When do ideas come? Encouraging the Muse

Agatha Christie once famously wrote that she got her best ideas while washing the dishes. I’ve heard other authors swear by long walks or dreams.

Me? My muse is shy. She only appears when I’m alone, in a quiet place, doing and thinking about something other than writing.

The inspiration for my first mystery (Shadows at the Fair) came when I was alone, driving to Rhinebeck, New York, to set up my booth at an antiques show. I was unpublished, working full-time, and hadn’t planned to write a mystery — in fact, I was working on several other projects at the time — but the seed of a mystery plot appeared, and I recognized it and ran with it.

Since my thirteenth mystery (Tightening the Threads) will be published later this month, clearly that seed germinated.

I used to travel more — to antiques shows, to signings, to visit friends and family – and when I was driving alone I’d keep a tape recorder next to me, on the front passenger seat, so I could capture “random neuron firings,” as my husband refers to them, without stopping to pull out pen and paper. (Which, of course, I always carry with me — just in case.)

But I don’t have to drive anywhere to get ideas. Two of my other “go to” places” for inspiration are very close at hand — my bathtub and my bed.

Maybe because baths are relaxing, I find taking a bath break when my characters are up against a wall and can’t figure out where to go can sometimes loosen thoughts that solve their problem.  (A bit of fragrant water softener in the tub doesn’t hurt. I suspect it’s really the relaxation that does it.)

Which is also why I listed “bed” as a place to be inspired. (No comments from the peanut gallery!) I often read in bed at night — sometimes doing research for a next book, or devouring a mystery by an author whose work I admire. But, interestingly, those aren’t the books that head my mind in new directions. Maybe mysteries are too close to what I’m writing to lead me down different paths.

But literary fiction does.

When I’m immersed in books that evoke different places and feelings, sometimes a word or phrase will jump out at me and pull me down my own writing path. Capturing those moments is critical, because, like fireworks, they tend to flare and then disappear. Paper and pencil by my bedside are essential.

Sometimes, too, while in that drowsy-almost-sleeping-but-not-quite state, my mind will present me with a bit of dialogue, or backstory, or suggest a moment in my plot that I skipped, and that will deepen the characters or plot. I have to fight for those hints … I have to sit up and turn on the light and write them down immediately. I’ve learned the hard way that telling myself “I’ll remember that in the morning” doesn’t work.

I’ve heard authors talk about listening to quiet music, or swimming, or drinking wine, or even polishing silver as ways to encourage their muses. Those activities don’t work for me. And specific overall plots often require digging into research and memories … perhaps the subject of another blog!

And, I caution, inspiration does not come bidden. If I draw a bath and hope for insights and possibilities, I can almost guarantee that they won’t come. Fleeting thoughts only appear when I relax, and am focused on almost nothing. Muses can’t be summoned (although when I’m deep in the process of actual writing, they can be dragged, kicking and screaming, from the recesses of research and notes.)

Are there certain times and places that attract your muse?

About Lea Wait

Maine mystery author Lea Wait writes the Mainely Needlepoint series and the Shadows Antique Print series and historical novels for ages 8 and up set in 19th century Maine. Married to artist Bob Thomas, she loves reading, writing (of course!), speaking to people of all ages about writing, drinking champagne, walking along the coast of Maine, and rowing her small skiff. She invites you to friend her on Facebook and Goodreads.
This entry was posted in Lea's Posts, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to When do ideas come? Encouraging the Muse

  1. Sennebec says:

    Well said. Our kitchen sink with a view of the back yard works quite frequently, but another source that surprised me at first, but after reflection made sense, was listening to patrons at the library. I realized that if a librarian listens and people realize you’re giving them your full (or mostly full) attention, they’ll tell you more than they’ll tell their priest, lawyer or doctor.

  2. David Plimpton says:

    Great idea to reflect consciously on where these ideas originate, maybe becoming more attuned to recognizing them before they completely flit by.

    Mine mostly come from associations, inspirations, intuition, daydreams, dreams from the unconscious, all mostly occurring at night, but with decreasing regularity as I age, clicking into focus in the morning.

    Then I have the treasure trove of my dream journal assembled without interruption since March 1980, inspired by reading Carl Jung, though impoverished of late as my short term memory abandons me. I’m not complaining. I have enough material to last several lifetimes of writing, if I’ll just dig into it.

  3. Lea Wait says:

    Love your comments, John and David! I tried a dream journal a few years back .. but my dreams are complicated and surrealistic and frightening and sometimes disturbing … I found that, for me, they were another part of my brain, divorced from my writing. My physical life rather than my mental one. And my dreams often take me back to the same places …. a whole other topic! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Icy Sedgwick says:

    Always when I have no way of writing it down. So in the shower, or when I’m in the middle of teaching a Photoshop session.

  5. Lea: wonderful inspirational blog! Need to re-read it to let it all sink in and inspire me in transitional writing time here. Sherie

  6. Kate Flora says:

    As I am currently in an extremely fallow period, I am tempted to take a drive, take a bath, and dive into bed. But, as you say, these inspirations don’t come when we will them to arrive, but when they decide the right time has come.

    Thanks for another inspiring post.

    Kate

  7. LD Masterson says:

    I love that the tub is one of your places. For me it’s the shower. I’ve wasted an awful lot of hot water because something started to work out in my head and I refused to get out until I had it all.

  8. Lea Wait says:

    Interesting that water was involved with so many of our muses. Wonder if shes a mermaid …..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *