Apr 252014
Some areas are as I remembered it.

Some areas are as I remembered them.

I’ve written about how overrated, how capricious, how crazy the Muse is. She shows up when she wants and does what she pleases. She’s a tease, gives you all sorts of promises and most likely will slam the door in your face.

Can’t live with her, can’t live without her.

While most of the time I check in at my work desk at 9 a.m. and dare her to show up, every once in a while I have to think about currying her favor. Romancing the stone. Spending a little time in private, tramping around in nature, just the Muse and I.

Where's a pair of wire cutters when you need one?

Where’s a pair of wire cutters when you need one?

Right behind my new home is a great wilderness park. It’s not as great as it once was, because it’s managed by the flood control district and the main access road is paved. Much of this park is fenced off. There are many species of tree that didn’t used to be there; they’re not indigenous to the area. It’s a cottonwood forest, plain and simple. What are palm trees doing out there?

Regardless, it’s still great. If I close my eyes and forgive the warts it’s still a dandy place to hang out with the Muse.

I’d just arrived in town Wednesday, all fatigued and jet-lagged and brain dead. Only by sheer will did I make it to my new home. But Thursday morning I was up, hiking boots on, pounding out a few miles on that paved road. Just chilling out and taking it all in. just me, a camera phone, a note pad and my observations.

  • Noticed the alterations in the plant life and asked a fellow hiker about it. She pointed out another stand of trees that was deliberately being kept in its natural state. Note: No palm trees.
  • Noticed the warmth of the quasi-desert area. Felt the dry heat. Saw how quickly my sweat evaporated.
  • Noticed the damage from the most recent fire, maybe about a year ago. Some charred trees, but the real and/or fake foliage is coming back nicely now. That area gets hit by fires every few years; drought + Santa Ana winds = a potential mess. Some of the trees in my back yard bear the scars of fires past.
  • Noticed the old city dump, closed and capped. I remember going there a few times to dump off some large items, including a burned-out fence from a previous fire.
  • Noticed how close Mt. Rubidoux really is. It turns out I stopped just a little short of it this time. At some point I plan to hike over there from the house, climb that sucker and be back in time for cornflakes.
  • Noticed I now have a few things to write about.

Doesn’t matter what sort of relationship you have with the Muse. It can be a real love-hate thing like the one I have, but getting out always helps jump-start the process. It’s even better if it’s in a natural area. If you’re one of those unfortunates who doesn’t have access to one, a faux natural area will do for now.

I’ll be back, ready for more miles. Just the Muse and I.

With my lunch, a note pad and camera phone.

And a pair of wire cutters. Got to do something about that fence.

Talk to me: Do you have a favorite place where you can feed your creative self? Describe it in the comments.



Apr 192014

If you run across the Muse, shoot her.

Like dead. Like graveyard dead. Tango Uniform. On the slab. Life-challenged.

I know, that sounds like blasphemy of the highest order for an artist.

Who wouldn’t love a whole bunch of Muse dust dumped all over your head when it’s time to create? I know I’d take it.

But the Muse is fickle. A crazy lady. Left to her own devices, the Muse is an excuse.

We all have our own vision of a writer. Of any creative person, for that matter. He’s there, typewriter or computer in front of him, a blank sheet of paper or blank screen. and he’s staring out the window.

Waiting for inspiration.

Of course, he never gets much of anything done.

If every artist worked only under the influence of the Muse, a whole lot of wonderful works would never see the light of day. There won’t be nearly as many great books. Very few amazing musical compositions or performances. Art galleries would be empty. Very few great inventions or business ideas. Bill Gates and Richard Branson would be assembly-line mates in some yarn factory or someplace, trying to talk over the machines and retiring for a cold one after knocking off.

Let’s just say we’d be back in the Stone Age. Hyperbole? Probably, but not all that much.

Inspiration is overrated.

The Muse is an excuse.

Let’s follow that logic for a minute, just for grins. If the above is true, there’s no such thing as writer’s block either.

In this great TED talk, writer Melissa Gilbert discounted the idea of writer’s block and explaining the fickleness of the Muse. Her father, she said, was an engineer. No one ever approached him to ask how that engineering block is coming along. And engineering takes as much imagination, as much soul sweat as writing or playing music any old day.

Many of the big-name writers say the same thing. The Muse is a fleeting thing, but she may stick around if she feels like it. The best way to curry her favor is to look busy when she arrives. Check out the conversation (yeah, shameless plug) between Karen and her short-time boyfriend Darren on how the Muse works:

* * *

“I don’t see how you do it,” Darren said, breaking into her thoughts.

“Do what?”

“Write every day. And I mean every day.”

“Because that is what I do.”

“I can’t. I have to be inspired, you know.”

“Me too. That’s why I write every day. The Muse knows where to find me. At my desk at 9 a.m. sharp.”

“What if it doesn’t show up?”

“Then I kept my end of the bargain and I write anyway. Then she shows up, or sometimes she doesn’t.”

“How much do you write, anyway?”

“At least 250 words. I try for 750, three pages worth. I can sometimes get that in an hour.”

“No way.”

“Been doing it that way for years. Used to do way more than that, probably around 2,000 words a day at the newspaper.”

“I don’t see how.”

“You just do it, that’s all. Don’t worry about the Muse showing up in a newsroom. Too noisy for her.”

* * *

Darren never did get it, and he’s probably still working on that same short story he was tinkering with.

Here’s the deal. It’s so easy to get enslaved by the Muse. You can let her dictate whether you do your work or how you do it.

The best way I found to freeing myself from that evil old gal is to go to work anyway. It doesn’t matter whether I feel like it or not. Just show up. I make an appointment just like I’m going to work.

I dress up like I’m going to a day job. No flip flops, no sweat pants. Writing’s a tough enough business that steel-toed boots and a hard hat may be the thing to wear some days.

But dressed for battle, I show up. At a certain time every morning — usually 8 or 9 a.m., but it’s prearranged. I’m up, at my desk, in firing position. Just like a real job.

Because it is.

As long as I remember that, I will continue to take it and my work seriously.




Apr 112014

(This column came from a Creativity Post article listing some of the things ridiculously creative people do. It’s good stuff, and it’s one of those things that gives me a bunch of ideas for this blog. Which is about time; I’m getting tired of plugging my book and I really need to provide some fresh material.)

I got a bit of a surprise when I read about some of the things creative people do. The successful ones don’t live in their heads.


You mean it’s not an artist’s prerogative to retreat into the netherworld of the mind? You mean it’s not a good place to hang out?

Apparently not.

Man, it’s fun bouncing around in my own head. Nobody bothers me. There’s always something to do. It’s my playground, a three-ring circus all by itself. It’s more fun than a barrel of multiple personalities.

It’s safe. Maybe that’s where the issue lies.

See, all the front end work goes on inside my head. I’m tossing ideas around. Deconstructing songs. Building plot lines. Developing characters for my fiction.

But here’s the thing, according to the Creativity Post: Real creatives don’t do that. At least not all the time.


Like they used to say, it’s a nice place to visit but I sure don’t want to live there. Does that make sense?

Creation happens on the inside. Planning happens on the inside.

But doing something with it happens on the outside.

I get a more rounded picture of what I’m trying to do when I go outside my head. Somehow my work is more accessible. It’s shared like it should be, not locked up in the attic with my old baseball cards and Aunt Ethel’s ghost.

Besides, it’s really unsafe inside my head. Especially mine. I won’t go into details here, but it’s nice to know there’s medication for that.

What’s most important to me is that all the action occurs outside my head. My ideas sprout wings instead of just little nubs.

I can’t finish stuff inside my head. I sure can’t ship anything from there either. That’s a good enough reason for me to not spend so much time there.