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Monday, November 22, 2010

A Bit of Muse Amusement: Finding Inspiration

              Anyone who is participating in NaNo undoubtedly is well underway in their project and knows what they are writing about.  It may have been a rough start for some, but somehow a fire got lit and now they're going like a house ablaze--at least one would hope.   However others just never got started, perhaps with that age old complaint of not being able to find their muse.

             I've always found the term of "finding my muse" to be a bit silly.  Perhaps because of its origins in ancient Greece where the muses were essentially goddesses who delivered inspirations for ideas to those in the creative arts.  I suppose it's a bit poetic, but in practical terms it's utter nonsense.  Any writer who sits around waiting for special delivery of an inspiring idea to come via a muse needs to cruise to another profession in my opinion.  Writing should come from within you so it does require some effort on your part.

             Now, I'm not going to get into any scientific or philosophical theories about where inspiration comes from--books have been written about this topic and I'm just going to do a short blog post.  These are just my thoughts.  I want to tell you how I find inspiration to come up with topics to write about, then maybe you can tell us how you get inspired with writing ideas.  I will be using my current NaNo project, Time Light, as my example.

            The Genre:      Before you come up with a story it helps to know what general genre you plan to approach.  In my case I decided beforehand that I was going to write a science fiction novel.  Since my favorite sub-genre is time and interdimensional travel I decided to concentrate on something related to that.  This sense of focus allowed me to start visualizing mental pictures and scenarios related to these concepts.  I like old buildings.  I decided that I wanted my story to revolve around a setting of an old building.  Once all of these elements were in place I let my imagination run with them.

           The Spark:     My usual modus operandi in coming up with an idea, or at least setting my course, has been to draw upon news stories, anecdotes someone has told me, something I've observed, or a quote. For my two NaNo submissions I have used Bible quotes to get the story started.  In the case of Time Light, I used a verse that I heard in the sermon at the church I attend the day before I was to begin my project.  That quote came from John 1:1-18 and most specifically the verse that says, "He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light".  The "he" in this verse is John the Baptist--my main character became John Proffitt, who witnesses the light coming out of an old building.  The light that he sees is what I decided to call the "Time Light".  I now had a main character and a title.  The story began to flow freely from there.

         The Kindling:     Just as any fire needs kindling in order to get started, a story needs to have details thrown in to get it going.   For Time Light I started with my setting.  The way my vision was shaping I wanted a city.  I had lived in the Chicago area in the mid sixties so I decided to use this as the time and place for the story.  I studied the Illinois and Chicago maps in my road atlas and started researching mid-sixties Chicago on the internet.  From there I just started making connections and drawing up additional ideas from what I was reading.   The Chicago of 1965 was starting to take shape in my mind and on the page.   The daily activities of my main character and the people he meets started to flow easily.

          The Fire:     Once the kindling has been set ablaze with the spark, the fire has to be fed and be kept under control.  As I have been writing Time Light, I have seen how this story can go in many directions.  It could be the start of a series of novels.   Right now my focus has been on John Proffitt in 1965 Chicago having witnessed a light from an old building and his mission to find out what it means and do something about it.  I am staying centered on this story, with an awareness that other stories could follow.  I have to be sure I don't get sidetracked and allow my story's fire to get out of control.
             Since I like to write with music, I like to choose something that will help fuel the fire and keep me in a proper writing mood.  My preference is classical music because I find it to be less distracting and it's almost like a movie soundtrack at times.   While writing Time Light I have been going through the cycle of the nine symphonies of Anton Bruckner.  This music is intense and majestic, yet unobtrusive.  I will listen to one symphony several times throughout the writing day and continue on with the next symphony the following day.   Music varies with us all, and classical works best for me.
              I have not done a formal outline for my story.  The general idea has been in my head from the beginning.  At the outset I wrote the opening and the closing of the novel so I would have a pretty good idea of where I was going with the story.  Then I began writing chronologically in order to maintain control of the story.  The more that wrote, the faster the story began coming so that I've had to list the main points of the novel within the body of the document.  As I come to each point I expand that part of the story.  In essence, the story is done, I just have to finish writing the rest of it.  I believe my story's fire is under control.

             A Final Thought:    Lest anyone have a misconception about Time Light, it is not a Christian novel in the sense of the type of book that would be classified as Christian literature.  It has been inspired by a verse out of the Bible but other than that a reader who was not aware of my explanation would probably not relate the novel to the Bible.  However, because of the author's beliefs the story espouses Christian values.  And so far I've kept the language clean.

            So this is the way I'm doing things.   How about you--what works and what doesn't?   Do you try any of the methods I use or do you have a different approach?   Are there any Bruckner fans out there?


  1. I agree--I've always found writers who can only write when they're in the right mood (and the tides are right, the moons are aligned, etc) quite alien to the way I think. Perhaps it's that the busier you are, the more likely you are to just take the time available to you, sit down and get to work. If I have time to write, I write--I don't think about whether I'm feeling moved to create or not! Tonight I have free time, so I'm outlining the rest of my NaNo novel. It's sweltering and I'd prefer to lounge and eat popsicles, but I guess it comes back to our shared philosophy. Writing requires effort. It's fun, gratifying effort, but novels don't just download into my brain pre-created. I think! (If anybody else can download them complete, please don't tell me, I'll cry.)

  2. Excellent words about your process. I certainly commend you for joining in the insanity (in my opinion) that is NaNo. :) Bruckner? I have not listened to him in ages and I must say that it absolutely tickles me to find another Classical music fan out there.

    Good luck, Lee!

  3. I never really got the muse thing, either; especially the things I've read about having the muse "talking" or something like that--I get inspired, but I don't think in terms of a muse generating ideas.

    I've haven't heard of Bruckner before.

  4. So interesting to hear about your process Lee. I've only ever written one novel, so I really can't speak to whether or not the idea for that one would would be representative of my process or not, but it really all just came from a kind of "what if?" moment.

  5. I'm not much for the muse concept. You either have an idea or you don't! I outlined my current work in detail before starting, but unlike my first book, this one is taking many new turns as I write.

  6. I agree and always pictured a muse as some dumpy nude woman that did nothing for my inspiration. :)
    Thanks for your concern recently.

    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

    PS have you seen PBS's "Circus" series?

  7. once again I fully agree with you, Lee, the muse should be within the author not somewhere outside.

  8. Sometimes you gotta fake it until you make it! Muse be darned.
    I'm a detailed outliner and rarely stray far from my original plot.

  9. I like how you can identify all these things. I begin with that initial idea and pull threads, follow breadcrumbs, and play what-if until I have enough to think about making some notes. Or sometimes it's the character who comes to me first without one clue of story.

  10. The Breakthrough series will have an over-arching Christian theme, more than merely good wins out over evil in the end. I want to rent the Narnia series as I heard there are similarities to a Christian theme.

  11. I wish I had the ability to do NaNo, but I applaud those who does participate, you're all doing a wonderful job.


  12. Amie -- It's chilly here in L.A. this morning so it's funny to hear you talk about sweltering. I don't think anyone's come up with the writing download app for the brain yet and what fun would it be anyway?

    Kimberly -- This is the first time I've saturated myself with Bruckner. It makes for some good writing music.

    Golden Eagle -- If a muse "tells" you what to write would that be like plagiarism? You should check out Bruckner since you like classical. He's what I guess you'd call post-romantic, later 19th century--same time as Mahler.

    Matthew - I use the same process for writing short stories, blog entries, and I used to use it for college papers---it just gets bigger with novels.

    Alex -- Yes, as I start writing, even though I have an outline of sorts in my head, I will often come up with new ideas and twists which change some things.

    Jules -- I did watch a couple of installements of "Circus", but I tend to forget since I don't watch much TV-- what I saw was well done. I imagine they'll release it on DVD eventually and maybe I can see it all then.

    Dezmond --That's right! Who's writing--the author or the muse?

    L. Diane - You are so darned organized! That's professionalism.

    Carol -- I have sometimes gone the character focus route and I guess it turns out to be more of a character study than a story with a plot, but I enjoy that as well especially in a short work. A good character can make the story.

    Stephen --I like literature that makes the reader think and doesn't just come across with a heavy handed message. I could see with the preview at the end of Breakthrough that the upcoming story might be heading in the direction you are describing and I like that sort of thing.

    Yvonne-- Thank you. Maybe someone needs to come up with a National Poetry Writing Event so you poets can have your NaPo.

  13. While I am not a novel writer, writing my blog and designing my beadwork has similar parallels. I have to have some sort of inspiration. Perhaps it is the artwork of artists and other beaders, or a certain time period. Sometimes it is the challenge of creating something that has inherant challenges such as the ethnic costume series I have started.

    Sometimes the kindling is just getting off my duff and diving in. The fear of failure or uncertainty of what to do can be crippling. I find I just need to "do it", right or wrong...adjustments can be made along the way, it is never a loss as something is always learned.

    For my large projects, sometimes just working on a small part of it makes it less overwhelming and that makes the rest easier to tackle.


  14. I generally get an idea in my head and then let it roll around until I have an opening sentence (that sentence usually disappears or is moved around in the editing mode) and then I just start writing. I like your idea of jotting down an opening and closing. I think I’ll give that a try next time.

  15. I don't do much planning in advance. I tend to get a scene in my head that triggers the story. Often it is a scene near the end of the story or an event that causes the problem. I get the emotional impact of the story first, then develop characters from there.

  16. I love the progression. it's always great to see how other people go through the process. My NaNo story started as a classic fantasy but I wanted it to be slightly different so I changed the setting to Steampunk. By doing that it changed the whole story because I didn't want the steampunk to be just a backdrop. Oh, and the seed began after watching a trailer for "The Tempest" on Dez' blog although my story has nothing to do with it -- it was just a seed.

  17. A few beers or a couple glasses of wine always help me! LOL!! Love Di ♥

  18. I like the process. I would add: coffee!

    Lee, thanks for stopping by and commenting on my story :-)


  19. Sig -- You make a great point. The process can apply to anything that some folks might attribute to the inspiration of a muse. Anything creative requires some kind of work or effort on behalf of the creator.

    Jane -- Having a strong opening inspires everything that follows in most cases when I'm writing and at least a general idea of the end helps move me toward it.

    Jemi -- So I guess that's seat of your pants writing in its rawest form.

    Lynda -- I always enjoys seeing how others approach something and pick up good ideas. That Tempest trailer did look interesting.

    Diana-- Sometimes I'll have a small glass of brandy with maybe some Ameretto or Grand Marnier added to it or maybe just straight. I don't think I get any real inspiration from it, but it's relaxing.

    Doris -- I almost always have some coffee while I doing any writing in the morning.

  20. Hi Lee .. thanks for highlighting how you go about your writing - certainly seems to make sense to you & the writing comes.

    I like quietness or as you say something on in the background - I vary my music - as to what I feel .. I must try some Bruckner though.

    Interesting read .. and how you set your scenes .. thanks - Hilary

  21. Lee-

    Am I to believe you are writing a story with no gratuitous sex, senseless violence or foul language?

    How do you ever expect anyone to turn it into a movie?



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