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Sunday, January 16, 2005

FINDING YOUR MUSE

"O! for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest haven of invention!" Shakespeare (Cymbeline, Sonnet 38)

Writing is a lonely occupation. Finding your Muse -- a literary catalyst which inspires and encourages, gets your creative juices flowing, boiling until they overflow onto the page with clarity and passion, is every writer's quest.

Sometimes the Muse is found on a quiet walk, or in the melodic sounds of music, perhaps she'll even come to you in your dreams. And often the Music appears in the form of a person, a friend who inspires and encourages.

It's a good idea, especially if you're just beginning, to find the company of other writers. I've been fortunate for the past 10 years or so to belong to an excellent critique group, The Scribblers. Without them I might have grown discouraged long ago, especially with my lengthy and ambitious work-in-progress. I value their commentaries on my work, and find solace in their companionship. We are fortunate to have a unique rapport which all of us treasure. Twice a year we go on a retreat to an island and enjoy a weekend of writer's fun, often following a theme for which we dress up and perform. ( Our "Treasure Island" weekend was a huge hit!) These idyllic retreats have helped us grow closer. And it is important, in a writing group, to have complete trust, understanding and respect for each other's endeavours.

I'm also a Chairperson for a downtown writing club (check out our website at
www.wewriters.com) But because I teach night school classes I am often absent. Still, this Club has provided me with many valuable connections and new friends.) My classes also are an enriching experience, a learning curve for me as well as the new writers who attend.
And from these classes I have made several new writing friends, often being a 'mentor' to new writers who are keen to pursue the 'lonely art'.

Once in awhile, if you are lucky, you might find one special person who becomes your Muse. Love inspires lofty romantic thoughts just as broken relationships might prompt poetry that reeks of self pity and bitterness. Some years ago, when I had resumed writing after a long drought and many distractions, I made friends with a Palestinian man who became my Muse. In our many delightful meetings and discussions, I would be carried away to ancient worlds. I swear that often I would hallucinate and 'see' him as a character from another time. And after each of those magical trysts I'd write for days and days. My writing instructor once said, "He is your literary catalyst." And he was. He used to jokingly say, "Don't put me in one of your stories!" And I never did, though it was he who prompted me to unleash all my creative thoughts and begin writing a new novel.

Our trysts ended when I went to live in Greece. But there I found another Muse. His name was Roberto, and he was a painter living in exile from Argentina. He and I became soul-mates, best friends. He was like the brother I never had, another Gemini like me, perhaps my alter ego. It was Robbie who inspired me most, encouraged me and urged me to keep writing on my current work-in-progress, "Shadow of the Lion." He taught me to use my five senses in writing: to use my eyes like an artist, to capture subtle details of my surroundings, colours, smells, sounds.

Hanging out at the tavernas, he'd say: "Watch those men! They are Alexander's soldiers. Pay attention to the way they interact!" And I'd jot copious notes in my notebook (which writers should always carry!) that became valuable references for my descriptions of Macedonian warriors. Robbie and I shared houses together over the various years I have lived in Athens. We'd talk late into the night, discussing literature and art and music and often talking about my novel. He believed in me, gave me the inspiration I needed to carry on with this difficult, intricate piece of work. He encouraged me to dig down deep into my imagination and 'live' with my characters. When Roberto died a few years ago, I lost not only a treasured friend but my inspiration, my Muse. And when I finish the novel there will be a dedication for him in the front. "You must finish this novel!" he would say. And I will!

I wonder now "Who will be my Muse?" It is important for me to talk about my work now and then, especially when I'm caught in a sticky place. When I describe various scenes or episodes, it helps me 'see' the way I am going, 'feel' the presence of the characters. (Yes, even those 'fictional' ones who do exist somewhere in real life.) When I'm caught up in Alexander's world, I am far removed from this reality. It helps to re-enter my 21st century surroundings again, if there's a friend nearby, perhaps a Muse, who wants to share my adventures with me.

"The time which we have at our disposal every day is elastic; the passions that we feel expand it, those that we inspire contract it; and habit fills up what remains." Marcel Proust

"To inspire hopeless passion is my destiny." William Makepeace Thackery.




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