Last fall I went to a writer’s workshop in my hometown. I gained many tidbits of information to add to my burgeoning knowledge of all the different facets of writing, but that’s not what I want to talk about today. No, I want to talk about the book I received at said workshop and the most recent chapter I’ve read out of said book. When I was at the workship, I was surprised to hear from the author or librarian (I can’t remember which.) that we would be getting something to take home. I looked over at the selection of books, and she further said that the workshop had been funded by a grant from a big company. After the workshop was over, I went to the table and picked out a book by Ray Bradbury called Zen in the Art of Writing. It’s a compilation of several of his essays about writing, and it has been wonderful so far. I’ve had takeaways I wouldn’t have otherwise had, and it’s taken me some places I wouldn’t have otherwise gone. Sounds remarkable, right? That’s today’s topic though based on my take of Bradbury’s “How to Keep and Feed a Muse”.
The muse is a funny thing. I’ve heard it described as the place where all great story ideas come from, and I’ve also heard people denying the existence of a muse (that stories are only written through blood, sweat, and tears). These are also the same people, I believe, who deny the existence of writer’s block and that anything can be written if you put the right amount of work into it. But, all of us who write need a place to get our ideas from, and that’s where I believe the idea of a muse formed.
Bradbury knew this well. In the chapter I mentioned earlier, he talks about all the different ways he feeds his muse. To him, the muse is represented by our very being, and it was fascinating to hear all the ways he nourished his being and mined it for story ideas. He talks about listening intently to all of the story-tellers in his life and how they made events and scenes real to him. Pieces of thsoe stories made their way to what I would call his muse, and he was able to deepen his reservoir of writing ideas.
He also talks about the experiences in his own life and how they led him down the path of more and varied story ideas. I think we, as writers, tend to forget that each of us has unique and particular circumstances that add to any story we’re writing. Bradbury didn’t though. He writes of making lists of nouns in previous chapters. I found that one particularly fascinating and put it in my bank of knowledge to try when I’m stuck for a story idea.
Another thing he speaks about is the reading and research we do and how we should read things we wouldn’t normally read. He says these forms of writing can stimulate areas of the creative brain not normally stimulated. It made sense to me so I decided to try it the other day with a graphic novel I received as a Christmas present. I’m also going to eventually try it with poetry and essays as these are forms of writing I read rarely. This writing, as well as the novels and short stories I normally read, should keep my writing muse well-supplied for years to come.
And, with that, I thought of the approaches I have to my writing and the excitement that comes with each. Because, Bradbury talks about that too. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I can see his point. I believe this excitement can show up in our stories and make them even better. So, over the past few days, I’ve taken the pains to be more observant. First, with the graphic novel I started reading. It stirred pictures in my own head of how I can make the scenes in my book more vivid to my readeres.
Second, with the walks I’ve taken. There is a tree outside of my apartment that reminds me of Halloween with its hulking shape and the amount of leaves it carries in the spring, summer, and fall. The lake on the property reminds me of drifting away to a new world every time I see it.
Finally, with the bread I’ve baked. The smells I’ve experienced and the decisions I’ve made during preparation time have helped me learn different ways of verbalizing the five senses in my writing.
It doesn’t take a whole lot to become more observant, and between that and remembering that our muses are functions of who we all are and our experiences, we can take pains to make sure our muses are always fed.
May we all be inspired by our muses in 2020!