Flogging the Muse

“Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns, driven time and again off course…” – Robert Fagles translation of Homer’s Odyssey

I am not the sort of man who waits for his muse to sing.  I put a quarter in the jukebox, and if the music doesn’t start, I kick it like a roid-raged Fonzie.

I keep my muse on her toes.  I don’t give her time to rest.  I keep a constant stream of input flowing to her from any source available, about anything I can find.  Each new string of thought strikes her, like a whip upon a plow horse, driving my muse through the muddied earth of imagination, in hopes that something new might grow from the shattered pieces of inspiration surrounding me.

Whether it is real life or art, I expose her to anything.  But I also have several tricks I use when that fails.  Here is one of my favorite techniques to try when story prompts, current events, and plain old creativity fail.

I love stealing phrases from poetry.  Poets are forced by their medium to make every word matter.  Every phrase is an image.  I use poetry that mirrors the tone of my writing and steal favorite phrases.  I have certain poets I read most often.  Plath, Poe, and Dickinson are some of my favorites.  The Homer quote was no accident.  My inspiration sometimes goes  back to the ancient tragedies.

There is a line in the film As Good as it Gets when Greg Kinnear talks about a light coming over people that tells him that is when he needs to paint them.  That is how I feel when I find the right phrase.  I take the phrase totally out of context.  Sometimes, I will read the poem backwards to make sure I don’t get distracted by the meaning of the poem.  I don’t want the writer’s meaning of the phrase, I want my own.

The next step is stolen from Ray Bradbury.  Type the phrase at the top of the first page.  Then, just write.  I am a seat of the pants writer.  If a story comes to mind, I’ll write it.  If I have nothing, I will write about the phrase.  When the story shows up, I’ll run with it.

I will never wait for ideas.  I don’t have time for that.  I take a blue collar approach to writing.  Clock in, work, and clock out.  Ideas, be damned.

You don’t have to be a poet to try this technique.  I don’t write poetry, and I rarely read it for pleasure.  Yet, I have found poetry to be a gold mine of inspiration.  Give it a try.  Go pick up a couple of poetry anthologies.  Get big, thick ones, and bludgeon your muse with them.

Jack Campbell, Jr. is a dark fiction writer in Lawrence, KS. His writing has appeared in various venues including Twenty 3 Magazine, Danse Macabre, and Insomnia Press. He writes about reading, writing, and life on his blog at www.jackcampbelljr.com.


  • Ted says:

    Good grief, it’s like you were created from the primordial ooze JUST to participate in NaNoWriMo. You couldn’t possess a better creative approach for writing 30-days novels if you bought one hand-crafted from Chris Baty himself.

    I envy you, immensely.

  • Aspen says:

    I have a note pinned to my cube at work– “Don’t get it right, get it written.” It’s my mantra against writer’s block.

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