I don’t have a muse. If I had one, she’d be a cross between Tinker Bell and the Queen of Hearts. She’d tap the crown of my head gently with her magic wand and inspire me with the perfect word, a deep truth, or a trendy literary premise. And, should I create characters who lie life-less on the page, she’d transform into the Queen of Hearts shouting madly, “Off with their heads!” I wish I had a muse. Instead, all I have is a process I call CREATIVE: contain, read, experience, allow, time, inspiration, and emotion.
“C” in CREATIVE represents containment. In the first fragile beginnings of a story, the writer must choose their first draft readers wisely. This act of shielding our work is called containment. To be creative, our inner child needs to play and dream, and this must be done in a safe environment. Our first readers must love to read; they must have some knowledge of the art and the craft also.
Julia Cameron states in Right to Write, “It is a metaphysical law that ‘the first rule of magic is containment.’ Nowhere should that law be more rigorously applied than to our writing.” If the artist’s inner child feels threatened the creative process will falter.
“R” is for read. As a writer, I read not only to analyze how authors use the craft elements in their toolbox, but also to be inspired by their words, thoughts, ideas, and truths. My reading list is extensive. This includes novels in all genres and age groups, as well as the classics, picture books, poetry, magazines, and even current newspapers. These are all seeds of inspiration. Stephen King states in On Writing:
So we read to experience the mediocre and the outright rotten; such experience helps us to recognize those things when they begin to creep into our own work, and to steer clear of them. We also read in order to measure ourselves against the good and the great, to get a sense of all that can be done. And we read in order to experience different styles.
Without reading liberally and analytically, the creative process is stymied.
“E” is for experience. As writers, we have an inner well full of experiences, conscious and sub-conscious. Robert Olen Butler in From Where You Dream, calls this “sense memory” or “dream space.” This space is where our memories are stored, like a recycling bin where we’ve tossed them to decompose. They remain there, in the back corners of our mind until we resurrect them through the creative process and then bring them to the page.
“A” is for allow. Perfectionism has no place in the creative process.
The magic of writing, in particular the first draft, happens because the writer can find creativity in the roughness of their work. Anne Lamont dedicates a whole chapter in Bird to Bird to encourage her students to “write a shitty first draft.”
Timed writing helps me past the perfectionist stage. With a clock ticking, my fingers hit the keys as if the story is dictated. When the bell rings I may not have the piece I expected, but only through writing and discovering what I don’t want to write, do I discover what I need to write. “Write first, scrutinize second,” says Julia Cameron in the Artist’s Way.
“T” is for time. Although, it may be an obvious piece of advice, every writer must make the time to write. Every day. On schedule. Stephen King says in On Writing:
Don’t wait for the muse…Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you are going to be every day from nine ‘till noon or seven ‘til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up, chomping his cigar and making his magic.
Creativity requires regular, daily attention. If we write with consistent dedication, then our commitment inspires more writing and better writing.
“I” is for inspiration. Writing can’t just come from the head. It must also pour from the heart. That is where creativity resides. It is an inner resource and it requires an open mind. Scientists refer to it as a sudden enlightenment (Career Realism), a thought process that connects the outer world with the inner child in order to create something new. In the creative process, inspiration flows naturally if the writer is receptive.
“V” is for the writing voice. A writing voice comes forth from the writer. It is the way the writer tells the his/her story, using tone and style. Dan Foy (Creative Commons) believes that the single greatest struggle for most writers is finding their overall writing voice. It may seem ambiguous, searching for something we can’t qualify or quantify. To overcome this we can do two things. The first: read in order to hear different voices. Charles Caleb Coulton stated the familiar quote, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Reading helps to differentiate the various different story-telling voices.
Writers may start out mimicking like children mimic their parents, but eventually, they find it—their own, unique voice. Once we find our voice to tell a particular story it will make the writing flow easily because the creative spigot has been opened.
This leads to the final letter in CREATIVE, “E” is for emotion. St. The most important element in finding creativity is that the writer must discover what they care about. A book written from the heart is holy and sacred to its author. It will make that personal connection that every writer yearns between themselves and the reader.
But how do we discover these emotions that reside inside our heart? The answer is in the act of self-discovery. Acts like writing in a daily journal and walking in solitude so the sub-conscious can communicate with the conscious. Meditation lets the mind become an empty vessel so creativity can flow in. Doodling, knitting, cooking, anything that helps us communicate with the inner child.
The biggest benefit of this self-discovery is that as a writer, I begin to feel connected to my rightful identity as a creative person. I learn what it is I want to say and who I am as an artist. This knowledge gives me the self-confidence and courage to bring my stories to the page telling them in my voice. CREATIVE helps me take ownership of both my memories and emotions in a way that I can play with them safely. And in time, I can process it by writing the wrong words and sentences until I find the right ones that will connect with my reader and me.
I’m always hopeful, one day, I will find my muse. But, by understanding the CREATIVE process, I realize no muse is required to reach my full creative potential. All I need, all any artist needs is old- fashioned hard work and an active and protected inner child.
What is your creative process? How do you get inspired to write?