Friday, February 11, 2005


"Come Muse, migrate from Greece and Ionia,
Cross out please those immensely overpaid accounts,
That matter of Troy and Achilles' wrath, and
Aneas', Odysseus' wanderings,
Placard "Removed" and "To Let" on the rocks of
your snowy Parnassus." Walt Whitman "Song of the Exposition"

This week at my classes, we've been discussing how to get in inspired to write. I'm having this problem myself, though it's mostly a matter of 'time'. Even the travel writers tonight were appealing to me for some advice. I had to admit to them that I am a prize-winning procrastinator and that lately I simply haven't felt The Muse co-operating.

There are various techniques we writers use to prompt Her into bestowing on us the inspiration, passion, and emotion to write. But for some reason She has abandoned me of late, aside for little scribblings and ideas jotted down for future use. I need a strong surge of whatever it takes to get me motivated again, some kind of literary catalyst to inspire me.

I actually teach a class called "Prompting the Muse" which is designed for people who want to start writing, or others who need fresh ideas. We write for 10 minutes from prompts, such as ideas from one-liners, plot line suggestions. These are spontaneous writings, stream-of-consciousness, and usually have surprising results. This week in each class I was stressing the need to write with all five senses. Sometimes an object or a colour will prompt a memory, often a smell or a taste. Last night, for an experiment, I took a bag of popcorn to class, gave everyone a whiff and a taste and asked them to write whatever that provoked. There were some interesting results (most wrote about movie memories).

The prompt I gave my Memoir group to write about was "What Gets Your Goat". You'd be amazed at the rants that these women wrote! In the Memoir group I usually give them prompts that will jog their memories about past events in their lives. From one prompt there will be so many different perspectives and from each of these stories you can spin off many other ideas. I think 10 minute writing prompts are an excellent way to get yourself started.

Music is also a wonderful prompt. Though I don't usually like noise around me when I'm working on my historical novel, sometimes I will play appropriate music to give me that little boost of inspiration that I need to create scenes in my mind. I have a CD that a friend made with music from the movies and it happens that for some reason each time I listen to it, I am transported into that other world.

When I was developing my play The Street I listened to a lot of jazz music of the '50's, in particular all the music of Chet Baker and sometimes Billy Holliday. I'd often go and sit in my favorite coffee shop on the Drive, The Calabria, which has a distinctive Italian flavour and is the hangout of a great many screen-play and other writers. When I was working on my new play House of the Muses I have a CD of Sappho's songs recorded by a Greek singer.

Often going for a long walk by the sea is helpful in conjuring the Muse. Once your mind is quiet the thoughts will come. Be sure to carry your notebook! I tend to be a 'walking writer' and some of my best thoughts come to me while I'm walking but it's important to write them down immediately or they will vanish.

I have a day without any appointments tomorrow so hopefully the Muse will visit so I can get back to work on the novel. There's been too many disruptive thoughts lately which I must banish from my mind. Alexander's world awaits me. It's up to me to enter in.

"The Muses I loved. For my suffering they gave me a honeyed gift." Leonidas of Tarantium

Solon 638-559 BC


Sam said...

Hi there! I think it's interesting that writers often talk about inspiration and the muse, and not enough about discipline and putting one's nose to the proverbial grindstone. Something many people don't realize is the ammount of self-discipline it takes to sit down and write a book. Although it's not a superhuman task, it's a part of the process that is not acknowledged. For me, writing a book is 10% inspiration, and 90% dedication.
BTW - I just saw Troy. Homer must be rolling in his grave...and I saw llamas!

Wynn Bexton said...

Hi, you're absolutely right and in particular with my novel writing class I stress this. If they can't do the little assignments I give them each week (all designed to get at least a chapter done in 8 wks) then they will never achieve the completion of a large work like a novel. Most of the time I have it on my mind 24/7 even when I am not able to sit down and write (at least I can make notes in my notebook).

Troy was good but it left out all the parts of the Trojan Wars story that I love in particular the Trojan Women story. I found that the computer enhanced scenes were amazing. But again, the wimped out on the relationship between Achilles and Patrokles. Then when Oliver Stone dared to portray that kind of relationship in Alexander, there was such a ridiculous hue and cry. I actually saw "Alexander" 3 times, and in spite of its failings I loved it.
But then, he's my hero...and I felt Oliver is on the same wave-length as me in relation to him.

Sam said...

I haven't seen Alexander yet (waiting for the DVD - I rarely go see films actually) But I'm sort of afraid to see it - see, I wrote a series based on Alexander (sci-fi/historical series) and it's hard to see someone else's version without cringing or, well, feeling smug, lol.
I tend to avoid hollywood versions of history - they are either ascepticized, dumbed-down so everyone can 'get' it, or politically correct and no real connection to reality.
But your comments about liking Stone's film have made me less wary about seeing it!

Scott Oden said...

If I had to choose between 'Troy' and 'Alexander', the former would win, despite the llamas. I can forgive Wolfgang Petersen for his errors (I don't know who his historical advisor was)and for taking poetic license with the works of Homer; truly, we don't know what type of poetic license Homer himself may have taken with his original source material. But Oliver Stone was trying to do something different: a serious biographical movie. His errors are all the more glaring because we know he had ample historical guidance in the form of Robin Lane Fox. I know you enjoyed it, Wynn, but for the life of me I cannot see how. I beg of you, when 'Shadow' receives offers for theatrical options, DO NOT let Stone have it ;)

Sam said...

"The former would win...Despite the llamas." LOL - that's a funny line.
Having not been to see Alexander I can't say - but I was thinking that maybe it's best not to be prejudiced. My son saw it and really loved it - but he never really researched Alexander. He read the Illiad though, and was pained at the changes in Troy. So maybe it's best to be 'innocent' and see the film with no preconceptions. (Impossible for me - I laughed so hard when I saw the llamas I missed the next two scenes.)

Wynn Bexton said...

Hmm...I wonder how come I missed the llamas???Must go have another look.