Writing dressed up: how to attract the muse

Muse Uncovered

There is no such thing as pouring stream of unedited writing that comes out sparkling and perfect. Those who say that are liars or just don’t care about the quality of their writing. Read any meta-writing by writers and they’ll all tell you that writing is basically rewriting.”  ~ Annabelle Bernard Fournier, freelance writer and editor

A few years back, I wrote a post on my other blog, VeloWebLog, titled “writing undressed” — a lament about the fickleness of the muse, on whose mercy, I claimed, I was completely dependent for my creative output.

In that post, I referenced my first post on that blog where I quoted a Canadian writer who claimed his writing spilled fully-formed and perfect onto the page, pre-edited.

An impressive skill, if true.

But freelance writer Annabelle Bernard Fournier was having none of it. She left a comment on the post expressing her doubt. She might have also disagreed with my excuse that irregular output could be laid at the slender feet of the mercurial muse.

I am still beset by creative block from time to time, whether the malady holds up production of blog posts like this, or the photography that underpins most content on raymondparkerphotodotcom. But now I’m not so quick to blame it all on the betrayal of the mythical Mistress of Motivation.

I’m more likely today to cleave to the advice of experts who have “been there, done that,” including my own more experienced self — seeing as I’ve been here and there and done much more, and my own observations often agree with productivity pundits.

“A blog post that’s published that’s not perfect is a lot more effective than a blog post that’s never published.” ~ Michael Hyatt

Creating a space for inspiration

Here are some of the things I’ve learned by trial and many errors:

  • Perfectionism is the mother of procrastination. Edit, yes, but at some point you need to publish and move on.
  • Learn from mistakes. You’ll get better as you go (see above)
  • Sit down and get to work, or pick up your camera. Do it. Now. Even if uninspired, get something started. It might be a sentence or two, an outline of a planned blog post or preliminary “sketch” of a photographic project.
  • Keep at it. Don’t give up. Practice might not make perfect (what is perfect, after all?) but it will definitely keep skills honed for the rare occasion when the muse does decide to bless you with material for a masterpiece.
  • Turn off distractions. Social media and email won’t disappear while you’re working. The latest episode of the Donald Trump alt-Reality Show will still be in rerun tomorrow (perhaps for eternity). Try some inspiring music instead. Or enjoy the sound of rain on the skylight, as I am now.
  • Don’t bother with editing until you’ve got your mind-dump down on the page. Unless you are the aforementioned genius Canadian author, you will need to dress up your creation in better clothes. Photographers will have endeavoured to previsualize their picture and will express their polished vision in post-production.

“Every once in a while I make the effort to put creativity, technique and thought into my writing. I’ll slave over several days, proofread, ask those close to me for suggestions & tweaks, and… nobody ever comments, retweets, or links to my masterpiece. More engagement seems to happen with the most random, short, off-the-cuff comments. I envy those who remain relevant AND quick with their writing.” ~ Richard Masoner, bike blogger

Working what works

This is by no means a comprehensive list of creativity hacks, nor should they be taken as recipes for success. What works one month or year may change the next.

For example, when it comes to writing, longer posts seem to be working better these days. Google likes them and so do readers looking for detailed information — but only if they are well-crafted and “authoritative,” meaning they are well written and illustrated.

As for photography, I’m still trying to figure out what works in these days of photo saturation on Instagram, Tumblr and 500 pixels. Perhaps great images depend upon a visit from the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne.

“Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth … that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.” ~ W.H. Murray

Waiting for Bardot

Coincidentally, I’ve recently been coaching a new blogger who has expressed some of the same apprehensions I did in the 5-year-old blog linked above. Besides cutting teeth on the technical trials of the blogging platform, he rejects the idea of it becoming a “job.”

I understand the concern, which I expressed in the old post. At first, the pressure to produce can feel laborious (see point one above). Though it would be misleading to say that creating good content doesn’t require hard work and a consistent process, as one becomes familiar with tools and evolves beyond the burdens of perfectionism, then work becomes more of a calling than a chore.

No need to wait for the perfect subject, the skills of a Goethe or Ansel Adams, the ultimate scene, or god rays spilling from golden clouds. Work with what you have. Look for the sacred in the mundane.

If I can offer any advice beyond the dry technical tips of blogging blogs, professional mentors, and content creation coaches, it would be this: follow your beautiful vision where ere that may lead.

Do you have a preferred method to coax the nymphs out of hiding? Share it with us in the comments below.

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  • Rob Campbell - Frankly, I believe the muse is a fake: she pretends to live in the soul but doesn’t; she lives in the mood. And that’s where you’ve got her: you can make mood.

    Insofar as photography goes, you simply need to consider the situation of the pro. He can’t afford to await the call, and has to come up with the right solutions every time, and he usually does, to the best of his ability so to do. That ability, measured over time, marks him as either good or not good at his job.

    Remove the financial imperative and, as they say, what do you got? No pressure that matters, just the option to laze or not to laze, as Shakespeare might have said. Awaiting the muse, as amateur, is nothing more and nothing less than the reality of can’t be bothered making itself felt if not heard. Because in the grander scheme of things, it just makes no damned difference if one gets that snap or not, scribbles that paragraph with or without indignation, or just yawns and makes a cup of java.

    To make a difference, it has to matter; if it doesn’t matter, why expend the energy?

    On the other hand, there is the question of therapy, in which case it does matter. For those of us with fractured lives photography can certainly provide moments of freedom from thought, periods where conscious thought can be suspended and the demons driven behind a temporary wall. In such cases, or at least in the hunt for relief if only from self, I’d recommend going out into the street, looking at the things around one, and taking note of the common absurdities and juxtapositions that can excite the eye. They are everywhere, and half-an-hour spent on one’s feet can easily result in half a week at the computer which, of course, gives rise to yet another set of situations one might prefer to avoid. Nobody said life was perfect.

    Mention is often made of planning, of starting everything off with a plan, a preconception. To me, that’s part of the problem: there are already too many plans, both of our own and of others on our behalf. Get out of the grip of plans; use the freedom from them as you take that stroll down the street. Open your heart and mind and be random. Life happens, even if nothing’s happening in a town near you because you can’t see it.

    Just don’t sit at home waiting for bulbs to illuminate. They only do that in cheap Internet adverts.March 9, 2017 – 11:17 amReplyCancel

    • Raymond Parker - Thanks you very much for writing this comment, Rob. I agree. Would that I had written such concise and compelling arguments in the paragraphs above.

      I also agree wholeheartedly that photography, unencumbered by expectation, has great therapeutic value. I’m reminded every time I lift my camera how completely I am in the moment.

      I also concur with commercial photographers like the late Brian Duffy, who spurned the affectations of the “fine art” crowd (please ignore my own conceit in the header above) ― though he managed to create some of the finest images of his time, simply by attending to his craft.

      But what of the numinous? Is there a place for “Provenance,” as W.H. Murray put it in the quote above? What did I see lurking under the iridescent platinum emulsion of Manuel Álvarez Bravo’s Xipetotec, 1979? How was it that a friend, unaware of my experience, later saw the same spine-tingling ancient Aztec spirit animating the image?

      And what about synchronicity? How coincidental that I used the subheading “Waiting for Bardot” in this post … and you have, it appears, photographed the famous French muse.

      I have no answer to such mysteries. But I do believe, as Richard Avedon put it, that it’s the photographer’s job to attend to surfaces (I presume he meant honing the craft) and the rest will take care of itself.March 9, 2017 – 12:29 pmReplyCancel

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