Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

I’ve retreated to my home in the beautiful mountains of the Languedoc region for the summer. This is where I started the journey with my labour of love, the tribute to Eugene and Pieter, and this is where I will complete it. I am once again reminded this week that the process of writing my book is so much more involved than I had first anticipated. Some of these unexpected challenges I’ve shared with you in previous postings.

As authors we find inspiration and encouragement from fellow authors and despite having written academic books and papers, it puts me in the kindergarten of mainstream authors. Having spent the best part of 20 years writing and researching, I only allowed myself the luxury of one fiction book per year when on holiday. The rest of the time was spent immersed in the relevant literature related to the topic of the research on which I was working. I now find myself like a kid in a toyshop, discovering authors I haven’t even realised existed and rekindling the love of reading my mother instilled in me all those many years ago as a child.

Apart from once again indulging in my love of reading, I am also engaged in research to learn from the experience of established authors. There is endless advice out there about the many do’s and don’ts about writing and this week I have reflected on the creative aspect of writing, sparked by a conversation I had with a student recently. I found a very useful posting from a blog by the Novel Mentor, who confirms my gut feel, that writing is a combination of inspiration and perspiration.

The question therefore of how to ignite the creative aspect of writing began with a search of how we awaken our writing muse. I like the advice of the Novel Mentor who suggests we balance our creative side, our writer’s muse, with the inner-critic or our logical side to help make sense of it all; hence inspiration vs perspiration. Therein lies the art, creating a harmonious partnership between the two without one striving to dominate the other. My student believed that the creativity of writing was about discovering his muse and then by some sort of magic, the writing will flow. On the other hand, I am of the opinion that there is a great deal of work and discipline involved in the art of creating, whether that be writing, painting, dancing, etc. I love the following quote by Stephen King who succinctly captures my belief about creativity and writing:

“There is a muse, but he’s (I would say she’s) not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter… Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ‘til noon or seven ‘til three. If he (she) does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll (she’ll) start showing up, chomping his cigar (she – I used to smoke cigars, and pipes!) and making his (her magic).”

I just couldn’t resist the gender challenge! Of course, if you’re male you will use “he” and if you’re female you will use “she”. It is a debate I have so often had with academic colleagues as to when to use which form of gender and, frankly, I don’t think it matters. I digress, back to the battle between the muse and critic, and therein lies the secret.

For me this is an example of the debate regarding the left and right hand sides of the brain. As the Novel Mentor says, the muse lives in the right hand side of our brains with the inner critic inhabiting the left side. The muse has the ability to access our deeper subconscious minds where our dreams and imaginations are hidden. However, the critic doesn’t entertain such mumbo jumbo! The muse wants to be outrageous or do something different but constantly having to battle with the more conservative critic who prefers to blend in. How many times have you had this conversation in your head? I know I have all the time!

I again reflect on my years of training to write in a logical academic manner and I know my muse has well and truly been silenced during these years. Since embarking on this journey of writing my tribute to Eugene and Pieter, I have experienced the faint whispers of my muse as she is once again trying to find her voice, as I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs. However, the one needs the other. Our muse is the source of our brilliance and the critic provides the structure to contain the brilliance. The secret, or art, is knowing who should have center stage when.

The muse is fickle and on the whole leans towards laziness, until it gets the bit between the teeth and then the ideas flow unchecked. The secret is to entice the muse from her hiding place and send the critic on an errand elsewhere during that time. Sound advice from the Novel Mentor is to keep your writing a secret. The reason being that the muse loves to create and the more you talk about it with others, the more the muse expends her creative energies, resulting in lost ideas and inspiration as well as exhausting the muse. This means the next time you wait for inspiration, your muse will be lying down in a dark room, resting. Save it for the writing room.

I know my muse can be rather mischievous and she is getting carried away with identifying the most appropriate image that will reflect her in all her glory and, on the other hand, what would be an appropriate image for my inner-critic. Once we’ve decided what these will be, I’ll let you know, hence no pictures this week.

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