The Devil or the Muse?

From Susan/Miranda:
Astute readers (okay, casual, drive-by readers, too) might have noticed that as often as we Wenches speak of writing, we’re just as likely to mention the other things we do while we’re working on books, too.

Writing is rarely a single-minded pastime. Inspiration can be willful and headstrong, and tends to strike when a writer least expects it, and seldom when it’s most desired. Often the very worst way to figure out a thorny plot or tame a character is to remain staring at the computer screen. On this blog we’ve admitted to weeding, canning, soup-making, driving, petting cats and walking dogs as ways to get the Muse going. Jenny Crusie crochets, Merline Lovelace plays golf, and another writer-friend (I’ll withhold her name to spare her *g*) cleans out her kitchen cupboards every time she gets stuck. Even Agatha Christie claimed that she always worked out the details of her mysteries while washing dishes.

I hasten to say that this is NOT procrastination. That’s a whole other animal. I’m talking about how busy hands can often kick a stalled-out brain into gear. Whoever first pronounced that old warning about “The Devil finds work of idle hands” is right on the money. Idle hands on the keyboard produce nothing, but set those hands to working elsewhere, and very often it’s the Muse, not the Devil, that will come a-visiting.

So what handwork produces brain-work for me? Ah, my confession’s no confession to anyone who knows me:

I knit.

Yes, I know, knitting’s gone trendy in the last few years. Hollywood stars claim to lounge about their trailers, needles in hand, and boutique-style knitting shops offer luxury fibers at outrageous prices.

I’m an old-style knitter, from the prehistoric days when Red Heart knitting worsted came from Woolworth’s. I began as a child knitting scarves for stuffed animals, graduating to bright Mod vests in high school and shaggy Scandinavian sweaters for boyfriends in college, cashmere caps and cable sweaters and fancy socks, to sweet baby things and sturdy kiddie sweaters, and, inevitably, finally full circle again to knitted scarves for stuffed animals.

But it’s not just the product that makes me knit. It’s the process. Nothing clears my head and sorts my thoughts like the rhythm of yarn passing around and over the needles. I knit mostly by touch and by feel, without looking at my hands, so for me it really is more instinctive than intellectual. Which is why, I guess, knitting is just as necessary to my writing as good research books.

So what do you do to settle your thoughts or tame the Muse? Do you turn to weaving or weed-pulling, sorting laundry or lifting weights?

30 thoughts on “The Devil or the Muse?”

  1. Quilting or other sewing projects (like curtains). Cooking, esp baking. Driving. Waiting in line or in traffic. I just started an upholstery class, so I have high hopes for muse attacks while stapling.
    My biggest problem is… how to write down this great idea when you’re trying to avoid getting run over by a semi, or can’t stop stirring that white sauce? I do have notes with wildly swoopy handwriting from jotting while driving (JWD? is it legal?). I developed a solution but I’ve not learned the technology yet – I have a digital voice recorder with a headset microphone, and voice recognition software on my computer so I don’t have to transcribe anything. I hate transcribing. Now if I could just figure out how to use it all…

    Reply
  2. Quilting or other sewing projects (like curtains). Cooking, esp baking. Driving. Waiting in line or in traffic. I just started an upholstery class, so I have high hopes for muse attacks while stapling.
    My biggest problem is… how to write down this great idea when you’re trying to avoid getting run over by a semi, or can’t stop stirring that white sauce? I do have notes with wildly swoopy handwriting from jotting while driving (JWD? is it legal?). I developed a solution but I’ve not learned the technology yet – I have a digital voice recorder with a headset microphone, and voice recognition software on my computer so I don’t have to transcribe anything. I hate transcribing. Now if I could just figure out how to use it all…

    Reply
  3. Quilting or other sewing projects (like curtains). Cooking, esp baking. Driving. Waiting in line or in traffic. I just started an upholstery class, so I have high hopes for muse attacks while stapling.
    My biggest problem is… how to write down this great idea when you’re trying to avoid getting run over by a semi, or can’t stop stirring that white sauce? I do have notes with wildly swoopy handwriting from jotting while driving (JWD? is it legal?). I developed a solution but I’ve not learned the technology yet – I have a digital voice recorder with a headset microphone, and voice recognition software on my computer so I don’t have to transcribe anything. I hate transcribing. Now if I could just figure out how to use it all…

    Reply
  4. The Devil or a Muse? Mine is a devil of a muse. I have normal fixes when I get stuck which range from visiting this blog to taking a quick walk through the yard with my GSD. When I’m really stuck, I hand my dh a beer and I’ll pour myself a glass of wine and by the time both are empty, all ‘problems’ are solved. But on Saturday I was mired. Two day’s stuck! Nothing was coming together. What I thought was a well ordered plot line was breaking into bits, buffed by the perfect storm raging in my head. Like a woman possessed, I headed to the cleaning closet, grabbed the vacuum, dust cloth and cleaners then strapped on my MP3 player. Music blaring and dust flying, I started in the family room went through the sun room, the kitchen, hit my office, my husband’s office, my daughter’s office, two bathrooms then headed up-stairs. Three hours later, the house was clean, I was sweated and my story flowed. Very cathartic. Now all I need to do is convert my mad flipchart scribbles into a synopsis then it’s on to the manuscript.
    –Nina, who thinks the hardest thing about being a writer is being understood.

    Reply
  5. The Devil or a Muse? Mine is a devil of a muse. I have normal fixes when I get stuck which range from visiting this blog to taking a quick walk through the yard with my GSD. When I’m really stuck, I hand my dh a beer and I’ll pour myself a glass of wine and by the time both are empty, all ‘problems’ are solved. But on Saturday I was mired. Two day’s stuck! Nothing was coming together. What I thought was a well ordered plot line was breaking into bits, buffed by the perfect storm raging in my head. Like a woman possessed, I headed to the cleaning closet, grabbed the vacuum, dust cloth and cleaners then strapped on my MP3 player. Music blaring and dust flying, I started in the family room went through the sun room, the kitchen, hit my office, my husband’s office, my daughter’s office, two bathrooms then headed up-stairs. Three hours later, the house was clean, I was sweated and my story flowed. Very cathartic. Now all I need to do is convert my mad flipchart scribbles into a synopsis then it’s on to the manuscript.
    –Nina, who thinks the hardest thing about being a writer is being understood.

    Reply
  6. The Devil or a Muse? Mine is a devil of a muse. I have normal fixes when I get stuck which range from visiting this blog to taking a quick walk through the yard with my GSD. When I’m really stuck, I hand my dh a beer and I’ll pour myself a glass of wine and by the time both are empty, all ‘problems’ are solved. But on Saturday I was mired. Two day’s stuck! Nothing was coming together. What I thought was a well ordered plot line was breaking into bits, buffed by the perfect storm raging in my head. Like a woman possessed, I headed to the cleaning closet, grabbed the vacuum, dust cloth and cleaners then strapped on my MP3 player. Music blaring and dust flying, I started in the family room went through the sun room, the kitchen, hit my office, my husband’s office, my daughter’s office, two bathrooms then headed up-stairs. Three hours later, the house was clean, I was sweated and my story flowed. Very cathartic. Now all I need to do is convert my mad flipchart scribbles into a synopsis then it’s on to the manuscript.
    –Nina, who thinks the hardest thing about being a writer is being understood.

    Reply
  7. Storytelling epiphanies strike me in the shower, while working out (I deliberately picked a walk aerobics DVD with easy choreography so I could do it on autopilot while thinking about other things), and sometimes while shopping. The shower makes sense to me–peaceful, almost blank space with the soothing white noise of the water–as does working out, but I can’t explain why I have Brilliant Ideas in the middle of the toddler clothes sale rack at Target or the produce section at Safeway. It’s not like I write contemporary fiction about the everyday life of the 21st-century American mother–I’d bore myself silly!
    I’m missing the craft gene, so any attempts to sew, knit, embroider, etc. make me more stressed rather than less so. The lowest grade I ever received on any school assignment before I hit college calculus was on a sewing project in 7th grade Home Ec!

    Reply
  8. Storytelling epiphanies strike me in the shower, while working out (I deliberately picked a walk aerobics DVD with easy choreography so I could do it on autopilot while thinking about other things), and sometimes while shopping. The shower makes sense to me–peaceful, almost blank space with the soothing white noise of the water–as does working out, but I can’t explain why I have Brilliant Ideas in the middle of the toddler clothes sale rack at Target or the produce section at Safeway. It’s not like I write contemporary fiction about the everyday life of the 21st-century American mother–I’d bore myself silly!
    I’m missing the craft gene, so any attempts to sew, knit, embroider, etc. make me more stressed rather than less so. The lowest grade I ever received on any school assignment before I hit college calculus was on a sewing project in 7th grade Home Ec!

    Reply
  9. Storytelling epiphanies strike me in the shower, while working out (I deliberately picked a walk aerobics DVD with easy choreography so I could do it on autopilot while thinking about other things), and sometimes while shopping. The shower makes sense to me–peaceful, almost blank space with the soothing white noise of the water–as does working out, but I can’t explain why I have Brilliant Ideas in the middle of the toddler clothes sale rack at Target or the produce section at Safeway. It’s not like I write contemporary fiction about the everyday life of the 21st-century American mother–I’d bore myself silly!
    I’m missing the craft gene, so any attempts to sew, knit, embroider, etc. make me more stressed rather than less so. The lowest grade I ever received on any school assignment before I hit college calculus was on a sewing project in 7th grade Home Ec!

    Reply
  10. Susan/Miranda, I deeply envy your knitting skill. I just never could get the hang of it.
    I wish I could discover the one thing that stimulates my imagination but in my case it’s a matter of trying everything I can think of until something clicks: movies, walks, travel, music, shopping, museums, scrubbing, filing…and that moment before I fall asleep–not convenient for an insomniac.

    Reply
  11. Susan/Miranda, I deeply envy your knitting skill. I just never could get the hang of it.
    I wish I could discover the one thing that stimulates my imagination but in my case it’s a matter of trying everything I can think of until something clicks: movies, walks, travel, music, shopping, museums, scrubbing, filing…and that moment before I fall asleep–not convenient for an insomniac.

    Reply
  12. Susan/Miranda, I deeply envy your knitting skill. I just never could get the hang of it.
    I wish I could discover the one thing that stimulates my imagination but in my case it’s a matter of trying everything I can think of until something clicks: movies, walks, travel, music, shopping, museums, scrubbing, filing…and that moment before I fall asleep–not convenient for an insomniac.

    Reply
  13. Loretta, I’m with you. I’ve never found the one thing. But anything that uses body more than mind will help.
    Most crafts take a bit too much mind to be really effective at liberating the muse for me.
    Liberating the muse. You know what this means. Mostly, we overthink. I’ve often suspected that was my drag chain, but it’s damn hard to stop. If I just think a bit harder…. If I just think a bit harder….*g*
    Jo

    Reply
  14. Loretta, I’m with you. I’ve never found the one thing. But anything that uses body more than mind will help.
    Most crafts take a bit too much mind to be really effective at liberating the muse for me.
    Liberating the muse. You know what this means. Mostly, we overthink. I’ve often suspected that was my drag chain, but it’s damn hard to stop. If I just think a bit harder…. If I just think a bit harder….*g*
    Jo

    Reply
  15. Loretta, I’m with you. I’ve never found the one thing. But anything that uses body more than mind will help.
    Most crafts take a bit too much mind to be really effective at liberating the muse for me.
    Liberating the muse. You know what this means. Mostly, we overthink. I’ve often suspected that was my drag chain, but it’s damn hard to stop. If I just think a bit harder…. If I just think a bit harder….*g*
    Jo

    Reply
  16. I work in the garden and find that often helps. Also I’ve found ideas come to me a lot when I’m at the gym – though it’s hard to carry a notebook on the treadmill, so I just have to try really hard to remember and write things down as soon as I have a chance *g*

    Reply
  17. I work in the garden and find that often helps. Also I’ve found ideas come to me a lot when I’m at the gym – though it’s hard to carry a notebook on the treadmill, so I just have to try really hard to remember and write things down as soon as I have a chance *g*

    Reply
  18. I work in the garden and find that often helps. Also I’ve found ideas come to me a lot when I’m at the gym – though it’s hard to carry a notebook on the treadmill, so I just have to try really hard to remember and write things down as soon as I have a chance *g*

    Reply
  19. I think that “emptying the brain” part is key, whatever you do. Jo’s right. We DO tend to think too much, and if women are by nature the original multi-taskers, then women-writers are prone to multi-multi-tasking. Sometimes it really does seem best to put the words aside with a more manual task, and let the thoughts flow instead….

    Reply
  20. I think that “emptying the brain” part is key, whatever you do. Jo’s right. We DO tend to think too much, and if women are by nature the original multi-taskers, then women-writers are prone to multi-multi-tasking. Sometimes it really does seem best to put the words aside with a more manual task, and let the thoughts flow instead….

    Reply
  21. I think that “emptying the brain” part is key, whatever you do. Jo’s right. We DO tend to think too much, and if women are by nature the original multi-taskers, then women-writers are prone to multi-multi-tasking. Sometimes it really does seem best to put the words aside with a more manual task, and let the thoughts flow instead….

    Reply
  22. “Inspiration can be willful and headstrong, and tends to strike when a writer least expects it”
    Ain’t that the truth! I finished my WIP yesterday and took the dog out to the dog park to celebrate (she’s 14 and not really up to long runs anymore, but was such a pretty day). While she was swimming like a little tug boat (note, pit bulls do NOT float) I realized I’d had a secondary character resolve one of the big problems for the hero. THAT WAS NOT HEROIC! What had I been thinking?
    When she was done with her water aerobics we went home and I fixed that part of the MS before sending it off to my editor. Thank god I went out instead of flopping down on the couch to watch the hours and hours of TV that have piled up in TIVO over the past couple of weeks.

    Reply
  23. “Inspiration can be willful and headstrong, and tends to strike when a writer least expects it”
    Ain’t that the truth! I finished my WIP yesterday and took the dog out to the dog park to celebrate (she’s 14 and not really up to long runs anymore, but was such a pretty day). While she was swimming like a little tug boat (note, pit bulls do NOT float) I realized I’d had a secondary character resolve one of the big problems for the hero. THAT WAS NOT HEROIC! What had I been thinking?
    When she was done with her water aerobics we went home and I fixed that part of the MS before sending it off to my editor. Thank god I went out instead of flopping down on the couch to watch the hours and hours of TV that have piled up in TIVO over the past couple of weeks.

    Reply
  24. “Inspiration can be willful and headstrong, and tends to strike when a writer least expects it”
    Ain’t that the truth! I finished my WIP yesterday and took the dog out to the dog park to celebrate (she’s 14 and not really up to long runs anymore, but was such a pretty day). While she was swimming like a little tug boat (note, pit bulls do NOT float) I realized I’d had a secondary character resolve one of the big problems for the hero. THAT WAS NOT HEROIC! What had I been thinking?
    When she was done with her water aerobics we went home and I fixed that part of the MS before sending it off to my editor. Thank god I went out instead of flopping down on the couch to watch the hours and hours of TV that have piled up in TIVO over the past couple of weeks.

    Reply
  25. Kalen, congratulations on finishing that WIP. Surely the happiest words in an entire manuscript must be “The End.”
    I like the image of pit bull as tug boat, too….sounds pretty heroic to me! *g*

    Reply
  26. Kalen, congratulations on finishing that WIP. Surely the happiest words in an entire manuscript must be “The End.”
    I like the image of pit bull as tug boat, too….sounds pretty heroic to me! *g*

    Reply
  27. Kalen, congratulations on finishing that WIP. Surely the happiest words in an entire manuscript must be “The End.”
    I like the image of pit bull as tug boat, too….sounds pretty heroic to me! *g*

    Reply

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