When the Fluttery Muse Doesn’t Arrive

Kate Flora: Over the years, I’ve talked with a lot of people who want to write but can’t seem to sit down and do it. Or can’t finish that book. Or dream of writing but don’t have any idea what to write. Or were so wounded by a teacher or a series of rejections that they’re too discouraged to try again. It’s a hard truth that those of us in the trenches all face: writing is hard. Yes, there are days when the words flow so fast our typing can’t keep up. There are moments in the zone when the experience is almost ecstatic. But most of the time, even though we love it, writing is hard.

So what’s this about the fluttery Muse, you ask? I often complain about those who don’t treat writing as a discipline and say they only write when inspiration hits them. I believe that the working write goes to the keyboard, or the pad of paper, regularly and not only when inspiration arrives. This honors our desire to write and strengthens our writing muscles. But maybe there is something to the notion that having a muse to call on can be valuable. Maybe it would be a good idea to begin our writing sessions with an invocation to a muse, or for inspiration.

Here is the end of Homer’s invocation to the muses from the Odyssey:

Make the tale live for us
In all its many bearings,
O Muse

Whether it’s an inspiring invocation, or a comforting one, a ritual to begin the writing process might be a good way to enter into the mindset for writing.

Here’s one from Teddy Roosevelt:

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Or perhaps you need simple encouragement, and this, from Shel Silverstein, might help:

If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hoper, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer . . .
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!

Anne Lamont, in Bird by Birdreminds us that it is okay to write, as she puts it, “shitty first drafts.” So perhaps you own invocation will be a request to be allowed to write that awful draft. Or one to quiet the critical voices in your head. Or an invocation to remain undisturbed or to let your creativity flow without censorship. Perhaps your invocation will be a call to wake up your imagination or to have faith in your right to be creative.

When I was researching for this post, I found a very interesting school exercise where students were given the long version of Homer’s invocation and then guided to write their own. True, this makes the post too long, but I’m sharing it anyway. Who knows. Maybe this will inspire your own personal invocation.

Write Your Own Invocation!
Invocation – a convention of classical literature and of epics in particular, in which an appeal for aid (especially for inspiration) is made to a muse or deity, usually at or near the beginning of the work. The word is from the Latin invocatio, meaning “to summon” or “ to call upon.”

Homer’s Odyssey, for instance, begins:
Tell me, Muse, of the man of many ways, who was driven
far journeys, after he had sacked Troy’s sacred citadel.
Many were they whose cities he saw, whose minds he learned of,
many the pains he suffered in his spirit on the wide sea,
struggling for his own life and the homecoming of his companions.
* The traditional Muse of epic poetry is Calliope, although Homer does not address her by name in his invocation at the beginning of the Odyssey.

Student example:
Tell me, Muse about the man of many miles,
Who many times dashed as he ran through the streets
of Santa Monica.
He saw the Fatigue of his teammates and knew their pain.
On the course, he too suffered great pains within his lungs,
Yearning for the finish line, and his teammates’ success.
He could not guide his team to victory, though he wanted to:
His teammates had lost the race because of their laziness.
The slackers had disregarded the wise words
Of the well-traveled coach Cady, who knew the path to victory.
Tell the tale for us, beginning with the previous day,
Sometime after the piercing bell had sounded.
When all the others, seeking refuge from the torments of school
Had fled, light-footed to the safety of their homes.
Yet he alone, longing for the final mile and his own return,
Was confined by sound-minded Coach Cady, who strives for excellence,
To the fenced-in, crimson rubber surface that was his training

Now, create your own invocation (describing YOU).

Step 1: Play with epithets. A strict band director could be labeled “time-beating Sakow.” A popular cross-country coach “flat-footed Coach Cady,” A nagging mother “shrill-voiced Leona.” Play with Homer’s language. Imitate the first sixteen lines of The Odyssey by imagining that this is the opening to an epic about your life. How might your rhapsode begin?
Now write your own:
Call upon a deity / identify him / her by writing an epithet describing him / her
Call to the Muse next by first praising him / her, then by asking him / her to aid you in the writing of your invocation
Now describe who the story will be told about (YOU) using an epithet:

Finally, fill out the poem by writing a brief summary of your life story, or what makes you who you are – remember not to use complete sentences, play instead with epithets, similes, figurative language, etc so that it is in poetic form!

And excuse the language here, but yeah, it’s all about not letting anything get in your way:


Yes, friends, it’s back: Our “Where Would You Put the Body?” contest

It’s Maine Crime Writers “Where Would You Put the Body?” contest – late summer/early fall edition. How do you enter? Send a photograph of your chosen spot to: WritingAboutCrime@gmail.com with “Where Would You Put the Body?” in the subject line. There will be prizes for First, Second, and Third place–books of course and other Maine goodies. You may enter no more than three photographs, each one entered separately. They must be of Maine places and you must identify the place in your submission. Photos must be the submitter’s original work. Contest will run through the middle of October.


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3 Responses to When the Fluttery Muse Doesn’t Arrive

  1. John Clark says:

    Write what you know. If that don’t work, write what ya think you know. If that don’t work, lie like a rug, but make it an expensive one from an exotic location.

  2. John Clark says:

    And then there’s the crime equivalent of the fluttery muse…the sputtery fuse.

  3. kaitcarson says:

    Sometimes that shitty first draft will force the arrival of the muse if for no other reason then to put herself out of misery! Need to find the load the guns plaque. It will look lovely on office door.

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