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 I was unpublished, working full-time, and hadn’t planned to write a mystery — in fact, I was working on several other projects at the time — but the seed of a mystery plot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.)
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?