7 Musings on the Muse

I often feel that writing is something that takes me on a journey. I begin walking along the path, looking at the flowers, loving the scenery, the deep blue hills in the distance and the narrow winding path that goes up and down, taking me to places of it’s own accord. 

It is a lovely experience but the places I go to depend on the path. 

There are days when I wish I had more control over the process of writing and I had more courage to take the off shoots in the writing path. I wish I knew if I wanted to continue from there or to get back to where I was before. 

In other words, I want to be creative when I want to and not wait for inspiration to strike me. 

1. Finding My Muse 

    The first thing, of course, is that I cannot wait for my muse to find me. I just go and find her myself. I often wonder as to what she looks like. What must be her physical characteristics and what must be her benevolent qualities? And just because I do not know what she looks like, I should not despair in not knowing where to look for her. 

    Let us go down that path again. The writing path, the one with many delights. Which bush, which tree does she hide behind? Are there signs so that I may find her? I do not know, so I decide to take out my lute and lure her to me. 

    That might have sounded a little far fetched but in daily life this is what I need, bringing my muse to me. I must know what brings her to me and know what she likes so that she may stay. 

    2. When does the Muse Come 

    The question I have asked myself many times, when does the Muse come? Or more apt to ask, when would I call her? 

    For this, I needed to know when I write during the day and when I write best in a flow. 

    Sometimes, I feel that the time to write is hard to come by. I feel that I am always busy. So when do I find the time to write? I don’t. I make the time to write. 

    I have been writing on my blog for a couple of years now. Some days I do great, and some months I manage to churn out post after post. At times, on my less productive days and when things got busier and my schedule more crowded, I would struggle to write a 600-700 word blog post in five days. For professional writing or for doing the writing that pays, there are commitments and there are deadlines. I cannot just wait for time to be given to me. 

    To make sure that I wrote consistently, I started by identifying the time slots in the day when I could write. To my surprise, I found five such slots during my day. For two slots I could write endlessly or as much as I desired to and for the other three, I could write under a time constraint. That was like finding jewels. 
    The next few days, I focussed enough on those slots to start writing. It was a wonderful feeling to be able to write regularly and to notch up a good word count each day. Once I knew that I had those time slots, I guarded them zealously. I started each day envisioning the writing I would be doing in those slots. 

    In a few days I knew which times were best for me to write. I might have short time slots available for eg. During a commute, waiting for the school bus, waiting for the children outside their gym, the gap between two snack times when the children are lazy enough not to pester me or the short tv time that the children are allowed during the day. So I did have plenty of slots available but it was only by using all of them on a regular basis that I could find which ones worked best for me. 

    I understood that I liked the longer slots better when I could write more and I could get into a flow. The shorter slots were good to put in a few points to boost up the word count when that was required but I really loved the more relaxed time to write. I did not like to think that I had a few minutes left and I must write the next couple of hundred words in that. So both kinds of times were good but they served a different purpose and it helped to know which did what. 

    I also knew which time saw me at my productive best. I have always considered myself to be a morning person but somehow I wrote better in the nights. It had something to do with the infinite stretching of the night, well at least a few hours more than I would have gotten in the mornings. 

    3. How to make the Muse Stay 

    I made sure that I was focussed on my writing and there were minimum distractions. 

    It helped when the Internet was turned off. It also helped when I did not sit down to write after I had scanned my newsfeed, my messages and my mail. Doing all this just before my writing session was very distracting. 

    It helped to have the phone off the hook of course. I don’t like to listen to music when I write and I like to drink lots of water and sometimes I get up to pace about. 

    4. What keeps the Muse happy

    After a long time and some trial and error, I have realised that what makes me happy makes the muse happy too. She is intrinsically tied to me. She comes to me when I am relaxed, joyful, in the moment or when I have a deep need to express anything that has touched me deeply. 

    Looking at my writing and the times that I have been prolific gives me an idea of when my muse is happy and staying. The days I feel a deep satisfaction at having written well or expressed something completely are the days when I find my flow and my voice urges me and I can write on and on. These are the days when ideas come to me in dozens and I feel invincible where writing is concerned. 

    In writing, there are certain things that I can naturally express well. Some can write a memoir piece really well, musing and going down the memory lane. For others, informing and disseminating information comes easy. Some people are very rational and some write poetically. So, I write what I really want to write about. I write about the things I feel passionately for. I write so that it is expressed most beautifully and if it does not come out the way I would have liked to, I keep at it still. Because bad writing leads to good writing. The days I find my voice well are the days I write what I love to talk about. 

    This is not to say that I stick to one thing and never diversify into other ways of writing. It is only to say that I try to make everything my own before writing, in my mind so that the joy of ownership flows into the words. 

    5. How would the Muse stay comfortable 

    Which brings me to the next thing that is related to making the matter my own. It is deciding what I am going to write about when I sit down. I create an outline in my mind or on paper, if that helps better. Knowing what I am going to write about, what would be the structure of the piece, how the ideas are going to flow and how I want to tie up the diverse ideas or arguments as they arise. It is good to have an idea of how I would want to end it. Even then, sometimes new and unexpected things arise in the mind as I write and often I stumble upon a gem of an idea which closes the piece I am writing in an unexpected way. 

    So, I have an outline ready and also trust my instincts as I write. 

    6. Woo your Muse 

    The Muse is like a fountain of creativity and I can feed that creativity through writing. I also feed the muse in other ways by keeping the creative spark alive. That I usually do by indulging myself in other creative pursuits. 

    My favourite creative pursuit is to read. It is to fill my mind with impressions, thoughts, an amalgam of influences that come together to make my writing original. My inspiration comes from a cross section of arts and of raw passion that I encounter in the outpouring of the thoughts of the masters. 

    7. Passion and the Muse 

    I feel it is completely fine to lay bare my soul and write to take weight off my mind. It is completely fine to make writing a kind of a crutch on which to lean on, when going on seems impossible in life. I make it the place where I dump it all, the desires and the insecurities and the deepest fears. It is completely fine to dress these emotions a bit or a lot and to let them masquerade as characters with plenty of foibles. The thoughts are out there and they have taken wings. 

    Also, some days, I write for my own self. i don’t think of who I am writing for, who the target audience is going to be and how others are going to receive what I put out. I write so that it is my soul that is doing the talking. 

    Lastly, I have realized that it may take time for the writing to mature. Our perceptions change and our philosophies too and there is always something around the bend of our mind that surprises or charms our writing selves. 

    Disclaimer : The Muse is referred to as ‘she’. That is just an artistic view of her. For many others, eg, the writer, Stephen King, the Muse is ‘he’. 

    What are the ways you find your Muse and make her stay? Let us talk. 

    This listicle is part of Friday Listicles, a weekly feature that professes our love for anything that is presented in a numbered or bulleted form, paving the way for a happy weekend. 

    11 Reasons I Write

    Here are the compelling reasons that make me write. 

    1. There are a lot of emotions out there that are the undercurrent of human existence. We don’t explore them enough collectively. Writing is a way to nod and say yes, I feel that way too.
    2. Writing helps me to sort out things for myself. Conflict, despair, misery… I have been able to keep them from overwhelming me in difficult times.
    3. I want to be among the blessed ones, the hallowed ones, the ones who can create beauty and heartbreak through words alone. I have had writers do that to me and I want to emulate them.
    4. Writing gives me a sense of purpose. It is not my bread and butter. Not does it provide tangible benefits. But it gives me direction and happiness and a feeling that life is worth living.
    5. Writing is creating. It may not produce a sculpture. It would not produce a movie. My writing might not even produce a book. There might be blog posts or there might be overflowing journals. But the writing could be a personal experience for some. It might not win accolades but it might resonate with some minds and hearts.
    6. Writing is my way of self expression. It is a heartbeat encapsulated in words. I do not have to keep the unsaid within. In attempting to say what is a swirling mass of emotions in my heart, I say it to the paper for catharsis.
    7. Writing helps me find my way out of life’s conundrums. It helps me find my voice in the doubts and lights up my way through words.
    8. Writing helps me to celebrate the ephemeral and the transient. There are moments and emotions that are fleeting and yet so powerful, just like truth.
    9. Writing brings out the worlds in me, the ones populated by unlikely people, leading extraordinarily interesting lives. Through setting forth improbable combinations in the lives of these imaginary people, there is magic and reality all intermingled to make me feel like a Creator.
    10. Writing helps me explore my own narratives and my influences so that I can understand my viewpoint objectively, once it has been written down. I can choose to evolve my perspective.
    11. Writing helps me face my mortality. It makes me confront the transience of life and the little time I have been left with, in order to write all that I want to.

    What are your reasons for writing? Do share. 

    This listicle is part of Friday Listicles, a weekly feature that professes our love for anything that is presented in a numbered or bulleted form, paving the way for a happy weekend. 

    4 Surprising Tips for Self Editing your Writing 

    To write is human, to edit is divine 

    – Stephen King

    1. Create distance 

    Before tackling the difficult task of editing your work, create some distance first – between yourself and your important manuscript. Give it the gift of of time. Step away for a pre designated time from your work. It could be sleeping over your article or putting it aside for a week. For a longer piece of work, a few weeks might be required for you to look at the work with fresh eyes. 

    Metaphorically, create a distance by working on another project or piece of writing. Periodically, take a look at your resting manuscript. When you are surprised by what you have written, by the style or the pace or the narration, it is time to take out the editing pens. 

    2. Listen to your instincts 

    Once you start reading your work and are getting ready to cut out sentences and passages or to rewrite, focus on what you feel is right and how some things do not sound right. It could be a character that you have spent days crafting meticulously but she still does not sound authentic. Some scenes might seem forced and certain parts may feel too drawn out and boring. Make a note of whatever it is that you feel instinctively to be in need of improvement. 

    Technically, or going by the book, you might have done well in creating a conflict in the story and in resolving it towards the end. Yet, if it sounds false to your ears, it is time to take a second and a closer look. 

    3. Identify the Story 

    The story or the underlying premise of your article is the reason you are writing. For a piece of fiction, it is the story that is paramount. The themes, the recurring motifs, the setting, are all secondary to what you have set out to tell. Even if it is a slice of life or a stream of consciousness kind of work, pare it down to its bare bones, strip away the meat and find out if the barest version makes any sense. 

    Remember that the first draft is usually telling yourself the story and it is only for you, the writer and the creator. At the next part of editing and rewriting, the ‘other’ or the reader comes in. This is where you examine the story to see if there is coherence underneath the words and the imagery and the setting and the action. 

    4. Keep the Joy 

    It is easy to get disheartened when you come back to your supposed literary masterpiece after a while. It could look insipid or an uninspired piece of writing and there would be many many things that you can see are wrong. The basic plot may be disjointed, the storyline unoriginal. The characters may seem to be mere caricatures and the pace may be in jerks and starts. This is the time when you can easily get disheartened and abandon your work, thinking that no amount of rewriting can improve it. And yet, it is never a good idea to let go of any writing just because it does not seem imaginative enough or technically sound at that point of time. 

    Take a deep breath and think back of the joy that you experienced while creating the first draft. Think of the sense of potential and the plethora of possibilities that you felt while putting down on paper your wildest thoughts and deepest emotions. Will back the joy and you would get your sense of purpose back. 

    What things do you keep in mind when you are editing your own work? Please share your tips and tricks. 

    This listicle is part of Friday Listicles, a weekly feature that professes our love for anything that is presented in a numbered or bulleted form, paving the way for a happy weekend. 

    4 Ways to Tell if You are a Writer 

    Image courtsey: The Odyssey Online

    Disclaimer: This post is aimed at and addressed to you, the reader. However, whenever I say ‘you’ for the reader, it can also be construed as ‘me’, the writer, because this is why the post is written: to reassure myself that I am doing alright. 
    It can take (us) writers a long time to be marginally readable. There are a few who are like Gods on Earth, the ones who seem to write without effort, sitting down at their gleaming writing desks each morning, hammering out hundreds of words with scarce a pause in between and a smile on their lips. These demi Gods are a paragon of clarity and eloquence and everything that they write is lapped up by the masses and the adulating crowds… anyway, you get my point.

    Then there are the mere mortals, the ordinary writers who find the writing hard, fearful and terrible. Most of what they write is through a convoluted process of agonising over the what and the how. They (Us) struggle to get the words right, the adverbs out of sight, weeding out the cliched similes and mataphors so that the masses of words are pruned into the semblance of a manicured beauty.

    To add to the agony of making the writing clear is the fear of not doing it well enough. There is the issue of acceptability, both of what is being written about and the language employed. Say in a memoir, how much about something can one write? What are the things that absolutely should not be left out so as to stay relatable, even though it may mean being estranged from your aunt, the one who tattled about the family secrets in the first place.

    Then, there is the problem of excrutiatingly bad ideas that somehow refuse to turn into the swans from the ugly ducklings of the first drafts. The bad first drafts just morph into bad second drafts and the rewriting seems to have little effect on the final version. Is it ever going to get any better, is what you (I) despair of. Months go by and then of course, years and the way we live our days, in desperation and trepidation seems to be the way we are going to live our lives. The mere mortals seem to lose all hopes of even sitting at the feet of the demi Gods.

    In between the struggle to be the writers we (there, the ‘we’ had to come out) want to be, spewing breathtaking beauty and truths of life that have hitherto been undiscovered or let us say, not been expressed in our inimitable ways and the awareness of the clock ticking away, perhaps of our creativity and the resilience to write, there lies the little window of hope and of getting there against all odds. 

    In spite of the doubts, here are a few ways to tell when you (yes, we) are a writer.

    1. Daydreaming

    You daydream a lot. Yes, me too. Daydreaming is built into your system and no matter what others think, it is a valid activity, to be indulged into on a daily basis. Dreaming is not a waste of time, you feel, but a way to be more creative and a way to delve into your intuitive powers. 

    You would always have stories running through your head. They may be populated by wild characters or ones that do unimaginably creative things. The stories are varicolored, sensory extravaganzas that stream fast through your mind even when your are deep in other things.

    You have imaginary conversations. The talk could be the people in your head or the people who are real and you rehearse the words and your reactions and their delight and how those conversations are then going to be the turning point in their lives.

    The day dreams are also about you, writing away to literary abandon. There could be no greater pursuit or joy than in writing.  

    2. The Written Word

    It is God. Period. Anything that is ink or black scratchings on white paper or any coloured scratchings even on yellowing parchment, it can be put on a pedestal. This applies equally to cheesy love letters and drab instructions for fixing a machine.

    As for you, in the presence of the written word, you are dumbstruck and you can be content in being a wallflower for the rest of your life but you want part of the glory of the word and you itch to write yourself. 

    It is not about being published or about the accolades or the hallowed doors that open to a person of immense talent. It is about the joy of relentless writing, only for the sake of it. 

    3. Writing on your mind

    Reading and Writing are always on your mind. Indulging in one makes you want to indulge in the other. They are the yin and the yang. You swing like a pendulum between the two. There are stories that you read, that you like and they lead your mind to narratives that run around in your head. There are snippets of conversations that you hold onto for  a years because you can weave an entire tapestry of emotions around them. 

    4. You hate your work

    You excel at self criticism. Your Inner Critic (IC) is alive and kicking. Everything that you write is robustly rejected as being  terrible in every aspect. Your IC can mostly be found perched on your shoulder as you practice your craft. For every few sentences, the IC can be seen shaking his (or her, depending on your own gender and on the complex you have, either Oedipus or Electra) head, his expression a mask of disdain. The words you employ are met with a snigger from the IC, the flow of ideas with a grimace. Nothing you write meets the approval of the IC, even when others like what you publish.

    A strong IC also means that you, the writer have a strong urge to improve your craft. 

    Writers are writers, because they write. Even when no one reads them. Even when the words are not precise and the sentences are convoluted. Even when the writers digress from the story they are telling to another thread that unravels inspite of themselves, sometimes creating themes and motifs and at other times, creating a mess.

    This listicle is part of Friday Listicles, a weekly feature that professes our love for anything that is presented in a numbered or bulleted form, paving the way for a happy weekend. 

    9 Quotes on Writing by Writers 

    1. There’s no such thing as perfect writing, just like there’s no such thing as perfect despair.

    Haruki Murakami 

    2. Writing every book is like a purge; at the end of it one is empty … like a dry shell on the beach, waiting for the tide to come in again.

    Daphne du Maurier 

    3. All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.

    Leo Tolstoy 

    4. An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.

    Charles Dickens 

    5. The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart. 

    Maya Angelou 

    6. So usually even if you like a sentence or a story or something, it won’t come out that way – it’ll come out years later, and in a different way, and you don’t really control that.

    Keren Ann 

    7. Writing down thoughts is like making marks in the wind. The wind in turn makes kites fly even as we cannot see the strings. 

    Nicoletta Baumeister 

    8. To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the music the words make. 

    Truman Capote 

    9. There are two kinds of truth: the truth that lights the way and the truth that warms the heart. The first of these is science, and the second is art. 

    Raymond Chandler

    This listicle is part of ‘Friday Listicles‘, a weekly feature that professes our love for anything that is presented in a numbered or bulleted form, paving the way for a happy weekend. 

    5 Inspirational Quotes on Writing 

    1. “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right—as right as you can, any-way—it belongs to anyone who wants to read it.”

    -Stephen King in ‘On Writing’

    I find this quote very inspiring, especially when I struggle to revise and edit, wondering what to keep and what to cross out. I understand my responsibility for my writing to be meaningful because when I share it, it is no longer mine alone. 

    2. “Rereading old books that I love. I think the writing energizes and inspires me as much as it did the first time. I also watch a lot of TV. Immersing myself in other people’s stories really helps me.”

    —Brandy Colbert, author of Pointe on how to defeat the writer’s block. 

    There are so many times I hit it, the writer’s block. The books I love always tell me the what and how and I come back brimming with ideas, wanting to recreate the magic. 

    3. “Originality is partly a matter of having your own influences: read evolutionary biology textbooks or the Old Testament, find your metaphors where no one’s looking, don’t belong. Or belong to the other world that is not quite this one, the world from which you send back your messages.”

    – Rebecca Solnit, writer

    I find this advice beautiful… Of belonging to another world because that is what I feel, when I spend too much time in my head. 

    4. “Sometimes you climb out of bed in the morning and you think, I’m not going to make it, but you laugh inside remembering all the times you’ve felt that way.” 

    – Charles Bukowski, poet. 

    This relates to life and to disappointments and to the misery we feel occasionally. I may feel that when I am trying to write something ambitious but I always remember that I have been able to finish and that it turned out alright. 

    5. “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” 

    – Toni Morrison, in her Nobel lecture, 1993.

    This is the only true reason that I am inspired to write. To create a measure for my life. 


    Do share the writers quotes that inspire you and make you want to take up that pen right now… 

    This is the third in the series of ‘Friday Listicles‘, a weekly feature that professes our love for anything that is presented in a numbered or bulleted form, paving the way for a happy weekend. 

    Conquering the Writer’s Block

    Most of us think that writing effectively and clearly is an inborn talent. It is not considered a skill that could be learnt or improved upon much. Either you have the flair for writing or you don’t have it. 

    While it is true that most people have a natural inclination for certain types of skills, yet writing well is not something that cannot be learnt. For people to whom it comes naturally, there is a certain joy and they pursue that joy. They do it again and again and they get better due to the sheer persistence and through the learning they get along the way. It is true of writing just as it is true of every other skill. 

    But even for long timers, a very real deterrent comes in the form of a feeling of being stuck after a while or being in a rut. It is referred to as the dreaded Writer’s Block. 

    When can the Writer’s Block strike? It can strike anytime. It can happen when you have taken a longer than usual break from the writing. And it can happen even in the aftermath of a writing marathon, when the going is so good that you feel like God, the creator of your story, the hand that controls what happens to the characters and who gets born and who does what. It might take only a day to come down from the pinnacle of that writing and go deep in the dumps. 

    Feeling stressed about writing or not writing is also a cause for the block to get heavier. 

    And a very real reason are the expectations… others expectations from your work and your own. You might want to reach the pinnacle of your writing again and again but it might not be possible to produce everything of the sane quality all the time. 

    Whatever may be the reason for the Writer’s Block, it really can strike anytime and it is best to be prepared rather than go deeper into despair and taking a long time to surface. 

    Writer’s Block typically manifests itself into ‘what to write’. 

    To counter the dearth of topics when you don’t know what to write is to have a list ready… of the things, situations that talk to you, that get you so excited that you cannot wait to sit down and wax forth on it. 

    Make the list of the things you are passionate about, make a list of the things that jump out at you, as you go about your life. Know what you like to do, like skating or gardening or sculpting or knitting , things of which you could talk intelligently and possibly can teach others something as well. Think of your favourite foods and make a list. You could probably tell others how it could be done and how to improve upon it. Think of the books you have always liked and you can tell others why and what you liked about them in the first place. You could think of the restaurants you like and why and the places you have traveled to and how they enriched your life. Take them all together and make a long, long list or write them on little slips of paper that can act as mystery subjects that you can pick and treat as your prompt. 

    Your very own prompt list is ready and you would not be able to say that you do not know what to write about. 

    The next thing is the inability to write well, coherently, cohesively. You may have a certain style that you are very comfortable with. In dire circumstances, which are the times when the block is sitting heavily on you, step out of the comfort zone. The writing that you are doing is terrible already and there is nothing to lose by being even more terrible, so change that style. Go for longer pieces if you normally write shorter pieces. Explore different voices, from serious to a little funny to tongue in cheek to slap stick. Write poignantly or at least attempt to, if you write only funny pieces. 

    We all have these elements in mind, the entire gamut of human experiences and we let out only a few sides of ourselves. Write poetry if you abhor it. Write a journalistic piece if you hate news items. Go analytical in your pieces if you like to talk of only feelings and emotions. Be a reporter if you have never been. Write a memoir if you are scared of writing about yourself. 

    Another thing is to not care about being judged. It is one of the main causes of the block being there in the first place. You write well and then you get a lot of appreciation and support and suddenly you cannot reckon how on earth could you live up to those expectations. It seems that everything you write is under scrutiny. One sure way to counter this is to tell yourself or to fool yourself into thinking that you are only writing in your private journal and that no one would be reading it. If necessary, think of the pesonal journal having a padlock with the key secure in a good place. Then, write. Some say, bleed. Write whatever is in your mind, is in your heart, makes up your fears and disappointments and fantasies and joys. Later, when you are out of that scary place and in the warm glow of the fireside and feeling cozy and comfortable, you can take out the personal journal, unlock it and read it back to yourself and decide what it is that you want to share with the world. If there is nothing that you would rather share, you are still lighter by a few tons of emotions and thoughts that were a recurring pattern in your mind. 

    The best advice I myself have ever received about overcoming the Writer’s Block and I am sure every writer has had it too, is the ‘butt in chair’ trick. In other words, just write. It does not matter what and it really does not matter how and remember there are no devils or witnesses perched on your shoulder as you lurch from one disastrous paragraph to another. Just write and by and by, you would get the flow and voila, your voice too. 

    What are your tips and tricks to get the better of the Writer’s Block?