How often do you get one of those truly great ideas in life and you forget to write it down? So many good ideas, even epiphanies, come to us at inconvenient times: the middle of the night, the middle of a meeting, in the shower, or whenever. Our muse has a mind and a schedule of her own that doesn’t always respect or honor our timing of things. As Sam Horn, author of Pop! Stand Out in Any Crowd, says about our muse, “All it asks is that when it gives us an idea, we write it down. As long as we do, it’ll keep coming around.” I have borrowed her phrase, Muse It Or Lose It, for this article. She also has a section in her book called: Ink It When You Think It.
One of my latest manuscripts, currently being shopped around by my agent, is called Wildflower. I had not planned on writing this novel. In fact, I swore to myself, as someone born and raised in the southern United States, that I would never, ever, write southern fiction. I had enough scary, weird characters in my gene pool. I didn’t feel the need to explore all the dynamics in a novel. But never say never, right?
In the middle of the night, several years ago now, a voice began speaking in my imagination. It was the main character of this novel I swore I would never write, telling me her story. She was practically dictating the book to me. I have had enough experience with characters and ideas showing up that I knew if I didn’t get up and start writing it down I would lose it. In fact, this character might even find some other writer to tell her story to. So even though I could have really used that night’s sleep and the year or so that followed where I was carefully working and reworking her story, I feel good that I took responsibility for it.
I know all this sounds a little crazy, but I’m southern; I feel like I’m allowed. I’m also an ex-shrink so I know I’m not dealing with mental illness, just the process of creativity. There is something very mysterious about how stories and ideas are born. After 14 years of writing, I’m almost convinced that they choose us, instead of us choosing them.
Mystery aside, and on the purely practical end of things, it’s important to write things down. Anne Lamott devotes a whole chapter in her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, to 3×5 index cards. She is never without them. Of course this doesn’t work for everybody. You may prefer a note pad or want to use your Blackberry or have the memory of an elephant and never need to write anything down. But it is crucial to take action and claim it.
When you get an idea for an article or a story, or you start hearing a stream of dialogue in your imagination, you are being given a gift. Think twice before you turn down this gift because it may not return. I truly believe that if you honor your muse, your muse will honor you.