Creative Process: How Do You Woo Your Muse?

When I wrote my first novel, it was as a result of joining several hundred thousand people around the world in a madcap adventure called NaNoWriMo. That’s National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated. It happens every November. People with jobs and families and similar annoying distractions pledge to themselves (and sometimes to others) that they will write 50,000 words by 12:59 p.m. on November 30th.

This worked beautifully for me. It freed me from intellectualizing while I wrote. I hit the 50K mark and kept right on going, because I was riding the wild stallion that was my story – IT was in control, and I let it run. This was a first for me – despite years of study, I had never successfully put my slavering beast of an inner editor on the back 40 long enough to sustain an entire book. I discovered that I am an organic writer – I couldn’t follow an outline if my soul depended upon it.

I found that I had – forgive me a moment while I choke on the term before stating it – a ‘process.’ This is a buzzword I despise, but it’s the only one that fits in this instance. I’ve become fascinated by my own process, and very curious about yours.

Did you know that Charles Dickens wrote standing up? Mark Twain wrote in bed? I write while sitting in a piece of furniture dubbed ‘The Purple Chair of Happiness’, because of its inviting eggplant tone and generous embrace, its high back and large, comfortable arms.

Does it matter where we write? Yes, but only to the extent that it’s effective for YOU. Where do you write?

I also discovered that music was essential to the development of my characters. In the beginning, I just made myself a playlist of some favorite blues and soul, but it soon became clear that my characters wanted their own playlists. By the time I hit 150K, each character had his or her quite distinctive and evocative playlist, and there was even an over-arching soundtrack for the entire book. This, of course, is just for me – the reader will know nothing of it.

My novel happens to be about a young woman who finds herself metaphorically lost, and in a dark wood wandering, and about the three male muses who walk into her life and help her enter the crucible of her spirit; they help her to find her true ground. When I said above that the soundtrack was for ‘me’, I really meant that it is for my muses. They are quite well visualized and present, and they sometimes DO require wooing.

Some people write longhand, some on typewriters, some on computers.

Many writers are creatures of superstition nearly equal to that of baseball players:

– we must wear a certain hat (Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo, wears a viking helmet when the going gets tough)

– we must eat tater tots (My friend Andrea does this ritually during November)

– we must have precisely one and a half shots of Johnny Walker Black, water back, at each session

– we must have silence

– we must have background noise

I cast my novel visually – I pretend that I’m making a movie of the book, and choose actors (or people I know) as the faces of my characters. If they’re particularly persnickety, as several of mine are, the characters cast themselves.

I have a file with photographs, menus, ticket stubs, fortunes, and other oddments that speak to me, that bring back memory I know I will want to use someday, if not today.

What do you do? Seriously. I’d love to know.


~ by Leigh on June 23, 2009.

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