Will vs. When: In Defense of the Muses

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

Green DesklampToday, in continuing our celebration of the release of ‘Between the Shelves: A Tribute to Libraries by Edmonton Writers’, we are happy to share with you a submission from our former anthology, ‘Don’t Chew on the Sharp End of the Pencil’.

This anthology was released back in March of 2013, and much like ‘Between the Shelves’, was edited by Brad OH Inc. and Hal J. Friesen, and featured submissions by members of ‘Edmonton Writer’s Group’.

Below, you’ll find the Brad OH Inc. submission from ‘Don’t Chew on the Sharp End of the Pencil’ in its entirety. We hope you enjoy it, and don’t forget to pick up your copy of ‘Between the Shelves: A Tribute to Libraries by Edmonton Writers’ in either Kindle ($2.99), or Paperback ($12.50) copies. All proceeds are to be donated to the Edmonton Public Library System.

BetweenTheShelvesCoverWill vs. When: In Defense of the Muses

A Discussion on Timing your Productivity

-By Brad OH Inc.-

 In many ancient cultures, art was considered the work of divine inspiration, imparted unto chosen individuals by the muses. In some accounts they were daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne—the goddess of memory. Some myths hold that there were three muses, while other accounts say nine. In some legends they are each given a separate artistic domain—ranging from poetry to tragedy, and even encompassing such arts as comedy, astrology, and dance.

I am not a historian, and cannot claim a comprehensive knowledge of the muses’ origins. All that I can say with certainty is that I have yet to meet a muse, and by this fact I am somewhat perturbed. They would be most useful for anyone in a position for which creativity is a prerequisite, and I can certainly imagine that if they existed—whether there were three or nine—all art would cease, as all artists began a bloody battle for possession of one.

When writing, I often feel there is a similar conflict being waged for my productivity. This conflict is recalled to me whenever I hear other writers planning their efforts—particularly when the discussion drifts towards overcoming the dreaded ‘writer’s block’. It is the battle of will versus when.

There are myriad opinions on the matter, for there are many different writers. It might be that the ‘will’—that indescribable drive to write which often settles upon us at the most inopportune times—is lacking. This inevitably leaves us throwing crinkled papers angrily across the room, cursing our lack of creativity before giving up entirely.

On the other side is the issue of ‘when’. Writing is a demanding occupation, and we are bombarded constantly with conflicting expectations which encroach on time that might otherwise be spent churning out vast tomes of flawless material.

This conflict happens to us all. Every writer finds themselves challenged by one of these constraints—if not both. Often enough, ‘will’ and ‘want’ will double team us—a sudden brilliant idea will strike us, and we know that as soon as we’re at our desks that this cathartic flash will become the breakthrough plot of our burgeoning career. That’s the setup.

But chores abound, and when finally we find ourselves seated in our office chair—that imagined place were high art flows from our pens like fountain pop at a child’s party—we find ourselves abandoned. The words don’t come, or worse, the idea is in hindsight pretentious or cliché. That’s the knockout punch.

Wherever you turn, you’ll find advice on the matter—and I remember trying it all. I’d sit at my desk for hours uncounted as the chair constricted around me. The blinding snowstorm of my blank screen burning my tired eyes as I’d reassure myself: You just have to sit and force it, dig deep and find where you’ve got it buried.

Nothing would come.

I’d sit until I was certain to develop bedsores, and finally push away in disgust—positive there had to be a better way.

Of course, this attempt at forced productivity was duly compensated for. Weeks would pass in an apathetic malaise—I’d tell myself I was recharging or that I needed to be in the right place to write. That place wouldn’t come either.

It made me wonder why I started to write. I certainly don’t remember sitting down with an empty word processor, thinking: This is the life. I’m not sure any writer ever has.

So how did I start to write then? In fact, I can’t recall now that I look back. What I am certain of is that it happened gradually, most likely as I came to realise that I had a lot I wanted to write about—and more important still—that I enjoyed doing so.

How do we as writers find ourselves at this impasse? Whether walking the streets reflecting moodily on our recent lack of productivity, or sitting with an empty sheet regretting our inability to find the words, we are constantly relegated into the unwilling pawns as our inspiration squares off with our discipline in a match which can end only with the death of our aspirations.

When writing is such a struggle, it can be a feat to remind ourselves that frustration is an integral aspect of any endeavor, and that no matter how it may try us, we write because we enjoy it.

Enter the muses—shy ladies, they come unlooked for—bringing a sudden smile as the words fall together in your mind. Like the building of a song, the bridge of some happenstance occurrence meets the chorus of obscure connections, until we are left awestruck by the crescendo of a promising plot.

It’s not something you can look for. That’s not how the muses operate. But I do know that when I sit at my desk calling for them, there is seldom an answer. Nor do I fare better playing hard to get, pushing them from my mind hoping they’ll sneak up from behind.

Rather, we must allow ourselves to receive these inspirations when they come, yet know where our efforts are best aimed when they do not. Being a writer is a surprisingly multi-faceted pursuit—editing, marketing, research, organization, plotting, learning—all of these and more are required to find success, but not all of them demand the attention of the muses.

Productivity may be achieved even when creativity lacks, yet we must be vigilant for creativity when it does arrive. In an age of limitless accessibility to technology, it’s easy to be prepared: phones, tablets, laptops, or even a good old fashioned notebook. When the call sounds, there’s little excuse not to answer. I’ve found many of my finest periods of productivity coming unexpectedly—one idea branches into many, and I eventually get home with a notebook brimming full of hasty scribbles to decipher.

These brief triumphs don’t end the battle. Perhaps it’s not the sort of battle which is meant to end. There will never be enough time, and what little does come up will still all too often be spent futilely. But if we remind ourselves why we write—what passion for wordplay or prose grew within us to foster this mad pursuit—and in so doing maintain a positive and open attitude towards our craft, then surely we’re on the right track.

It may be an offhand remark of a friend, an unexpected sight, a nagging question whose answer plays out in our minds, or just a whisper on the wind. However it comes though, we must be prepared. For the muses—rare and mysterious as they are—still speak in ancient tongues. It is up to the writers, and indeed all artists of the world, to be ready to translate them.

-Brad OH Inc.

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