I’m so pleased to introduce you to Emily Stoddard, a kindred spirit and writing professional who I met a couple weeks ago through Jeff Goins’ Blog Like a Pro: 7-Day Challenge. Emily and I are blog-swapping, with her post here today, and mine showing up sometime in the not too distant future at her online writing studio, Voice and Vessel. Welcome, Emily!
How to Invite Your Muses Into Your Writing Life
By Emily Stoddard
As writers and artists, we know one of the most powerful moments in creating anything is the moment we show up to work. As Pablo Picasso said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”
Every time we face the empty page, we accept an invitation to create. We take the risk of putting ourselves out there in a new way. Muses seem to love this kind of electricity. All that matters is that we trust them when they show up, even as they take us around sharp corners. Or as I say in my writing workshops, “follow the rabbit.”
But what about the space before we show up to the blank page? How do we build trust, so we know a creative invitation when we see one? Is it possible to seed the conversation with our muses before the words break out?
I think there’s power in signaling to our muses that we’re open and on the hunt. As Elizabeth Gilbert says in Big Magic: “Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest.” She shares how ideas are essentially free agents. They roam from person to person, seeking someone who will work with them.
The more we tune our curiosity and open to the raw material of writing, the easier it is to get the words out. Those free agent ideas start to find us, sometimes with more frequency and often with more clarity. And along the way, the challenge of facing the blank page becomes more irresistible.
There are so many ways to invite the muse into our writing lives. Some of us have a single ritual we return to (with near superstition). Some of us prefer a hefty toolbox of creative practices. Some are beginning their creative journey, maybe doubting whether a muse is waiting at all.
There is always a muse, a spark, an invitation waiting. Here are three of my favorite ways to spark a conversation and seed that dreamy space before an idea gets clear.
Three Ways to Signal Your Muse & Seed Your Writing
Visit your local used bookstore.
Like the books they sell, used bookstores often feel loved around the edges. Compared to shops with new books, they tend to be less organized or organized by unexpected topics. Spontaneity is in the DNA of a good used bookstore. They also have the collective energy of the people who have enjoyed or cried with or fought with the books before. Sometimes you’ll find notes in the margins of a book or buried receipts that tell their own story.
If this isn’t an ideal hiding spot for a muse, I don’t know what is. Head to a used bookstore and go to a section you wouldn’t normally visit. Choose a book by intuition – a cover that calls to you, a title that makes you laugh, or a book that seems so well loved you have to know why. In my used bookstore adventures, I’ve found gems on the history of the redwoods, Greek mythology, and more. I had been feeling my way into poems in those directions (e.g., thinking about a poem about a tree), but having source material helped make the idea more specific and real.
Write your muse a letter.
Letters are a disappearing channel for creativity, in my humble opinion. Emily Dickinson said, “A letter always seemed to me like immortality because it is the mind alone without corporeal friend.” What better space to invite the attention of your muse. I’ve found letter writing to be especially helpful when I’m feeling blocked. Writing to a “you” – whoever the audience might be – helps me see beyond myself and get out of my way.
So write a letter to your muse. You might choose one of the nine muses from Greek mythology, or perhaps your muse comes from another time or tradition. You do not always have to declare or confess something. Consider starting with questions for the muse, and then listening for an answer in the moment or as you go through your day. Maybe these letters become a separate journal, or maybe they become a writing ritual (e.g., writing a letter at the beginning of a new project).
Study something specific, concrete, and even odd.
Choose an object that speaks to your curiosity or fills you with wonder. Aim for something that you can experience directly in some way. I usually find mine in nature. Clouds and birds are my favorites. For you, it might be vintage buttons or street signs or the shape of puddles. It can be anything – give yourself permission to embrace something quirky.
For 30 days, give your subject deep attention. Choose a way to capture and study it. If it’s a small item, you might be able to collect it. If it’s something in nature, you may want to take a daily photo and write a brief note about it. Study it as through you’re hungry to know it – but without greediness for turning it into a story or a poem yet. If a poem emerges, follow it, but don’t force your subject to give up its secrets.
Whatever it is, practice devotion. The odds are good that your muse will appear over your shoulder at some point, finding that kind of presence irresistible. And when an idea emerges, it will likely come with real and grounded images, sights, sounds… all those ingredients you’ve been gathering through your study. The kind of ingredients that make for rich writing.
How do you call the muse into your writing?
If you try one of these practices, I would love to hear how it goes! Or if you invite the muse into your writing life in other ways, we’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Emily Stoddard writes poetry, essays, and the occasional short story. Her writing has appeared in Menacing Hedge, Cactus Heart, An Alphabet of Embers, and elsewhere. As a Certified Leader of the Amherst Writers & Artists Method, she founded the writing studio Voice & Vessel. She leads writing workshops and offers creative support in Michigan and online. Say hello on Twitter: @emilystoddard