Creating the Conditions, Welcoming the Muse

“Sometimes we feel as if we’ll never master the art of writing because we are so enmeshed in daily life. We sandwich writing, reading or walking in between work, family and chores, and nothing gets done. There is no continuity or development. We imagine what it is to be a writer and assume that is different from how we are. We come to believe that we will never know how to do it, even if we have the time and opportunity. We are afraid of the solitude and the concentration we believe may be required.”

–Deana Metzger, Writing for Your Life

With words, create a yearlong sabbatical in which the perfect conditions to support your creativity exist. The world and circumstances you create can be anywhere, in any time and space. But they must include deep solitude. For the sake of this exercise, imagine, as Deena Metzger suggests in her wonderful book, Writing for Your Life, that your current life will remain completely whole, intact and unchanged, in a sort of suspended animation, while you go on your writing sabbatical. So you will lose nothing. You simply get to step out of your current reality and create a year devoted to your deepest self and creativity. When you return, everything will be the same.

 

Comments

  1. Melissa says

    This is extremely rough- I tried to stick to stream of consciousness, so bear with me. Anyway, just wanted to share!

    My year long sabbatical would take place in a rainforest. There would be no humidity or dangerous bugs, just me amongst the trees near a waterfall of rushing crystal clear, maybe with a bluish hue water. The sound of the birds chirping, cawing, screeching even mingled with the sound of the monkeys howling would be the backdrop, of course with the sound of the water smashing against rocks and the water. There would be a green glow to the forest illuminated by shafts of golden light and I would have perfect solitude in that forest. I would be the only human being- and yet I wouldn’t be frightened of being lost or attacked by animals or some unseen force that I only half believe in.

    I would have ideas flowing into me and I would be typing away at my huge computer with a screen the size of a large screen tv. That way I could have the pictures I’m drawing inspiration from on one side, my actual writing on another side and still another side with outlines, plans, ideas. It would so perfect and organized, but creativity would flow unchecked. No one could bother me because no one would really know where I was in the jungle. Time would be non-existent and I would never get tired because I would drink the juice from the cocopaya fruit, which gives you ultimate energy and is delicious, like the way milk should taste- rather than the rock taste I hate so much.

    Still, time would move in the forest so I could experience the beauty of daylight as well as the beauty of nighttime- somehow how the stars in a navy velvet would shine through the thick canopy. Also, I want to experience the rain storms. I love the sound of rain on leaves so it would be extremely relaxing. Of course, my cocopaya fruit would keep me from getting too relaxed and falling asleep- unlike bhagadarma (or whatever his name was) I won’t need to cut off my eye lids in order to concentrate.

    I will have the most comfortable bit of moss to sit on at the foot of a huge tree. Even though it’s a rainforest, the moss would not be wet or damp, it would be just spongy and soft and the most comfortable place to sit and type for hours. (Of course, my lap top would be solar powered so I could keep typing without electricity.)

    I would write stories that are touching and emotional, but also epic and intense. I would be able to speak with my characters in the forest. This is still solitude because these are really just extensions of myself- like imaginary friends, I guess you could say.

    Anyway, I could have conversations with them, watch them play together or fight together, or just hang out in my perfect forest.

    There would be fairies in my forest as well. They would not be mischievous like many fairies, and if they were, it would all be in good fun. I wouldn’t be put out by them. In fact, they would let me take their pictures and draw them- on my breaks from writing.

    I would have such perfect balance of concentration and fun that I would finish a novel in a week and it would be so wonderful I wouldn’t worry if it needed to be approved. I just would know it would be.

    • Melissa says

      By the way, I just wanted to clear up a few things. First, I made up the cocopaya fruit. I was thinking of exotic fruits and these two (coconut and papaya) came to mind so I put them together. Also, the bhaggadarma guy I was talking about is actually the Indian monk, Bodhidharma. Google him to find out about the eyelids thing. I learned about it in Philosophy today so it just came to me. Like I said, this is all stream of consciousness. I apologize if it doesn’t make sense. :]

  2. Debbie O says

    My back itches. Is that an ant crawling across the table? Did I just hear the phone vibrate? Wonder it is was urgent?

    So it goes when I finally settle down in that carefully crafted time, carved out of my regular routine, to write. I am distracted, inspiration refusing to come on schedule, defying my crammed calendar, ungrateful that I booked a whole hour with no distractions for the anticipated outpouring of creativity. So I eagerly accepted this challenge from Laura, a whole year not just an hour?! What wonderful things could be accomplished!

    So closing my eyes, I can see it….. The solitude, of course, is key for me. I see no companions save my four legged ones and, perhaps, a few winged friends I can coax with some extra seed and quiet presence. The days are warm, the nights cool. I sit outside in the sun manufacturing my own fresh vitamin D – forget the supplements required by hours under flourescent lights! At dusk, I light the fire and curl up under a blanket gently stroking the beautiful border collie who snuggles close.

    This is great! I am so relaxed except for this nagging thought about something I was supposed to be doing while away. What was that again? Oh yeah, I was planning to write. That’s it – of course! I am so comfortable here just now, and cozy. I am sure tomorrow I will awake fresh and full of creative energy. There is always tomorrow to start.

    And so it goes for me on this wonderful year – at least at first. About halfway through my idyllic retreat the familiar guilt and anxiety start to creep back into my life. I check the inspirational journal, delicately bound with finely lined pages, inspecting my production to date. It is barely half full! How could that be? I have composed countless pages in my mind over the past days as I walked along the coast, or climbed into the hills or soaked in the warm tub. Where was the evidence of my musings? How will I every justify taking so much time just for myself without something worthy to show for it?

    No, no, no! I don’t like how this fantasy sabbatical is going at all! This feels like my real life; full of distractions, lacking discipline and layered with “shoulds”. Let me try again.

    This time – not so much alone time. I recently discovered the joy of being in a room full of other women who loved to write. Who just couldn’t help themselves, like me! We shared a common connection that transcended the words. I am going to add of dash of that this time. Sprinkled regularly throughout the year as we all write, grow and sink ever deeper into our core.

    Next – I am going to soften my shell and invite out the muse who has been dormant for years under layers of past and pastry. I am not quite sure yet what environment is necessary for her to feel safe enough to emerge, but this year’s journey will be to find out.

    I think she likes warm, bright colors, original artwork and fresh flowers, ocean air and mountains mists. I think she misses being strong enough to go for long walks with her dog, being light enough to dance in the sand at sunset. Somehow she knows how to slip through the illusions of dimension to connect with those energies that surround us which we can only feel and not see. She loves to laugh yet has cried so many tears. She has knowings to share but is afraid.

    It is her fear that must be conquered. What a stupid word to use right next to fear – no wonder she doesn’t trust me yet!! It is her fear that must be coaxed away until she can feel herself again. I must, in fact, become trustworthy.

    I hope a year is long enough! This time, though, the journey feels like healing and authentic. This time, I am not borrowing some commercial’s memory of what paradise is like. I have just the beginning of an inkling that paradise lies within me. Trapped, at the moment, by convention and neglect.

    But all that is about to change…..

      • Debbie O says

        Laura,

        I so appreciate your weekly prompts! It really helps provide a starting place for the writing. I usually reflect, or “percolate”, on the topic until I feel the words starting to flow in my head. I am finding that this weekly prompt is creating a new routine of writing that I am sure will lead to even more insight. Thank you for providing all of us this space to grow!

  3. Eileen says

    I wrote this just yesterday. I am a survivor of domestic violence and write to feel.

    Analogy of a “Trigger”

    I often refer to the triggers that go off in my head as a gunshot. The sound of the trigger clicks in my head, the safety is off, and BOOM…..straight to my head the pain of that bullet hits.

    Sometimes I don’t hear the trigger. It just happens. At these moments I sit with my hand on my head tightly because I don’t understand what may have prompted it. I am forced to dig deeper to get to the underlying cause. These triggers teach me valuable lessons. They show me how very far I have come because I go within to seek the answers rather than go within to retreat. It is the time for reflection on a soulful level. Flashbacks may occur but the goodness that lies within all that I have now supersede it all. That trigger serves as a gift to me. I immediately put the safety back on that gun, pop it in its holster and move forward.

    But there are days when I feel myself release that safety, point the gun straight to my head and fire. I know this sounds awful but as painful as it sounds to others, imagine how painful it is to me when I allow this. The sound in my head is like a rocket ship launching. Yet another analogy. It’s no wonder I don’t have an aneurysm. All aside, I again dig deep. This time I step back from what it is that is bothering me. It is usually superficial. My ego having its fun. Why can’t I just be normal? What did I do to deserve this? I will never be happy, pretty enough, strong enough, powerful enough to help. See what I mean, ego.

    In all honesty, these types of triggers last the shortest amount of time. I believe that they just serve to remind me that I am human and I have to question myself now and again so I stay on the correct path of healing and creating myself over again. The quicker I work through this type of trigger the better I am.

    Then there are triggers that are point, shoot and reload. They keep coming at me and I have no safety net, no shield, nothing to deflect that bullet. These are the very painful moments. The ones that have left me depressed, sleepless and tired of it all. What do I do? I close my eyes, place my hand on my heart and recite; “I am better than this, I will get through this, I matter”. I cry to release and I smile afterwards because I really did dodge the bullet. It may have felt like it hit me but it missed its mark again and on goes that safety and the gun back in its holster.

    The most ironic thing about this analogy is that I absolutely hate guns. I believe it serves as a reminder once again, I have taken the one thing that scares the hell out of me and have used it as a tool to heal. The triggers are few and far between now but they creep in once and awhile. I have learned to keep that safety on because I value my life. There is so much to live for these days and just the fact I wake up every morning is my promise to myself that I will no longer be controlled by others, especially my abuser, and that each breath I take will be for the betterment of myself. In order to do this I have to believe in myself. And in order to do that I have set to rest the painful occurrences in my life that have prompted me to use that gun as an analogy of sorts. Put the safety on; protection appears. Keep it in its holster; life keeps moving forward.

    Whatever it takes to end these triggers is something each of us an individuals must seek. I do know this that it can be done and as time goes on and we believe more in ourselves then what others perceive us to be, the happier and healthier we will become.

    Peace, love and light to all who travel this road. We are never alone.

    Blessings of LOVE,
    Eileen

      • Janet Ring says

        Eileen,
        I appreciate your post and sharing. I am the survivor of domestic violence, and I am numb now. You’d think I would have triggers. Maybe I processed them all, because the toxic relationship was 40 years ago. Maybe not. I was 20 years old, the victim of mental, emotional, and physical abuse. I was threatened with a cinder block, held under the bath water. Writing about it actually brought up some feelings out of the numb place, and that’s probably good. Looks like I have more writing to do, thanks to your response. Thank you.

  4. Bobbie Anne says

    The perfect conditions for my year long sabbatical would include deep solitude. It would take place on a tropical island where I could hear the sound of the sea birds and the waves lapping unto the shore. I would spend my time writing and journaling. I would also spend my time swimming with the dolphins as I would have much to learn from these sensitive loving beings. I would be able to share and enjoy God’s beautiful world.

  5. Andrea Jones says

    Escaping to solitude to find creativity?? Logically that seems like it should work, but for me…well I find that I am most productive when I am, well…most productive. My creativity is released when it has to fight to find its own space. Like trees and vines that dwell in the shadows of older, stronger trees, my creativity can see the light at the top of the canopy and that is what stretches its trunk and inspires its branches to grow – longer, more determined and greener.

    I wonder though, if my creativity, like a plant on the forest floor, is limited by restricting the time and space that I allow it to grow. A year of solitude and committed time. With such a luxury, would my writing take the form of a Redwood instead of an Aspen? Would stories contain exotic tree dwellers instead of camouflaged forest life? Would the strength of the branches outweigh the previous sapling limbs? I wonder.

    And because I wonder, a year of quiet, uninterrupted creativity is a siren song to my soul. However, I admit my imagination is hardly taxed with this chore. The space of solitude, inspiration and imagination already exists for me. Yet, the idea of being there for a year is almost beyond comprehension. I’m supposed to be by myself – that’s the rule, but I can show you quickly before you have to leave.

    We have to park the car here, walk down the dock and uncover the boat. Because it’s tied up all year, it has to be covered to keep the rain out. We need to go back and forth to the car a few times to unload our groceries and the extra gas tank. Hopefully the motor works. After the supplies are loaded (yes, we remembered the worms) a quick prayer to the boat motor god is uttered. One turn of the key, squeeze the fuel ball until it’s tight, another turn. Push the key in and turn it again. The engine sputters to life. A thank you prayer and I slowly maneuver the boat away from the dock and start out across the lake. It is dusk and the sun is setting behind us at the beach across the dunes. The color reflects off the lake and paints our path. After about 10 minutes we round the last bend and there sits the Frances Mae – our floating cabin. It is tucked in from the last visitors, quietly awaiting our arrival.

    The cabin’s namesake, my grandmother, purchased the ramshackle cooks cabin in 1962. It was being used by the logging company clearing the trees around the lake. It cost under $500, but it was a lot of money for her. We’ve all grown up here – my siblings, my cousins, and our children. My mom and aunts and uncles spent their teen and later years here. My mom tells me I was conceived here. Perhaps this explains my salmon-like instinct to always return to this place.

    Yes, the cabin does float. It has been rebuilt a few times over the many years, sometimes from necessity after getting loose and exploring the lake in the absence of visitors. Each time it is rebuilt the new structure sits atop the same foundation – huge, buoyant trees. More of the logs attach the cabin to the shore with large cables. They are tied together, but when you walk across them they shift just enough to occasionally knock you off the log and into the lake. Newcomers and dogs are particularly susceptible. Watch your step and keep a tight grip on your fishing pole.

    As the sun sets and we unpack, I’ll give you the tour. The open living room and kitchen begin at the front door. There is a bedroom with one queen bed downstairs by the bathroom. Up the stairs you will find a king, full and a twin bed. That was a pretty quick tour wasn’t it? Don’t forget to notice that the front wall of the cabin is almost entirely filled with windows looking at the lake. I see you are admiring the fish and art wall. When we catch a particularly large fish we hold it on the wall and draw around it. The winning fisherman (woman) has their name and the date added and they become infamous.

    I’ve built a fire and dinner is ready. Would you like to eat at the table or outside on the deck? Outside it is. As we eat and enjoy a glass of wine we can listen to the water lap against the logs and the harmony of the frogs as they warm up their croaks. It is dark now so you can’t see, but the frogs are over there near the shore hiding in that field of lily pads.

    The stars have come out and I can see that your breath has been taken away. With the exception of a night spent in Death Valley, I have never seen stars such as these so I can appreciate your awe. Dinner, wine, and the drive here have made me sleepy. I’m going to enjoy a moonlit swim before bedtime. The water is usually warm this time of year so you should join me.

    You seem to have more energy than me. Perhaps it is my long memory of many lazy days spent here that lull me to an early bedtime. Please feel free to stay up as long as you like. I’ll show you how to work the propane lights and help you find something to read. In fact I have the perfect book. My family and our dear friends have been writing it since 1962. Every visitor to the cabin shares their experience in the cabin journal. You can meet my amazing grandmother Frances, all my aunts and uncles, and me as my younger self. My grandmother was a wonderful writer and I won’t be upset when your laughter wakes me up. After all, that is why I’m here, to spend a year with her whispering in my ear and encouraging me to fill more pages with words that will touch others and bring even more laughter.

    Good night. I’ll see you in the morning. Wait until you see the lake then. I guarantee you won’t want to leave.

  6. Ilana says

    The first day of an imaginary year long sabbatical. The only requirement was deep solitude and I was guaranteed that my family and my current life would stop and wait for me to come back.
    I wake up to the sound of the water rushing against the shore. I am perfectly comfortable and happy as I lay listening to the music of the tide. Getting out of bed I step into the shower and get ready to start my day. The little house is perfect; exactly what I want. Everything I need seems to magically appear. I finish showering, get dressed and dry my hair. Then, there is a breakfast waiting for me at the table; a fresh hot waffle and perfectly sweet strawberries. No syrup because I don’t like syrup. There is cold water in a pitcher and a glass next to it. No ice, because I don’t like ice in my water. I laze over my breakfast, not bothering to wonder what I am going to do first. I am going to write. I know there will be a computer waiting for me, the same way everything else I need appears for me. My book will be on it and all the hundreds of other projects I am working on but never seemed to have enough time to do. I do wonder at which project I am going to work on first. I finished my breakfast and look around for the desk and computer. But I don’t sit down to write. Instead I turn my back on it and go out to the quiet beach. I sit down in the sand and put my feet in the water.
    As I watch the water lap at my heels and ankles I think about what I was going to do with this year. Thousands upon thousands of pages I am going to write just for me. My husband and three children are not going to miss me for a second but I will have all the time in the world to write. Maybe I’ll get back to cross stitching and study Torah too. Though, that isn’t going to be quite as much fun without someone to share it with. I am used to writing about what I have learned and sharing it. There was so much I wanted to do. I’m going to paint, maybe learn to throw pottery. I know nothing about art but alone on this island I feel like I can do anything. I’ll learn from books that will magically appear as soon as I need them. Though, I admit I may begin to miss my family that it not a concern for me now. Right now I am reveling in the quiet and the idea that I’ve got all the time in the world and no responsibilities.

    This was the first writing prompt I received. I wrote it that week but never had the courage to post it before. Since then, this imaginary retreat has stayed with me. It is where I go every week during the silent prayers. I go there to deal with my feelings in the safety of the solitude.
    One day I painted the walls. Another, I sat on the bed surrounded by books and studied all sorts of fascinating things. Sometimes I just let my feelings wash over me to the rhythm of the waves. One day my brother, his wife and the baby showed up on the beach, demanding that I love them. I was startled to find a gun in my hand. I yelled at my sister-in-law to run. She fled with her baby in her arms while I gunned down the man who took away my life. Horrified by this fantasy I shared it with my incest survivors support group. I have no intention of harming anyone, ever. I was assured by them that these fantasies are perfectly normal and healthy as long as I know I am safe from acting upon them. These assurances made my little retreat an even safer place. I’ve been going there every week since I got the prompt. Thank you, Laura, for helping me create this safe place to just exist.

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