Monday, February 21, 2011

Courting Your Muse

Autumn Concert. Mixed Media Collage. By Ruth Zachary©


No one starts out being a great writer. But we all have the potential to become one.

I really believe this is true for nearly everyone, and yet I have so much to learn. I want to try to access the intuitive process of writing , and identify the ways to capture that elusive muse.

I believe the Greek muse, named Euterpe, muse of Music and Lyric poetry, resides in our brains, specifically in the right brain. Calliope, their muse of Epic Poetry, probably resides in the left-brain, as she would govern words and speech, a left-brained function. 

Ideas about the intuitive process in creativity and creative writing have also been around for centuries. Rational process has been identified with exposition writing for a long time as well.

Some others went a step farther, saying there were two separate processes during writing. Peter Elbow, in Writing with Power, (1981) said, “ Writing calls upon two skills that are so different that they usually conflict with each other: creating, and criticizing…. (Writing calls on the ability to create words and ideas out of yourself, but it also calls on the ability to criticize them in order to decide which ones to use.)” Elbow understood there were “two mentalities needed for these two processes, and that they flower most when they get a chance to operate separately.”

Elbow also said writers don’t suddenly arrive fully matured, that each piece of writing needs time after its birth to change and grow and reach it’s potential, and also that you “probably won’t find a pearl if you only pick up oysters once a year. ” (Advocating practice)

I mention this because regular practice also makes access to the intuitive process more available. Elbow’s book also focused mostly on exercises and mechanics of writing. Some of his exercises do seem inclined toward accessing one’s intuitive skills, such as one advocating “Free Writing” in which one writes rapidly.

In all the classes and workshops I have been in since the 1990s, including the class I attended at UNC in 2007, the emphasis has been on writing exercises, or writing about a particular topic, or forms of poetry.  Exercises can be wonderful for broadening a writer’s levels of skills, and familiarity with many kinds of writing. This awareness is just as important as learning to use the right brain in creative writing.

But being able to access that mysterious and miraculous place where a poem seems to write itself, has been a rare experience and seldom am I sure how to get there. I think even when teachers wanted to pass along what they sensed about intuitive writing, they didn’t know how to get it across.

In 1997, a WMU poetry professor, John Rybicki moved to my neighborhood in the country and started a class in his home and I signed up. He offered many exercises that triggered the creative process, and because I had read Rico’s book, Writing the Natural Way, I began to identify situations in which others and I talked about accessing an intuitive mental space.

I still knew no specific means for getting there, other than trying to recreate
the conditions which created that space. I believe this varies for different writers.  In my next post, I will list the situations and conditions and practices that seem most likely to put a writer into that right-brained state for writing creatively.

All images and writing are the Copyright of Ruth Zachary©


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