What is a muse? The dictionary says: a woman or force personified as a woman, who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist. I think it's something more than that.Sometimes people, who do not write, ask from where the stories come. For me, the answer is the muse-- but maybe not quite as some think about the word. Maybe the muse is a real being (mine feels male to me) but how about this possibility? It's more than one thing down through a lifetime.
Oregon Trail map created by my daughter when she was at university
An example of how the muse has worked through my life is best told by my Oregon Trail book, Round the Bend, because this book has been with me all of my adult life and some of my youth. It began when my younger cousin and I going for walks during family gatherings and telling each other stories, trading off on who tells what parts. She eventually wanted me to be the one telling the story of Matt and Amy. At that point, for me, the muse was her.
Then came the years where I first put the words to tell this story to paper. Those were the years where I still had the gist of these two characters but I didn't have the skills to do the story justice. I did it anyway. The years of raising children distracted me from my books but gave me valuable lessons I would later bring to them. What I was learning through raising them, through my marriage, and my experiences with others was the muse for that period of time.
In the 1990s, I worked with a consulting writer, who I paid quite a lot of money to help me hone my craft. She didn't try to redirect my characters but to instead show me where my lack of skills were blocking what was possible. My teacher was the muse.
The story of Matt and Amy kept growing and changing, and I kept interested in what would best bring it to life. Round the Bend at one time was titled 'Taopi Tawote' which in Lakota means wound medicine. It fit because it's a story of healing-- except wouldn't readers think it was a story about Native Americans? It's not.
Something more was at work as I came to a better understanding of the deeper meaning of this book. I think those are the years where the muse was beginning to get my attention on a spiritual level. The voice now was coming from inside me. I was beginning to connect with it on a level I never had, to hear it better, have it come through dreams, and coincidences. I began to understand what was being said-- finally, he probably thought. The more I wrote, the more I felt the muse was giving me insights I hadn't found other ways. Sometimes they seemed to come from out of nowhere.
The journey west in Round the Bend is a metaphor for our own journey through life, the journey of these characters as they change and grow through their experiences. The Oregon Trail headed west to the promised land, which we all hope to do in our own growth. There are pitfalls along the way-- some physical and some emotional. The title also illustrates how we don't know what's coming. We sometimes think we do; but if we are moving forward, not going in circles, we don't.
So what I have come to believe is the muse comes to us many different ways based on our ability to access it. It can be a person, a teacher, our own experiences, and also that small still inner voice. I am not sure what the voice is, but it is there-- and in my life has been since childhood. I work now at being a better listener. Listening has helped me more times than I can count with my life but also my writing.
Recently, I wrote that a writer needs to satisfy three things: themselves, readers and the characters. I was waking up one morning this week and thinking-- that wasn't quite right. The writer must satisfy themselves, readers and the muse ;), The muse, at least for me, is the voice for the characters. Be patient. Listen and it will come. If it doesn't, that might mean a new direction is in order.