How Does the Muse Strike You?

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If you’re a writer of fiction, and you’ve gone as far as to put a couple of the stories you’ve written out in the public realm, it won’t be long before you’re faced with an awkward question. Someone is going to ask – where did this story come from?

People want to know why we wrote a particular story, where we got the idea. If you’re anything like me, when this inevitable question pops up, you’ll stand there with a blank look on your face while you’re mind races for an answer. It isn’t grade school anymore, and you won’t get away with saying, “I don’t know, I just thought it up.” Though there is certainly truth in that.

Lately, I’ve had two ideas for future novels. I know . . . two ideas! That doesn’t seem fair, does it? But lucky for us writers, the number of ideas out there is endless.

The first idea came about when I read a name somewhere – Renard. It stuck in my mind. I rolled it over my tongue again and again as I did my daily walk, and before I knew it, a second name came along. Renard Charbanneau. To be named is to become real. I could see this man, and I had a glimpse of his life.

I had been tossing around the idea of a novel set at a university. Renard found his way into that setting before the end of my walk. A few hours later I had a number of characters and the outline of a major conflict.

The second idea was two strands that came together in a flash. We had been invited out to dinner last week. Our host kindly offered to take us on a boat ride down to the end of the lake. I’m not a fan of boating and to be honest it isn’t boats as much as boat operators that make me nervous. But our host was a man who could be trusted behind the wheel of any moving vehicle.

We zipped around the small islands and coves and played lookie-lou as we came upon a dozen or so cabins tucked in here and there, some long deserted. We also stopped to stare in amazement at a couple of slides that have come down the mountain in recent years.

The next day I happened to listen to a podcast about survivor’s guilt on CBC radio. Something clicked. All of a sudden I had a setting, a background experience the main character was running away from, and a dramatic event.

I end up at the keyboard when the muse shows up the way it did for these two ideas. A few quick notes are usually all it takes. I don’t know about you, but I feel a lot better when I have a few story ideas hanging around. There is nothing like running out of “the juice”, as our old friend Ernest Hemingway used to say, to strike fear into a writer’s heart and soul.

The kind of experiences I’ve described above used to happen to me all the time. I’ve always played around with the juxtaposition of ideas. The only difference now is that I have wholly embraced the wild and crazy reality of being a writer, so I take note.

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I’m big on garden walks and lake views when it comes to inspiration. Where do your story ideas come from? How do you play around with what the muse offers?

21 comments on “How Does the Muse Strike You?

  1. boredlandia says:

    I love being a writer. I tell people my ideas come with the ‘what ifs’ of life. Seeing a stranger, being in a coffee shop, or television shows – its amazing how our minds work unlike any other.

    • I’m totally with you on those ‘what if’ moments. Once you get your mind into that zone everything around you becomes part of the process. I think TV shows can tell us a lot about character development and plot. Especially the long-running, successful ones. We writers definitely should leave no stones unturned – you never know where the muse will pop up.

  2. Ha ha. This proves so many of us are likeminded. I have a resounding fear that someone will ask me ‘how I came up with that’. A fear that they will assume it’s real or that I’ve stolen something from their reality…that the words on the page are what I ‘really’ thought while we were having a certain conversation or a lunch together.

    But honestly, it’s all about the ‘what if’. Us writers count on it.

    Loves this post and I LOVE your writer’s nook, you lucky duck! :0)

    (SIde notes: I’ve been absent lately, so I’m sure you’ve had a lot of great posts that I just haven’t seen yet)

    • I was so pleased to see your name pop up, Wrought Writer. I’ve missed you. Another thumbs up for the ‘what if’ moments. I do feel lucky with this view, that is for sure. On the fear – I think people who don’t have the above ‘what if’ moments find it hard to conceptualize the concept, so they assume our work must be based on real events. What makes writing fiction exciting, at least for me, is that moment when I’m sparked by something real and the idea takes off into something else. Imagination, people. Kids are so expert at using it every moment. I guess some of us just never lost the gift.

      • Agree, agree, agree. It’s IS a gift and it’s very special. It would be terribly sad to not be able to think this way. I feel blessed…and a little crazy. ;0)

        I don’t know if you’re interested, Francis, but I have another blog: http://www.hazyshadesofme.com where I’m a little more interactive. I post everything on there rather than limiting it to fiction. I find I’m so rarely logged into this one and that can make it a tough go for building relationships.

        • Oh good grief – I’ve checked out Hazy Shades of Me – had no idea that was The Wrought Writer in action. Not sure if I followed but I definitely will now. Thanks for cluing me in.

          • Ha ha…yes, that’s me. Hazy is the place for everything and I wanted to point it out to you because, as I mentioned, I’m much more interactive on there. And, I enjoy interacting with you!

            Thanks for the follow, Francis. I’m glad we’ll be chatting a little more from now on. :))

  3. Francina says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and I find the post interesting. . I never have written a novel though, so I could not really answer your question. I think inspiration is found in many places as long we are able to let us imagination flow.

    There is also the often asked question how much of the poet is in his/her poem? Personally I think that is more a general question for all writers because a book , poem and the writer are one . After all it are the writer’s thoughts. Please correct me when I’m wrong 🙂
    groetjes, Francina

    • You’ve gotten to the crux of the matter, Francina. I’m in my work – most definitely – I wrote it. As you say – it was my thoughts, my imagination. The key to fiction is the imagination part and the jumping off from reality into other places. And then of course, there is the tricky part about interpretation. The reader is responsible for that. Once I’ve written something, it goes beyond me. And believe me on this – no one is wrong on this blog because we’re all groping around in the dark for understanding. Every comment, every bit of engagement, gets me closer to what I think. Thank you for being part of the process.

  4. I have a fear of that very same question. I am at the beginning stages of discovering my voice as a writer so I feel at times that I have dived into the unknown. I can say for sure that some of my “what ifs” come from mindful observation of and listening to my fellow humans. Sometimes the ideas are born of my own experiences (the true ones showing up in my essays but others just providing the seed for a fictional narrative or poem). Still others come from my response or reaction to world events. And just plain daydreaming!

    • Let’s raise a big cheer for daydreaming. We were all probably the kids who got told to get our heads out of the clouds. Daydreaming may be the portal by which the muse gets in. In some ways, I think we will all always be diving into the unknown – no matter how far along the road we might be in this venture of being a writer. Discovery is so exciting though, isn’t it? While also being terrifying. What a journey we have embarked upon.

  5. oldmainer says:

    I too am writing a book that began with a name. Francoise Ste Marie. There are Ste Marie’s on my wife’s side of the family. There is also a large French Canadian population just north of me that migrated down into Maine to work in the woolen mills in the mid 1800’s. Put them together and you have “Mill Girl”, And if I had a beautiful spot to write like the one pictured instead of sitting in a basement, i probably would have finished it by now:)

    • There is certainly something about a French name that gets me going! My great grandfather on my father’s side moved back and forth from Maine to Quebec with his family. Some of the kids were born in Maine then baptized in Quebec – basically registered in both places. I look forward to hearing more as this book makes it from the basement to the public realm. Love the title!

      • oldmainer says:

        My wife’s mother was a Trudeau, and I have traced it through Canada back to France. One line immigrated to Brunswick ME and that is where the Ste Marie’s intermarried And I hope also that Franscoise makes it out of the basement..

  6. codecalla says:

    “I’ll never tell.” That should be the response. I think if you’re open to your surroundings and can create stories from air, that they (muses) will easily find you. I have about four novels in mind, but currently working on only one. The others will have to keep (even if I feverishly write down notes for later).

    • Love that imagery – create stories from the air. It is exactly what we do, isn’t it? I’m with you on the idea of only writing one novel at a time. The process is so intense that it is hard enough to live in the world of the novel and the real world at the same time. We can’t be divided too thinly.

  7. My muse better not strike me…I’ll hit him back! Hahahaha. I can’t really put into words where the ideas come from. Mostly day dreams. Hopefully back on the internet full time soon!

  8. Gwen says:

    Many of my fiction ideas come from simply reading something good (a short story, novel, article). I’ll often take inspiration from a character’s voice, a scene or situation, a plot twist, or writing style. I also find inspiration while I’m out for my morning jog. There’s something about the magic of popping in my earbuds, losing myself in the music and in the solitary act of running. I almost always generate a new idea or develop an existing one further.

    • Great point, Gwen – the writing of others is inspiring 🙂 And I like that you are talking actual writing, not writing about writing – though that has its uses, for sure. As the man, Stephen King says, if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to be a writer (or something like that).

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