Muses at Your Doorstep

What if I told you that you could order your muse on Amazon and have it show up at your doorstep, all you needed to do is be home to sign for the delivery?

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Well, you can’t. Sorry.

But wait, you almost-can. I’ve been thinking some more about that Pablo Picasso quote with which I started my first post at MuseTraps: Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working. I’ve recently been showing up at the library on a daily basis, sitting there for a few hours a day, doing some writing exercises (I’m hoping to review this wonderful free online course after I finish all fourteen days), reading some, essentially doing whatever, but… showing up. Showing up every day (with occasional days off if I feel like I really need them, but yeah). And the more I do this the more I agree with this Picasso quote.

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Pablo Picasso, Le Rêve (The Dream), 1932.

Last night a little analogy came to mind that might help me explain just how effective it is to insist on sitting to write, rather than sitting and waiting for the muse to land on you out of nowhere and then write it down.

You see, in a way, muses are like parcels that you order over the mail. Imagine this: you order something you’ve really been wanting to buy for a while now. It’s a signed-for delivery. So, you order it but… then you go out instead of waiting at home to receive it. The next day, the delivery person comes again, only to find that you’ve gone out again. Let’s say, hypothetically, that they can leave you a message and leave it at the nearest post office. But you? You don’t show up to collect it. Remember, you were desperately hoping to receive this mu… ummm parcel. Yet, you do not pick it up.

Muses are the same. Little parcels of creativity sent to you (especially if you summon them, but sometimes, like bills and brochures, just out of nowhere, uncalled for). If you don’t show up with your pen to collect them and sign for them, though, you’ll never see them on paper. They’ll never bud and bloom and become wonderful ideas. And when they’ll be vacating in some land of the lost muses or something; or running off with your neighbour who found them quite attractive, you’ll be wondering why on earth you can’t find them.

Simply put, we work better when… well, when we work – than when we don’t (like a 100% better, right?). As I mentioned on the first post – I spent the last few months mainly conceptualising my thesis. I thought it through to the extent that I can talk about it for an hour without blinking if you just ask – I can describe the structure and the ideas, the methodology and the main arguments… but how will I ever see all these on paper if I don’t put them on paper? How will I find the words by which to write them if I don’t write any words?

So what are you waiting for? What was I waiting for those past few months?? Order your muse, find a comfy chair and a comfy desk, do your thing, write and write and wait for it to arrive. True, it might take a while (you never know, maybe the muse-men are striking, maybe there’s traffic on Idea Road), but you’re much more likely to end up meeting your muse if you’re waiting and prepared for it.

Let me know in the comments if you agree with me on this one.

And go get it!

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Setting Up the Muse Trap

 

Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working

                                                                                        Pablo Picasso

 

A few months ago, I was texting with a friend while wandering around the University Library. “I’m at the library” I said, “searching for my muse. I’m sure it was out there somewhere.”

“The elusive muse…” responded the friend, and – not knowing what his words would come to ignite in me – he added: “You should set traps”.

Muse traps…

Muse traps! How did I not think of these before?!

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A proof: I cannot illustrate (but I have the will!)

It has been about four months since this casual correspondence, and this idea has not let go of my mind. How do I trap muses, and particularly elusive, intellectual, snobbish academic muses?

I am a third year PhD student reading ancient Chinese history. The upcoming year marks the fourth and final year of my studies here, at the end of which I am expected to submit an 80,000 word-long thesis (PhDs in the UK last a maximum of four years. For any student, but for international students in particular, it is tremendously difficult to overdo this time).

This past year has been marked by a constant sense of struggle. By now my ideas are formed, I am excited about this work and feel like I’ve found my thing; I have a structure for my thesis and know what I want to say in every chapter, and what I want the thread tying the thesis together to be.

Yet words escape me, and my thesis remains silent; it exists pretty much in thoughts only.

With less than one year to go, and zero chapter-drafts submitted, this silence is accompanied by guilt and shame – what kind of an academic do I make if I cannot find the words by which to articulate my own ideas?

A year of struggles, it has become a year of exploration: I started reading blogs and books about academic writing; I watched videos and listened to podcasts, attended writing workshops – even organised some writing sessions of my own – all in order to solve my issues with writing. Occasionally these explorations helped a bit (although sometimes I still doubt it that I can ever get this thesis written). I now have a messy 18,000 words written (two thirds of two different chapters). But I have not yet cracked the mystery and found the secret to successful writing, and I suspect that I never will, as I have come to think that there is no one secret – no one secret to suit all people, but also no one secret for me as an individual writer. I have come to believe that the process of writing, like writing itself – needs to be refreshed, relearned, re-explored, and changed constantly. One of the tendencies of procrastinators such as myself is that we resent routine and seek excitement. After this year of exploration I know this, and I am coming to terms with the fact that my process of writing will have to continue undergoing constant changes if I want to keep doing it for the rest of my life (and I do).

I am starting this blog as a place where I can document these explorations, and will thereafter follow it wherever it leads. With time, I am hoping to document different types of creative processes (academic writing, but also other types of writing, music making, and so on) and different aspects of life as an academic. I hope that, in time, this blog will somehow become useful for other academics and people who work creatively.

My first task, however, is to trap (even for a short while, even for a few paragraphs, a few thousands of words) this academic muse of mine.

 

Whatever should comprise of a muse trap, I have no doubt in my mind that it must involve words. Written words, not only words thought of. Words for an academic muse are what cheese is for mice (within or without traps) – words are its food.

Inspiration has to find you working, as Pablo Picasso is known to have said. The muse of the painter feeds on colours and shades; the muse of the musician feeds on resounding notes. The muse of a writer (be it an academic writer, a novelist, a journalist – any kind of writer really) feeds on words. All of these are where skill meets magic, but magic does not come without practice of skill.

Fingers on the keyboard, pen touching paper, ink or pixels – this is what it takes for one to trap the muse of a writer. Intellectual thought, theoretical knowledge, research data, and big ideas – all these are of course necessary. But at the end of the day these are words. Letters, spaces, commas, full stops, semicolons – gathered into sentences and paragraphs – these are the food of muses.

This blog thus aims to act as a feeding station for my hungry elusive muse. I will try to write the blog posts as warm-ups for my academic writing (warm-up writing sessions are one of the tools I’ve come to know over the last year), and use them to practice my wording, as well as to document my experiences with academic writing, academic life, and other creative ventures.

While this is a more public one, it is still an experiment of mine – an attempt to learn a new thing. I am willing to accept the fact that it might not be the way. I am ready for the possibility that I might get bored, idle, or anything else – and give up. I know I might (like in my previous attempt of a blog) stop writing after two or three blog entries (I’d better not! I just bought this domain, trying to assure myself that I will, indeed, write!). But I’m willing to try. So here I am, setting muse traps word by word, searching for the words that are playing hide and seek with me (why am I always the seeker though?!), hoping that all this will end with a thesis, or – better yet – that the thesis will be just the beginning.

 

She’s a beautiful beast, this muse. Let’s find where she’s hiding!