The writing business · Writer basics 101

Only connect: how to wake a dormant muse

DJWB__SAM0371My muse is in trouble. I’ve spent too long on facts and analysis. I’ve been longing to tackle the Mountains Novel. Ideas and concepts have been piling up in my files, but now my schedule allows, I can think only of practicalities. My notes look like thin nonsense. I only see the problems, not the potential.

This is what going to press – and e-press – does to your mind. These last weeks have been an orgy of pedantry. Crossing ts and eyes, making an index, hyperlinking cross-references, obeying format rules for the kingdoms of Smashwords, Kobo and Kindle, typesetting the print version, reading onscreen proofs, tweaking bloopers and doing it all again. Oh and I updated the typography in the original NYN too, so that was an extra dose of proofing.

Now, my muse is on strike. I need to win it round. Here’s what I’m doing.

Forgive me if this is the most air-headed post I’ve ever written. I’m blowing away cobwebs.


While finishing the characters book, I’ve been making a list of novels and memoirs that have resonated with themes and ideas I want to explore. There’s nothing like a good book to make me want to write.

Compiling a soundtrack

Of course I’m doing this. I’ve been collecting CDs for the car, tracks for running to. Some of them have come from others’ Undercover Soundtrack posts, especially Andy HarrodTom Bradley,  Timothy Hallinan and a few that are currently a secret between me and the writers because they’re cued up in my inbox. Thank you, guys, for opening the windows.

Rediscovering the fun in connections

A few things that real-life friends have introduced me to these last few days that reminded me how homo sapiens is an endlessly creative creature.

DJWB__SAM04301 David(s) Bailey

I have a friend called David Bailey. Yes, like the famous photographer, but not related to him. Though my David Bailey does like taking photographs. And he’s spent much of his life grappling with scornful titters if he wields a camera. Last year, he was recruited for an advertising stunt, where 143 chaps called David Bailey gathered in London, put on black polonecks, were trained to use a whizzy camera and had to spend the day using each other’s middle names.

2 People lying down in Mexico

More pictures, also sent to me by a camera ninja. Fran Monks (a portrait photographer who is less challenged by namesakes) found this collection from Magnum of people lying down in Mexico.

These foolish things inspire me. There’s something so adorable about found similarity. A brigade of guys called David Bailey, identically dressed and taking pictures. Ten beautifully composed photos where everyone is, curiously, lying down. I could detonate with delight. If I wrote a thousand words I wouldn’t get to the end of why.

Whether your art is visual, written or sonic, so much starts by taking the world and seeing patterns. Repetitions. Connections. One idea boldly takes the hand of another, one character finds another, one event causes another, fractalling on and on. They look as though they should always have been joined. I won’t make the same connections you do, and that’s what makes your art yours and my art mine.

What inspires you?

(Aside: this week, some of the David Bailey pictures are being sold on ebay to raise money for the Marie Curie Cancer Care charity. One of them is by the very famous black polonecked David Bailey; one is by my black polonecked David JW Bailey, who also provided the pics for this post. See if you can tell which is which)

18 thoughts on “Only connect: how to wake a dormant muse

  1. Roz as airhead might just do it! All that virtue gone in a puff, and nonsensical instead. You have this IT whizz ‘uzzband and YOU are fatigued! My marbles have long gone, and I cannae remember a name no more…as woz evident earlier today! Serious problems not dried up muses just needing a sip of ambrosia. When I can remember the name of that darned muse I’ll be letting you know what she has for breakfast.

    1. Philippa, they drive us mad, these muses. Voices in our heads, confusing us about reality. We know the names of our imaginary people, although then we keep changing our minds about them.
      Actually Dave isn’t an IT whiz, but he’s pretty IT fearless.

  2. I’m in pretty much the same place. I spent so much time editing, rewriting and fixing things in my manuscripts that I’ve forgotten the joy of writing. Of just playing with words. Have finally come to my senses and decided that instead of starting the next book in my series (which currently feels too much like work), I’m going to spend some time just goofing around with words. Not just messing about writing nonsense, but also reading good books and spending some time in nature, being quiet and opening up.

  3. I can relate to your post. I recently finished the revisions on my second book, and when I finally handed it off to my editor, I realized it was time to start on my third. After months of being in “editor mode,” my “creator mode” was a tin man in desperate need of an oil can.

    To loosen the joints a little, I borrowed from my programming background. When I have a huge project and I’m not sure where to start, I begin by laying out the scope of work and choose the part I most feel like working on at the time. For my new WIP, I created a beat sheet and started making notes about what I wanted to do with the story. In no time, I was smoothly chopping away at the plot and character arcs, and piling up ideas for scenes. One scene so captured my imagination that I went ahead and wrote it.

    This is a new approach for me. I’m not sure how well it will work out in the long run, but I’m liking it so far.

  4. Meh… I know what you’re going through. The last 6 months or so have been full of practicalities and my creative abilities have been limping at best. I don’t want to jinx myself but… I think my muse may have decided to come home again. We are still at the getting to know you stage, but I have hopes a real relationship may be just around the corner. New music helped a lot. As did some plain old plodding. Forcing myself to sit down and write [mostly crap] every day has helped. I think my muse just got sick of reading what I was writing. 😀

  5. At the moment what most inspires me is music from Doctor Who. Especially the pieces that hearken back to intensely emotional scenes. It makes me feel all poetic and stuff, even before I’ve written a word! I guess whatever most rouses your feelings is good for the muse. Also, a nice beach walk (in any weather) clears the air in my head very well. And the “pre-scribbling” technique has proven incredibly effective when I finally get down to work (look up 10,000 Words a Day by Rachel Aaron if you’re curious – no I don’t do 10 grand but the system sure works!)

    1. Pre-scribbling? I like the sound of that. No need to even know what it is. Imagining it is enough!
      And as for Doctor Who… Doctor Who was my original muse in the 1970s when I was a kid. It showed that the strange and wonderful could be anywhere – although I was usually exasperated when I found the answer was an alien doo-dah.
      I also like film music – for some reason, the music for Downton Abbey (which I’ve never seen) makes me feel like telling stories.

  6. People lying down in Spain. That sounds as if it would do the trick. Being one of those people, not looking at the photos. I’ve never contended with waking the muse; it runs 24/7/365 and drives me crazy. The problem is its fragility. It shatters so easily, and then I have to put the pieces back together again. Sometimes it feels like an impossible puzzle and I give up to daydream about lying down in Spain, or just stare at hawks circling the sky. Then a piece falls into place and it’s back at it, making up for lost time and overwhelmed with all the tasks I’ve given myself. If the Universe were kind, it would have given me a simple life task, like neurosurgery or astrophysics. It sounds as if you’ve been having a good time letting your muse rest and refuel. Giggles are always nice.

    1. Hi Cyd! Ah yes, making sense of muse-like gobbledygook. That certainly is part of the problem. Next time I’ll try letting hawks decode it for me, although in these climes it’s more likely to be magpies and pigeons.

  7. Try seven months of writing Javascript (for digital choose-your-own-adventure style books) using the most unforgiving set of tools this side of the Spanish Inquisition! I need a complete brain reboot. If long walks and Keats won’t do it, there’s always ECT.

  8. Thanks for the mention Roz and hope you enjoy the music and find it as inspiring as I did. My inspiration is music, it helps me reach pass the ideas to the emotion, to the human connection. I will be resurrecting my novel, Deception, this summer and will be developing a soundtrack as well as a collection of photographs to inspire and focus me on its essence.

    I like the Mexico photos, there are a few stories in there.

    1. Hey Andy! ‘Reaching past the ideas to the emotion’ – that’s exactly it. Thanks for the creative nudge your post gave me – both in terms of the music you chose and the way you talked about it. Best of luck with Deception, and I hope when it’s ready for the world that you’ll come back and write its Undercover Soundtrack.

  9. Nature always inspires me. i look at a landscape or see an animal do something and I insert my character into the setting and say, “Okay what will she do now? or Why is he there?” Also, classical music sends into “Mythos Mode”. Myths and legends come flooding back and take on new twists.

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