Someone posted a note to a list I read recently, quoting Luci Shaw, one of my favourite poets. Luci described the necessity of paying attention when “the muse” strikes. She said – “You have to wait for the images and the ideas to be presented and then be alert enough to catch them when they come, and record them." Most writers know what she means. There are times, and they are sometimes not the most convenient, when an idea or a line or a scene will come to mind and if you don’t stop whatever you are doing and write it down it will be lost.
I’m sure Mrs. Shaw would be the first to admit that there is a great deal to be said for discipline – the kind of discipline all writers need – that makes us stay at a computer tapping away even when we don’t feel like it, even when the ideas don’t come and inspiration seems like a word in a foreign lexicon.
But then there is that ‘muse.’
It has always been a mystery to me. I’ve written award-winning poems that flowed out like water and needed very little editing. I’ve had sudden overwhelming urges to write things down and found those bits perfect for pieces that weren’t even thought of until years later. And I’ve had those wonderful breakthrough ‘aha!’ moments after toiling out of pure obedience at the keyboard all day. Yes, the muse has struck me, but I don’t understand it, I can’t predict it and I certainly can’t control it.
Sometimes that drives me crazy. Sometimes I really want to be able to do all of the above. There was even a time when I thought it a little unfair that God has chosen to do it this way. If He has given us the gift, and I know He has, why not make it easy? Why not give us a muse that is as predictable and controllable as the tap at our kitchen sink. Yeah, why not!?
But then I think of the joy when those moments happen. You can liken it to an athlete finding “the zone,” when no matter what is happening around him, no matter what frustration or even pain he might have been feeling, his body reacts to all the training he has done, his actions become a thing of beauty and he senses a moment of complete fulfillment – the moment for which he has been born. It’s that moment that Eric Liddle described in Chariots of Fire when he said, “When I run I feel God’s pleasure.”
I admit I wish there were many more moments like that – I wish the muse were like the tap at my kitchen sink, but then I wonder if the joy would be as pure. Would I take that tap for granted? Would I respond with arrogance and claim it as something flowing from inside me? Would I spurn the gift and deny the hand from which it comes?
Sadly, I fear I would be guilty of all of the above. I am human and susceptible to all those human failings. So I’ll be content and grateful for those mysterious moments when the muse strikes. I’ll delight in them when they arrive and take joy in the mystery.