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The Muse Is A Harsh Mistress

Some of my best ideas come to me in the shower. I probably wrote half my master’s thesis under running water.

Sometimes I’m inspired by preparing food. It’s a different kind of inspiration, triggering memory rather than making connections I can only see when I’m not thinking about them actively. Skinning fish fillets, for instance, once jogged my memory about working in a fish plant in my largely mis-spent youth.

Other times it’s something I see or hear, such as the time watching a honeybee go about her business set off a cascade of memories about the time the bees swarmed down the driveway and how we captured them and brought them home.

It can be the process of writing itself that brings inspiration. When I’m already writing something and can’t stop? That’s the BEST. One time I wrote on a park bench for three solid hours without pausing even to pee.

But the Muse is a harsh mistress (apologies to Robert Heinlein), and there’s no calling her back once she’s left the building.

So what do you do when the Muse turns her back and there’s not an ounce of inspiration in you? When you sit down to write and absolutely nothing happens? When all the prompts in the world don’t light you up? When all you want to do is burn all your notebooks and roast marshmallows in the flames?

Here’s what I’ve learned.

Lean into it.

Not looking for the why (why am I so uninspired? I must not really be cut out for writing). Not beating yourself up (how can I be so uninspired?). Not pushing yourself with gritted teeth and sweated brow and digging your heels in (dammit, I’m writing no matter what, even if my eyeballs are bleeding and I have blisters on my fingers).

You lean in gently. With curiosity, not a sledgehammer. Like poking carefully at a sore tooth with your tongue: what have we here? Resistance? It feels like heaviness, like stickiness. My head feels heavy, arms feel heavy, legs feel like lead, I want a nap. Or maybe a good cry. Or maybe I really just need to get outside. Not sure which.

Like that. Exploring, maybe doing a body scan, writing it all down. Gently following the movement of the mind wherever it goes: my trains of thought have derailed and crashed into each other and OMG it’s literally a train wreck in here and the fire trucks are on their way and all I can hear are the sirens.

Explore gently, but don’t give up.

Write anyway, yes; write no matter what, yes; but not with violence.

Write with a sense of allowing, not pushing.

Just show up. Sometimes that’s the most we can ask of ourselves.