July 14, 2011

When Your Muse Just Isn’t That Into You

Your Muse wakes you up at 2:00am promising hours of ecstasy but delivers only a mildly satisfying twenty minutes. She interrupts you while you’re driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic telling you that you’d better find a pen and something to write on in five seconds, or the inspiration will self-destruct. You have no pen.

In the middle of your office presentation, she whispers coy words in your ear, causing you to stumble in front of the V.P. Again. And now, she forces you to pull over on the side of the interstate because there’s a blind woman selling steak-fried-Cheetos in the middle of the desert, and your Muse says you need to know why. Really. Steak-fried-Cheetos-woman is important to your story. Muse swears.

She comes into your life at random, tosses one chocolate chip at you when you’re dying for the whole cookie, and leaves without saying goodbye. Bitch.

What can you do if your Muse just isn’t that into you?

You could try to woo her back:

  • Buy her a box of chocolates (you can eat one)
  • Pick up a nice bottle of wine (she won’t mind if you have a glass)
  • Perhaps some jazz music for ambiance (the kind without words to avoid distraction)

If your Muse is still more interested in flying off to Paris for the weekend, you might just have to forge ahead without her. You have deadlines to meet, after all.

Maybe you’re not the type that can simply sit down in front of the screen and force yourself to write. In that case, you might need to duct tape yourself to a chair. Why didn’t you think of duct-taping your Muse to the chair before she boarded the plane?

Or, if duct tape isn’t your thing, you could go around touching things. (Get your mind right out of that gutter!) You’re a sensory being, and touch is one of your greatest strengths. The feel of a salt-beaten, rocking chair - splinters eroded down to slick, grey grooves - beneath your fingertips just might be the inspiration you need.

What if you’re describing the environment? As you’re walking about, run your hand over the tree bark, pick up a fallen leaf, put your toes in the river, close your eyes and sit in the tall grass. Feel the speed of the water colliding with the soles of your feet, the vein of the leaf as it bends from stem to tip, the serrated edge of every blade of grass. Charge your writing with texture and watch as it comes alive. (Not literally though, because that would be a whole different type of story. Frankenstein forests are not good.)

Perhaps your character is a baker. You probably stuck your fingers into a bowl of cake-mix as a child (before you washed your hands, no doubt) to grab a pinky full of that sweet, buttery batter. Does your grown-up character still do this with every batch of cupcakes? If so, go stick your pinky in batter and see what it feels like slipping over your hand, the sensation of tasting the warm vanilla, pressed between your tongue and the groove of your fingerprint.

And when your Muse returns, give her a cupcake and send her down the river.

What do you do when your Muse goes missing?

July 2, 2011

The Scent of Knowledge

"The knowledge gained from a computer... has no texture, no context. It's there and then it's gone. If it's to last, then the getting of knowledge should be tangible... it should be... well, smelly." - Joss Whedon (from BTVS)

The summer before I began kindergarten, my mother enrolled me in a reading program at our local library. For my first choice, I selected an old, hardcover book. I remember the feel of the worn, coated canvas, stringy at the binding; the musty smell of paper; the raised words. The book was Clyde Monster, a tale of a young monster afraid of people hiding under his bed at night. Since I knew that I would never be crazy enough to hide beneath a monster’s bed, I logically concluded that one would never hide beneath mine. It was at that moment I fell in love with fiction.

I pick up books from my childhood, from the library, or even second-hand bookstores. I feel the worn pages and imagine the lives of people who held those books before me. I can inhale the scent of a book, whether it's yellowed, wine-stained, or brand new, the scent triggers memory. Where was I when I last smelled that particular scent - a coffee shop? A park? The corner of my attic? Perhaps my grandmother's apartment, when I was a child. Not likely, since her apartment always smelled like margarine tubs, canned cat food, and boiled meat. But you get the idea.

The memories arise, come crawling over my skin like some forgotten rush of life, and send me spiraling back to the moment I first felt the cottony pages of McBain's 87th Precinct Novels, or the cool gloss of a just-released book jacket. While I don't expect computers to be scratch-n-sniff any time soon, I know that the experiences I remember most clearly are the ones littered with scents. I agree with Joss Whedon. Knowledge should be smelly.