The Writing Life: An Open Letter to My Muse by Hilary Meyerson

Dear Muse,

I’m not exactly sure who to address this to. I’m looking for the source of my writer’s inspiration. Historically, there were nine Greek goddesses assigned to this task, but given Greece’s economic problems  and their early retirement age, those Muses are probably busy with other things. I’m not a religious person, though I consider myself fairly spiritual, so I suppose I could use the general cop-out of “the universe” which is often a fearful way to avoid mention of God. I’m going to stick with “Muse” for simplicity’s sake. I have a couple of things to get off my chest.

As a writer, I often get the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” I also hear it often at book readings when they open up the floor to questions. I love watching other, more famous writers, grind their teeth as they struggle to answer. I am often tempted to say, “From my grandmother, along with my allergy to penicillin.”  Or, “From my dad, who also gave me these long toes and a susceptibility to cancer.” The real answer is both simple and complex: The creativity comes from me. I’m not sure where that part of me comes from. Sometimes the words are there. Sometimes they are not.  It’s really tempting to explain away this lack of control by assigning it elsewhere, to someone above my pay grade. That’s you, Muse. Religions have been founded on less.

Creativity or muse or imagination – you’re a gift, no doubt. However, not all gifts are blessings, as the Trojans learned when they wheeled that wooden horse into their city. Look at Hemingway, David Foster Wallace, Kurt Cobain, or any of the other countless writers or artists who have been overburdened by their “gift.” There’s a darkness to the creative, and it’s terrifying to look into. The anxiety of the creative is a terrible thing. A phone call at an unexpected hour, a child not waiting at a predetermined spot, a spouse home late for dinner – all of these might be great short story subjects, but it’s no fun to shuffle through the multitude of the grim possibilities that present themselves. There are many days I wish for a little less gift. Hey Muse – you know that whole mindstory you presented me with the day I saw smoke rising in a plume from that warehouse downtown? Thanks a lot for that – and for the record, there was absolutely zero reason to make me think my family might be trapped in that building. Seriously, why would they be there? Completely implausible, yet you gave me a fully developed storyline with a  great supporting cast, not to mention some Shakespearian themes. Thanks again.

I have a dear friend who is an accountant. The accounting muse  came early to him, and remains with him daily, on a strict schedule.  He lives a good and fulfilling life. I have no doubt his muse is no friend of you, Muse. You just couldn’t travel in the same circles. His  muse wears crisp ironed shirts and shiny polished shoes. I picture you in mismatched boots, a frayed knit hat and a stained t-shirt from Lillith Fair, ’97. You’re carrying a broken umbrella, and clouds are rolling in. Couldn’t you be a little more like the accountant muse? Why must you come visit in the middle of the night, when I have to get out of bed and sit down at the computer, even though the crappy sleep schedule will haunt me for days? And what is it with deadlines? Why, of all times, is a looming deadline the time you choose to go on a bender to Vegas or Burning Man or wherever it is you take off to? Couldn’t you log on to my Google calendar and see what works for me?

This week, it was a bad one, Muse. You know it. The darkness was creeping in. The writing inspiration wasn’t there. Then – the moment. The one a writer waits for. No preparation (that’s just like you, Muse) and it hits. Standing on a lacrosse field, waiting for game to finish and my daughter turns to me and smiles, with a face I’ve never seen before. No, I’m not going to write here what I saw and what I felt in that moment. That’s for another outlet. But I was inspired. Also so deeply moved I thought my heart would burst. Just as quickly, the moment was over. My daughter raced back onto the field and I struggled to find breath and a pen and paper. I scribbled notes on the back of scraps of paper in my purse, elated. I could have written for days. Later, as I set down to write about it in earnest, I relived the feeling as I put it into words . It’s always a good sign when I’m crying and smiling at the same time when writing. You always come through Muse, just when I need it.

So thank you, Muse, for the moment. I’ll continue to ride the highs and lows of the writing life, without succumbing to the darkness and while savoring the moments like I had this week. As always, I’ll write about them both.

 

Sincerely,

Hilary Meyerson

hilary meyersonHilary Meyerson is a contributing writer to Hippocampus Magazine. She loves the writing life in Seattle, where she migrates from library to coffee shops with her laptop. A recovering lawyer, she refuses to wear confining shoes ever again.
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  • Oh my, I love this. You capture so beautifully that crazy ebb and flow, the creative bursts and the dark dry spells. And the way imagination takes over and drags us down into those burning buildings, Shakespeare at our elbows. I love every speck and bit of this — it’s making me completely ineloquent (my Muse has gone deep sea diving, I believe). I’m posting this everywhere, to share the wisdom. I’ll reread it many times — you know, on the days when I am high and dry, convinced I’ll never pen another word.

  • Monique Egelhoff

    This piece captures the feast and famine nature of the creative cycle. I struggle with the moments of inspiration and the fear I won’t write anything else of worth, the famine feels permenant, the inspiration transient. I’ve always marvelled at the creative process. I wonder where the muse comes from, so much influences it, but no one can say where the creativity actually comes from. Like Lisa, I am keeping this piece around for awhile.