What Inspires You? Some Musings on Finding the Muse

This week I went to a Meet-up event for writers– something that’s been on my to-do list for ages. There were seven of us at the Village Tap in Roscoe Village. We sat on the back patio with a noisy crowd of Cub fans. Above us a section of the cloth roof was rolled back like the lid of a sardine can, showing us a sliver of sky. We took turns posing questions to one another and shouting our answers down the length of the picnic table.
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“What inspires you?” asked a man named Myron.

“A desire to explain something in a new way,” said a nonfiction-writing urban planner.

“Social injustice,” said a man sporting glasses and a 3-day beard.

“The bodies I work on,” said a man who is an autopsy pathologist and makes up stories about victims and survivors.

Well that was a little hard to top. But even if some cliches followed, they were met with respectful nods. Probably because we all understand that when the muse visits each of us in its unique and intimate ways, it is never cliche.

I thought it would be fun to continue the conversation and share a list of things that kickstart my desire to write. Can you relate? And what would you add to this list?

1. A nugget of truth. Sometimes you hear a sentence or phrase that rings like a gong and resonates deep within. Maybe it gives you the chills, or makes your ears perk up. Or it could be a serendipitous answer to a question you’re barely aware you’ve been asking. When I was trying to decide what kind of dance lessons to take, a friend said, in an unrelated conversation, “I have to learn to hustle.” I got the message and knew it was worthy of a story.

2. An emotional essence. Sometimes you need to just share some raw pain, and writing about the moments that hurt can take some of the sting away. I wrote a blog that beganI know I’ve entered the wilderness when my son says, “Dad laughs. You don’t.” That felt like a punch in the gut. Not only do “ouchy” moments get your attention, they get the reader’s attention too.

3. A Freaky Friday. This is what I call an interesting turn of events, when as a writer you are nothing more than a spectator to drama that may have nothing to do with you. Truth is stranger than fiction, they say. They also say there are no new stories, only new players. So use the facts when you can and save your true brilliance for later. When I wanted to write something about Christmas, I simply used this interesting story about how Longfellow was inspired to write a poem that became a famous Christmas carolMore than 150 years ago, a former Harvard professor named Henry was awakened from his nap by the sound of screams. His wife Frances’ dress had caught on fire. Henry rushed to her aid, but she was quickly engulfed in flames. 

4. Playing God. Yes it’s true. Sometimes you know best. Or like to think you do. The desire to write can come from wanting to right a wrong, or to make order out of chaos. It’s a way to have a “do-over.” To be judge, jury, and executioner as you see fit, all from the relative safety of the page. In my novel, Hello Loved Ones, I wrote about my main character connecting with her father in a way that I, in my life, was never able to. This is the beauty of creative license, and a perk you’re entitled to.

I plan to share more about the writing process, and would love to hear if this interests you. Let’s have a meeting (Meet-up?) of minds! Maybe one day we’ll even share a picnic table at the Village Tap and have the pleasure of shouting at each other.