Thursday, May 17, 2012

Seeking the muse

I have just arrived on the Emerald Isle, not to walk the hallowed halls of Trinity College to view the Book of Kells or to immerse myself in barrels of Guiness – although after last night I think I may have done just that at The Ferryman on the banks of the Liffey.  Nor did I come to breathe the air of Dublin’s James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, or Oscar Wilde, although every writer could certainly benefit from an infusion of their talent.  No!  I am here to play golf.
A friend of mine, who lives near Oxford, invited me to be a guest of a group of golfers to which he belongs, called the Sun Followers.  I didn’t ask the obvious question as to why they had chosen Ireland for their spring excursion.  I had expected Portugal or Spain.
Yesterday, as I was watching the rain as I crossed the Irish Sea on a very comfortable ferry, I lapsed into a reflection of my writing process. 
Most of the time, I sit down knowing where I want the piece to go.  Michael and I have talked about it and have agreed, more or less, as to what should happen.  Most of the time, the process is very conscious – I am aware of what I am writing and can mentally step back and evaluate what I have done.
As with many other writers, the plan for a piece doesn’t always get executed as expected.  Sometimes the characters don’t let you go where you want them to go – a good sign that you’ve crept into their heads.  Other times, the act of writing shakes loose ideas that hadn’t occurred to you before.  Also good.
So you have to be on your toes, so to speak, because the story doesn’t always progress as expected.
But this conscious, reflective, approach to writing is not what intrigues me the most.  Sometimes, as I start hitting the keys, I lose myself – similar to what athletes call being in the zone.  When in this state, I can write without being aware of what is happening.  The words just flow, unprocessed and unfiltered.  The path is often uncharted and unplanned, and the result is frequently the best writing I produce.
What is more puzzling is that when I return to consciousness and read what I have just written, I often have no real recollection of writing it.  It reads as though someone else had written it.  Furthermore, I find myself wondering where the ideas, words, and sentences had come from.  It seems so unlikely that they emanated from me, that I could have been the source, because everything feels so foreign or unlikely.
So where does this state come from? 
I have no idea.
Does anyone?
But I certainly wish I knew and could package it.  And share it with my friends.
Or at least I wish I could summon it at will for myself.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Stan – Thursday, raining


  1. I spent two summer months in Dublin, at Trinity, and it rained for part of everyday but Sundays. Cosmetics companies would love to bottle it. It is nature's perfect moisturizer.

    It is that rain that creates the forty shades of green on the landscape. The "green" on Irish golf courses is not a misnomer.

    "So where does this state come from?" It comes from you, from your innate creativity. We see dramatic acts in movies in which artists hurl pots of paint at canvasses because the creative force took off a day or two or a hundred to rejuvenate, to take time to let it replenish its source.

    It seems that you are describing the process experienced by all creative people no matter what their medium.

  2. I know what you mean. Those are the good days, when you find that kind of reverie. The bad days I'm all too acutely aware that it's work and I'm grinding. Funnily enough, sometimes the words that have been ground out, where it feels like English is my third language, is the one I'm more happy with later.

    Enjoy Dublin. Though it's impossible not to really.

  3. I'm a great believer in the subconscious for creativity. Whether it's writing or mathematics, that seems to be were the novel ideas come from. But like Stan - and unlike the mathematics - with writing I sometimes find a scene which I was turning over in my mind before sleep suddenly there in the morning and quite different from the way I had been thinking about it before.
    Usually takes rewriting though. But doesn't everything?

  4. I believe as Michael does, and I have a trick for trying to get that next morning jolt of creativity. It works SOME of the time. If you want to try it, here is what I do: I stop writing in the middle of the sentence, in middle of a paragraph, even though I have the next thoughts ready to go. Then, before going to sleep, I read the last few paragraphs,close my eyes, and fall asleep thinking of my story. Next day, I sometimes find that zone quicker.

    I tend be very self-critical about my writing, but when I write in the zone, sometimes I like what I read so much that I wonder that I wrote it. And Yes, Michael, EVERYTHING needs polishing and polishing.
    Happy golfing, Stan. Remember what the Scots right there across the water say, "If it's nae rain and it's nae wind, it's nae golf."

  5. I have absolutely no idea where this comment is going. I'm just letting my fingers run across the keyboard--no doubt trying to escape the pain coming from the other room where my Munich friends are mourning their team's loss to Chelsea in the European soccer championship.

    I guess the morale is, forget about writing for the moment and enjoy your golf game.

  6. I should have outlined, not run off spontaneously. It was the Champions League loss they're mourning, not the European Cup:).

  7. There are times, Stan, I feel like we're all just the window the book blows in through. It's one of the great mysteries of my life, and I feel like the more I do of it, the less I understand it.