Calliope Goes Coach and Gets Mugged
Many writers start with high energy and expectations. Me? I expected the nine muses to jet in, first class, and cover me with their “creativity glitter” until I glowed. Then, each having anointed a typing finger, I’d approach the artist’s grotto. I’d wait for that perfect moment to manifest. And in that consecrated instant when I enter the artist’s sanctum, hands lifted in a cross between a surgeon and a high priest, they’d break out in arias. The aureole of inspiration crowning me, a papal quiescence would waft over the room like incense. The royal “We” would approach the waiting dais and settle over the “ark of the keyboard.” The world, hushed and trembling, would await those first brilliant and enlightened words. By page two, readers’ tears have formed and hearts are crying out... “More, give us more.” (This Walter Mitty moment brought to you by Tide; the detergent that cares.)
Eight months later, it’s force yourself up at the ungodly hour of 9 a.m. Unshaven in a torn tee-shirt and a dog-chewed pair of slippers, I shuffle into the kitchen. With a cup of yesterday’s nuked coffee, complete with creamer marching south faster than an outflanked confederate regiment, I drag myself to the keyboard because I can’t put off the deadline any longer. I’d gladly welcome inspiration – only now Calliope looks like she was mugged and drugged in an L.A. bus depot. And the last time inspiration was sighted, she was holding a number card and being photographed face-on and profile, for a “Wanted” poster.
Oh. But first, the writer’s mandatory, and near-pointless, post on Facebook to alert the 13 people left who haven’t de-friended me that I’m still breathing – and typing on the 10th attempt to stitch together and give life to some corpse of a story. And I mustn’t forget to acknowledge that two-star reviewer that says he or she would have given it one star, but they got the book for free.
So, how do you hustle up the energy, drive, and optimism to hit the pages again? Here’s one secret I gleaned from the old expression that’s floated around gyms and workout centers for years.
“You don’t work out because you have energy. You work out because you want energy.” I’ve found it’s true. Whenever someone suggests I go work out (how dare they), I resist. I think immediately of the effort and pain, sweat and strain. But as I get into the workout, joints loosen up, endorphins kick in, and I start feeling better. Why mention this? Do I think writers who are flabby need more physical exercise? NO COMMENT. But I have found a variant of the above bromide to also be true of writing.
“The artistic mood doesn’t cause you to write. You write to get into the artistic mood.” This works in the sense that I don’t expect to feel inspired and creative to start writing. I start writing and often, the magic flows – somewhat. And like physical exercise, a warm-up helps. I do small descriptions or snippets of dialogue that might fit into my story. Or I might take another writer’s description of a face or a setting and change it a little. Then more. Soon I’m churning away at something new. The writing muscles have warmed up.
Then I approach the story. Perhaps not the inspired priest. But no longer feeling like “the bone even a starving dog buried” either. So, how do you motivate yourself when your muse gets mugged? What’s your CPR for motivation?