Three ways to feed your muse: hunting down inspiration, Part 2
You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club. Jack London
Inspiration comes from many places. Sometimes, it’s a visual image—fog settling over the bay, a blue jay teetering on a phone wire, a dead leaf swirling on the wind. Sometimes, inspiration comes in the form of sound—a phrase overheard, the sound of water rushing over rocks, silence when the power goes out. But too often, inspiration doesn’t just come out of the blue—I have to go hunting for it.
One of my favorite ways to find inspiration is to read the work of others—poetry, fiction, nonfiction. As a writer, we train ourselves while reading to have different levels of awareness running at the same time. Kind of like having multiple computer programs running at once.
On one level, we’re fully immersed in the story or poem, but on another level we’re noticing language, syntax, the arrangement of words, metaphors, rhythm. We notice how the author or poet uses concretes and abstractions, how she presents her characters or builds suspense.
As you read, notice if the piece grabs you. And, if it does, where does that happen? Be on the lookout for what inspires your muse.
Sometimes, an idea or inspiration will come in the form of one word. One wild word that sparks your muse into action.
Recently, this happened to me while reading poet Michael Klein’s book of poetry, then, we were still living. In his poem, “The massage,” Klein writes the line: “The prayer I am hearing in your hand: lake, chimera, glow.”
Something about the word chimera grabbed my attention and resonated with me. Not just the definition, but how he used it in the line—that shadowy link between the more innocent words “lake” and “glow.” I looked up the word chimera and rolled the sounds around on my tongue before adding it to my personal lexicon (via Priscilla Long’s wonderful book The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life).
One definition of chimera is, “a horrible or unreal creature of the imagination.” I started to think about my own chimeras and how they’ve sometimes surfaced beneath the fingers of my own massage therapist. As a result, I ended up writing a poem containing the word chimera—totally different from Mr. Klein’s work yet inspired by it. What’s that saying about one candle lighting another?
Exercise: Read a poem, short story, or even a story in the newspaper until you find that one word, metaphor, or idea that inspires your own muse. Set a timer and write for 10 minutes without stopping.
Click here for part three of this post.