Vim and Vigor. Piss and Vinegar. Spunk, Spark, And the Immortal Divine.
I’m talking about Muse…not the band…I mean the illusive, seductress…who steals into your thoughts and whispers sweet plot lines into your ear like naughty suggestive teases.
One of my favorite older movies starred a young Julie Andrews and even younger Mary Tyler Moore. It was based on a Broadway musical and was set in the roaring twenties when women were toying with independence and embracing a more modern sense of sexuality. In Thoroughly Modern Millie, the main character, a stenographer, comes on to her boss by lounging across his desk and rasping out the line; “Well, when you’ve got it, you’ve got it.” (In context she’s referring to Tom Sawyer’s innate mojo despite his tender age of 12)
So when I think of that evasive and tease, inspiration, I think of that line.
When you’ve got it, you’ve got it.
The problem is that so many of us think we cannot create without ‘it’. That unless the muse is on our desks, lounging across our scattered post-it notes and circling the rim our cold coffee cup with a delicate finger, we won’t be able to create anything substantial.
Can I let you in on a secret I’ve learned? That blank stare against the wall of a writer’s block doesn’t come from a lack of ‘it’. It comes from the expectation that having ‘it’ is the only way creativity will come, and that anything other than madly typing away the best idea we’ve ever been gifted, is simply a waste of our time and divine talent.
Let me tell you something about my muse. He’s a well-upholstered, balding guy in a basement, with a half-smoked cigar hanging out one side of his mouth and a sneer that could stop a very determined freight train on its tracks. He’s an asshole. He doesn’t come out when I sit down at my lovely little desk with all of my office supplies neatly aligned in OCD perfection. He sneaks up behind me at airports and gooses me like some over-entitled politician. He wakes me up in the sweetest six minutes of sleep before the alarm goes off by hitting me in the face with his meaty hand and a pale idea of how to fix Chapter 8. He’s the one that whispers, in dark undertones, questions about unassuming passerby’s that turn into vibrant characters. I cannot summon him to lie across my desk and pull up his smooth skirts seductively.
He’s got it, all right, but it’s never what I expect.
The one exception is this, and the point of my post this week:
That bastard shows up every time I give up hope on him and just sit down to write anyway.
The first few sentences on my own are stumbling patches of weeds, filled with gopher holes and tripping hazards. But if I ignore the imperfections and keep at it, one paragraph becomes a page, and so forth and so forth.
I don’t stop for clerical errors like misspelled names, or fudged facts. I forget the use or non use of oxford commas and just let the words go where they go. I don’t allow myself deletions, even if I’m painfully aware of the stupid that trails behind my keystrokes.
It’s like emptying the hot water from the camelback tube on a hike. You have to draw out that nasty part before you can get to the refreshing cold stuff.
Before I know it, I can smell cigar smoke and salami and that cagey bastard is behind me…nodding in a nearly impressed manner.
Creativity is part vim and vigor. It is part mojo. It is part magic and a dash of spark. But it is mostly work. Even when the playing is done and the book is written, she’s just a dowdy, ill-fitting dress until you nip and tuck her into shape.
Maybe creativity lives in my basement because a dash of it goes a very long way. It’s the elbow grease we have to buy by the barrel full. Because long after Muse is sacked out on his brown plaid recliner with one hand down his polyester waistband, the work still remains and that’s when we really find out if we are indeed full of vim and vigor.
. . . If we’ve got ‘it’; the magic that turns muse into story, story into book, and book into experience for you and your readers alike.
So don’t pay too much mind to capturing that sultry vixen. Just write. When she whispers at you in crowded stores, or on quiet trails, be at the ready with pen and paper (or…ugh, yes your cellphone if you must) to catch her teasing giggle. But for all of the other 97 out of 100 times, don’t let her be the excuse you aren’t putting your ass in the chair.
After all, a muse is best attracted when she’s being ignored.
Happy writing, Kids.