Tuesday 27 March 2012

Pinning down the Muse

When you first start writing you have lots of ideas. Then, they start to dry up; you use them up or you decide what had seemed good isn’t quite as engaging as you’d thought. Fortunately, as I mentioned the other week, I have the next four or five books planned in my head. Still, I’m not so teeming with ideas as I was when I decided TO BE A WRITER.  
Or am I really not?
Part of my routine is to take a break between edits of my novel by entering a competition or sending something to a small press outfit that accepts submissions at the moment. Often these are pieces of flash fiction or other short fiction. And I find as I drive, iron, wash-up, shop or walk I get thousands of ideas that are like dandelion seeds in the wind: they disappear again before I have time to write them down. As I talk to my first year university class about what they might include in their autobiography assignments I think of snatches of life-writing I might compose – and then forget again before I have time to make a note.
I sometimes have to push my students into finding a muse. Recently we played consequences in class. They did the following:
Created two characters, giving them name, physical and intellectual attributes and an emotional life
Created a setting
Introduced a problem
After each instruction – nine in all – they passed the paper on to the tenth classmate who took that home and wrote a story according to the information they had there. They produced some of their best writing.
Currently, as well as my major works, I’ve just entered a piece of Flash Fiction for a competition. I managed to recall one of those quirky ideas I’d had when I couldn’t get to my note book. It turned out rather well in the end, I think. I’m having less success with a longer piece I had been intending to enter for the Mslexia short story competition – deadline now gone. But it will come right, eventually and maybe that wasn’t really the right place to send it anyway.  
I have enough confidence now that even when I feel devoid of ideas if I sit at my computer I’ll be able to write. I prefer to do that earlier in the day for if I don’t, other tasks sap my creative energy. I’ve frequently noticed on the days I struggle the most, on the days when the muse seems to be in hiding, I actually write better. Just like my students.
What do they say? 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration? I can confirm that.                      

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