Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Lamenting Summer’s End?

In our small chunk of rural Minnesota the new school year starts next Tuesday, the day after Labor Day. Traditionally, Labor Day signals the end of summer and the return of the school routine. It seems the delineation serves only those who have school-aged children (including college-aged) or those who teach them. We know that summer actually continues through September and some years October as we journey through multiple waves of “Indian Summer” on our way to autumn.

Here in the upper Midwest that traditional end of summer serves to remind us fall is coming, and winter is not far behind. In some parts of the country, the seasonal changes are mild or non-existent for the most part (I wouldn’t mind spending a seasonal transition in Hawaii). This is the time to pack away the pool noodles and life jackets and break out the flannel and micro-fleece.

My favorite season is fall, followed closely by spring. Fall because of the gorgeous colors: maples that turn neon pink, birches that glow yellow, and sumac that burns red around the fringes of the forest mosaic. Spring because of the renewal and the sloughing off of Winter’s grays and browns by bright greens and jeweled tulips.

Each season has its own muses, or inspirations, even winter. Spring is fresh and green, with scents of earth and rain, the feel of gentle warmth as the weather becomes more inviting. Summer is brilliant with flowers and fruits, scents of mown grass and placid lakes, the hot touch of sun, the sound of mosquitoes buzzing–wait, scratch the mosquitoes. Fall is showy, with changing leaves and bold pumpkins, the earthy perfume of fallen leaves, and the cool edge to the air reminding us of what’s to come. Winter, my least favorite in so many ways, is stark white with eye-searing blue skies and biting cold that cuts into your lungs with every breath. Winter is also delicate hoarfrost that cloaks the nude trees in sparkling crystals and the hush of falling snow, when all else is muted beneath its soft whisper.

What is your favorite season? What is it about that season you like? What does it smell like? Feel like? Sound like? Taste like? Sight is so prevalent in our writing; take ten minutes to describe what your other senses experience in your favorite season. For example:

Fall is more than back to school. It’s more than the dry crackle of fallen leaves. It’s the taste of apples and cinnamon, pumpkin pie and nutmeg. The breeze is warm and reassuring one minute, shiver-inducing cool the next, the sun not quite enough to ward off the crisp of the mornings when your breath plumes white and the windshield is frosted over. Wind rattles through the dry corn and brown leaves, and Canada geese honk their way back home.

Enjoy this “last weekend of summer” and welcome the incoming muses of autumn!


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Therapeutic Muse — what would Freud think?

With this blog I try to spark inspiration, that is, the muse. My days have been gray lately, and my Muse has taken to hiding out in the shadows. I think ebbing creative energy caused by real life challenges is something all artists go through at some point. We’ve all heard about the tortured, depressed artists who, despite whatever mental, physical, or emotional health issues they endured, created works we still consider genius.

Van Gogh is one of my favorite painters, and I love his iris paintings. Edgar Allen Poe’s works are dark, but so effective at finding the fears we all have within. There are countless others I won’t even attempt to list, but mostly because I don’t know much of their history. Although I do wonder what the heck Salvador Dali was on when I see his art.

Art is therapeutic. We as writers know this, as many of us journal in great part to try to come to terms with or exorcise the bits of life that bring us down. And that brings me back around to my Muse. Capitalized because I’m referring to my main mental inspirational image as opposed to something that just sparks the need to write down a quick description or short scene before it fades.

When my Muse decides to go on walkabout because my creative spark has dimmed due to real life situations, I write scenes where he either chastises me for being out of my creative energy field, or I call his ass back from wherever he’s up and gone to and scold him for running off. And it works. It’s like the very act of writing through a confrontation with him allows me to address or at least expose some of the things weighing my spirit, and has the effect of weakening their grip on me.

The next time you feel your creative energy has leached away, take a few minutes to focus on your own personal Muse. Write him or her or it a letter, or create a scene where the Muse either scolds you for letting things sap your creative energy, or you scold the Muse for going AWOL. I’ve learned doing this accomplishes a couple things. One, it’s a way to release the frustration and darker emotions that are infringing on my inspiration. It’s also a way to reel that Muse back into the room, because as I’ve said before, the very act of writing lures the Muse to our side.

And it doesn’t hurt to imagine yourself in whatever calming setting you prefer when you confront your Muse. Better yet, actually be in that place when you write it. I just wish Hawaii was closer to MN!


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Recalling Inspiration

To me, one of the best muses in the world is nature. I find myself inspired by anything from a shiny dragonfly zipping across my path to lightning splintering across the sky. There’s something about the natural world. It just … is. It encompasses all of us, even those living in the heart of a city. Outside man-made structures there is still a sky, still the sun, still the wind.

I went outside to pick zucchini this morning. After last night’s storms, the grass was still soaking wet. Clouds took their turn coating the sky, giving the early morning a gray cast. The temperature was a tad cool, and there was little wind. Humidity weighed down the air, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. I stood still and just tried to absorb the feel of it, the cool touch of moist air, the drops rolling off each layer of leaves on their way to the ground, the smell of rain and green things, the muted sound of the world waking up after the unseen sun had nearly cleared the horizon.

Now, too many cloudy days are depressing, but after nearly a month of sunny summer skies with no rain, the cloak of varigated gray was welcome. Even more welcome was the fact that I don’t have to water the garden tonight! Of course, that also means the weeds got a boost.

What inspired you today? Was it the swallow that swooped over the field to snag breakfast? Was it the spicy aroma of roses from a flowerbed? Maybe it was the earthy aroma of that first cup of coffee or the neon magenta of the sunrise. Take five minutes to remember what it was and why it inspired you. Write a paragraph or three that brings back the creative energy you felt at that moment.

Bonus–Meal idea: Ah, zucchini. Those of you who have veggie gardens likely know how quickly one can get buried under this tasty summer treat. Okay, by now it isn’t a treat anymore, it’s a race to find people to give it to who aren’t tired of it yet.

Fire up that grill. Slice your zucchini into about 3/8″ thick planks, doesn’t matter if you do it long-ways or short-ways. Brush slices on both sides with olive oil, sprinkle with garlic salt, and put on grill. Cover the grill to keep in that smokey flavor. In about 10 minutes depending on how thick the slices are and how hot the grill is, flip the slices. In another 5-10 minutes, or when zucchini is tender, remove from grill, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, and enjoy! Best when fresh off the grill. You may have to experiment with the timing depending on how tender you like it, but it is delish!


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Lazy Summer Weekends

It’s one of the last weekends of summer, and school starts in a couple weeks. Where did the summer go? Granted, summer really didn’t get going here in MN until late June after we had torrential downpours that caused mudslides, closed many roads, and wiped out my garden TWICE. And it’s been a nice, cool summer. Love it! The temps, that is, not the fact my garden is a month behind. Still waiting for my tomatoes to hurry up and get ripe!

My vice, though, is lazy weekends. There are many summer weekends that include trips to various family gatherings including graduations, weddings, and birthdays. On the weekends we get to stay home, I have a tendency to kick back in an easy chair, whip out my computer, and write. Besides, the cleaning will be there tomorrow, right?

Part of me feels guilty for neglecting regular household chores, but I do have two teens in the house, and they are responsible for dishes, their own laundry, and cleaning bathrooms (Yippee!). Part of that guilt keeps my muse hanging in the wings, reluctant to sit down next to me for an hour or two of writing. The procrastinator in me clamps a hand over the guilt’s mouth and threatens it with bodily harm if it screams.

My inspirations during the summer include gorgeous sunsets and those quiet mornings when the mist hangs in the air. It’s humid and a little cool, but the fog curtains the trees and blankets sound. There’s a sense of awe that brings to mind a timelessness that leads my writer’s mind toward scenes that involve characters emerging from the fog on horseback or standing within a grove, that muted quiet swelling to fill their ears and hush their words. The fiery pink sunsets remind me to stop and watch, to impress in my mind the splendor of the vibrant colors so I can recall them later.

What inspires you during the summer? Is it gardens of flowers? A sole wildflower in the shadows of trees? The sounds of crickets or frogs at night? The smell of freshly-cut grass or hay? The buzz of cicadas? The sweat on a glass of homemade lemonade or the slow drip of ice cream down a cone? Take ten minutes and describe what you sense in the summer at one of your favorite places. It doesn’t have to be a scene, just pick a place on the beach or at a fair or on a walking trail and describe the sound of the waves or the smell of cotton candy and caramel corn.

Gotta go. My muse is waiting and his coffee mug is empty!


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Of Guiding Genius and Inspiration

My first post told you about my preferred definition of a muse: a source of inspiration; especially:  a guiding genius. Every writer, or nearly every one, has some one or some thing that particularly inspires him or her to write, whether it be poetry, fiction, or non-fiction of some flavor.

I think confining “my muse” to a single thing is too limiting. After all, a muse is a source of inspiration. Artists are inspired by many things, whether persons, places, things, senses, or just emotions. We writers are word artists.

I think a lot of artists will admit that Nature in all her forms is a wonderful muse. Whenever I see streamers of fog floating above a wetland or draping down to the water’s surface, I get inspired to write something about it. Unfortunately, I’m usually on my way to work when I see it, but I try to remember the details so later I can use that memory to call my creative energies to the surface.

What inspires you? Do you go for walks in the woods when the creative process stalls out? A writer friend of mine calls that a walking meditation. I like the phrase. Where else do you find a muse? Walking in the city? People-watching at a coffee house? Maybe watching the lightning bugs at night.

Whatever inspires you, use it to fuel your writing even if it’s only ten minutes of trying to describe the rain without using a clich√©. See what you can come up with.


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Waiting for the Muse

Today’s plan: writing marathon on one of my works in process.

Today’s reality: a start-stop stumbling out of the gate with lots of distractions along the way.

As writers, we love that creative energy that infuses us and drives us to write at a sometimes furious pace so we can ride that wave of energy as long as possible. The very act of writing seems to prolong the surge of inspiration. We love it, live for it, long for it.

The problem is when that creative energy, that muse, isn’t in the room. When you sit down at the computer and stare at the blank screen and wait for it, like a surfer paddling out to wait for the next big wave. You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all done it. Butt in chair. Computer charged and ready. Fingers poised over the keyboard.

And nothing happens. No words, no images, no internal mind chatter. Just nothing.

And some writers will take that as a sign that the muse isn’t ready to share whatever concoction it’s working on. So they sigh and go on with other tasks they’d put on hold while they catered to their muse. Except the muse is AWOL, so there’s no excuse to postpone doing the laundry.

So, do you wait for the muse to come knocking at the door with coffee and pen in hand? Some writers do. I used to, back when I was a fledgling author in elementary school. But since then I’ve matured both as a person and a writer. I’ve heard the mantra: write every day. No matter what, just write.

Don’t wait for inspiration to jump-start your writing. Guess what I’ve learned? I’ve learned that the muse is lured by the act of writing, like the rats lured by the Pied Piper. It doesn’t matter what you write, but after ten minutes, the muse will be peeking through the window, empty coffee cup in hand, asking to be let in.


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Pen Names and the Visibility of the Internet

As I’m setting up various pieces of my author “platform”, I realize I’ve twisted myself into a bit of a knot. Many writers use their real names when posting or publishing their work, unless, as with a friend of mine, there is already an author out there with the same name.

Some authors also use pen names when writing in different genres, such as Nora Roberts’ alter-ego J.D. Robb.

Then there are those of us who, by virtue of personal experience or by the request of significant people in our lives, use a pen name as a sort of privacy protection. This is my situation. Unfortunately, my pen name and the name I use in the real world have crossed paths as I’ve become more involved in writing groups, writers’ websites, and writing contests.

So, here’s the scoop: My intent is to publish under my pen name of J. M. Goebel, at least at this point to respect the wishes of my other half. It may turn out that a potential publisher will insist I change it to something more visually appealing. So, with that in mind, I’ve set up a Twitter account and writing-centric email address under that name. BUT, my life in the real world doing fun stuff like writing conferences, writing groups, writer friends, etcetera, is done under my real world name: Julie Holmes.

Sorry for the confusion. Please forgive me! I do answer to either name. Really I do.