stuff.” For some reason, our work is often not taken as seriously as our grown-up, elite counterparts. We get grouped in with other categories muttered with similar lowly disdain such as “chick lit”, “beach books”, and “anything written by that Nora Roberts woman”.

I’m often quick to point out 27 books by Nora Roberts are sold every minute. And Judy Blume’s books have been translated into 31 languages and over 80 million copies have been sold…and counting.

Not bad company to be in if you ask me.

Yet, selling a gazillion copies is not my driving force as a young adult author. I write for teenagers simply because I love to.

I write for teenagers because when I was 13 years old, a woman named Norma Fox Mazer changed my life.

Just weeks after experiencing my first kiss with a Latin boy named Pedro (after he slipped me a crumpled note that read, “Meet me after school because I like your stories”), my eighth grade world was lit on fire when it was announced Norma Fox Mazer – one of my favorite authors – would be making a guest appearance at our school.

After some serious campaigning to the junior high powers that be, I was one of the few students selected to have lunch with her in the library. I was beyond thrilled, having read every book she’d written. Although I was terribly star struck, I bravely showed her a section of a short story I was working on at the time and told her how much I wanted to be a writer.

Norma Fox Mazer scanned the first page and informed me, “You already are.”

Two years later, I published my first short story. And the rest, as they say, is history.

But I never would have become a young adult author without first being a young adult reader.

Norma Fox Mazer was my best friend, without even realizing it. Each step of the way, she was there for me, guiding me through the field of adolescent landmines. She helped me cope with my parent’s divorce with Taking Terri Mueller. She taught me about death and grieving in After the Rain. She let me know that it was okay to not live like the rich kids in Silver. And she answered the questions I was too embarrassed to ask in Up in Seth’s Room.

Similarly, I learned valuable life lessons in every Judy Blume book I could get my hands on (particularly Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself and Then Again, Maybe I Won’t). I devoured every volume in the Nancy Drew series. I hung on every suspenseful word written by Lois Duncan, and later, Christopher Pike.

Yet, as much as I read and loved each book by these authors, I could never find a true version of myself in them: a young gay boy growing up in the conservative 80s in northern California.

My first young adult novel, (set in 1986 in Sacramento), has just been published by Bold Strokes Books. While the novel explores a very timely and important topic (the life of a young girl is deeply affected by the murder of her gay older brother), the book is truly a literary tribute to the young adult authors who made me the writer I am today. Without them – and their beautiful words – I never would have sat down and taught myself to type at the age of 13.

I wouldn’t be able to recognize how much weight our words as writers carry, especially when read by young people.

Teenagers need us now, more than ever. They want us to be their best friend, their older brother or sister, their confidant. They want our experiences: the choices we made or didn’t, the decisions we’ve never second-guessed, the regrets we’ll always have. It is imperative that we share our lives with young people – not just through our words, but also by example.

After hearing Norma Fox Mazer had passed away last October, I reached out to her daughter, Anne, who is a successful writer. In a letter, I recalled my eighth-grade memory of her mother in my junior high library, and of the tremendous influence she’d had on my career since.

In her response, Anne shared with me, “I was touched to hear the story about how you met my mother. She would have been so happy to hear from you again and to learn about your novel.”

In my heart, I will always carry Anne’s words, right beside her mother’s. Right next to Judy Blume’s, and Lois Duncan’s and Christopher Pike’s. Next to the characters and the stories that helped to shape my youth.

In my lifetime, I only hope my own words will one day resonate with a 13-year-old who has yet to be told, “You already are.”

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This article was originally published here.

 

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