the act of writing

I dwell these days in the strange broken land of the busy writer. Now I am deep in story ... now I am running to bring in laundry from beneath a sudden downpour ... now I am speaking with people as if there is no magic tumbling, singing, at the back of my mind ...

Stephen King says that writing is an act of self-hypnosis. Maybe he is right, but I personally see it backwards. For me, writing is an act of surrender. I often spend hours, even days, trying to ignore the hypnotic gaze of the muse, because I am busy, I am a homeschooling mother : I have a lot to do. When I can, I lay down my daily business and open my hands for him.

(And sometimes there is no hope for it - everything must fall because I am already falling, made weak at the knees by story.)

I have no need for pre-writing rituals. Nor any hope of control. Either the muse has me or he doesn't. It's all a matter of waiting for him to arrive, and then holding him off - but hoping he stays - until I have time to sit down and write.

For years now, I've confessed that my style is wild organic writing. Not the product itself, but the doing of it. I have learned about fallow times and madly fertile times. I have learned that I can plant seeds but really it's not up to me what grows. And the most important thing of all that I've learned is that my way is okay. It's the same as my recipe for bread - it goes against all the recipes, and is officially wrong. But it works for me, and nothing else does.

What works for you? How do you enter into the act of writing? Are you ritualised, masterful, or are you a servant to the wild and beautiful spirit of poetry?


  1. Oh my... I love this. And the question at the end, I think my answer would change depending on the day. Sometimes I am like you say, the muse is there and I have to drop everything and go write things down. Other days I feel I have nothing, but then I sit down and write and I find words I didn't know were hiding. I never used to be, but I've become ritualised, I do write almost daily (blogging has enforced this). I think it's been good practice. But my favorite poems are most definitely the ones that just show up, knocking on the door, demanding attention. :)

  2. i am mostly servant (i am terrible at have-to-do-thises), an on-call servant, never knowing when the words will come. that said, i always always write a line or two in the mornings, no ritual about it, just writing down a few moments before i head into the day. so . . . maybe a bit of ritual is there, growing. i am so not a morning person, but something about my not quite awakeness awakens the muse, loosens my caring. not caring is important for me. :)

  3. You have *perfectly* described what writing is like for me. Yes--it is just like that. I sometimes resist my creative spirit because the tension between what I must do (home keeping, caring for others) and the ceaseless whirl of story in my mind is overwhelming. When I am in deep story, it overtakes me. It keeps me up at night, it monopolizes my attention during the day. It is with me, with me . . . until it is not. And, then I feel despondent, purposeless. So I have tried to control the process: write one page a day, "show up", force it into a schedule, ritualize it (build a church around it), but it hasn't worked for me; the spirit comes and goes as it pleases.

  4. Um, yes. I am definitely a creature of the muse, and I do hate trying to write when the spirit is not on me, but I am trying to discipline myself to write daily, muse or no muse, because something in me says I need to. For years, I didn't, I was busy, busy and writing happened in margins. But now, yes, it's time to build a quantity of words. to practice digging them out of dry soil. I am disciplining myself to be ready for the muse too, to always have a notebook, a pen or at least the notepad of my smartphone to gather phrases and snatches of poetry that appear. And don't they always appear in the middle of washing dishes or out on a walk or something? I'm trying to be more ready for them. :)