Sunday, July 1, 2012

A Warm-up for Your Muse

Where do you get your ideas? That’s a typical interview question posed to writers. My answer on a profile form for The Writer's Quill, newsletter edited by 


Mathis Rogers in Lubbock,Texas, started like this: "Ideas surround us." And they do. If you’re stuck, it’s likely the right and left sides of your brain are not in sync.

Left: “hurry up, and start working.”

Right: “I’m not ready.”

To push it makes as much sense as to scarf down a greasy burger when you’re hungry. Like your stomach, your page may fill quickly, but with results akin to indigestion. So, don’t force it. Relax while your sleepy muse gears up. If a few minutes of deep breathing don’t work, try this activity.

 As if daydreaming, look out the window. Make a bulleted list of five to ten items you see. Use simple words. For example, Looking through a picture window at my house, I see:
  • Part of an elm tree in front of our house
  • The street
  • The neighbor's sidewalk
  • Neighbor's lawn
  • The tree in their front yard
  • Sprinkler

Copy the list. Be more observant, and look at each item you listed again. Start with and one, and add details.  For example,

  • Part of an elm tree in front of our house; colors—leaf green, silver (from sun reflection), bright leaf green, side of the trunk, textured brown tones to black
  • The street—asphalt, mottled grayish brown, concrete curb
  • The neighbor's sidewalk, swept clean, unlike ours littered with twigs dropped from our elm trees
  • Neighbor's lawn, evenly mowed, edged
  • The tree in their front yard—in afternoon light, it is dark green with dark and light sage highlights
  • Sprinkler—on, spurting fine droplets three feet in the air, misting (looks like white smoke at times) as a breeze blows them toward the sidewalk

Continue to look, moving from keen observation to relaxed gazing and back again. Explore adjectives that describe the scene, or any part of it. Do any contrasts come to mind? Have you observed any motion? If so, where? Does the picture stir any emotions in you? What are they? If you were to paint the picture, what would you add or take away? Does any part of the actual scene or picture revised in your mind inspire you to tell a story about it? If so, what characters would you add to it? Can you apply analogies to it: as peaceful as…, appearing as if…, not unlike…, and so forth.

Before you finish your exploration your muse will be fully awake and ready to help you complete the work you sat down to do.

Name the document you created. Save it in a file—perhaps “Muse Warm-ups.”  Experienced writers say such writing bits and pieces are like a quilter’s excess fabric. One day’s scrap creates the perfect accent or thematic symbol needed for a future project.  

(c) Bernice W. Simpson

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