As Pearl sipped her non-fat mocha, she looked over her mug at Felix and Barb and Mike. She’d met them a couple of weeks ago when she started taking a class to increase her creativity and they’d shown up too. The course was going pretty well and they all wanted to up the ante on their writing so they’d decided to meet once a week at the local coffee shop, Has Beans, to work on it.
This was their first session outside of class, and they’d agreed to bring a couple of pages to read aloud and discuss, but Pearl hadn't done the work. She was a communications specialist with a big outdoor-equipment company and once she’d churned out press releases, monthly reports, the internal newsletter and cheery updates for the website, she didn’t have much energy at the end of the day to put more words on paper. Hence the class to stimulate her creativity.
"I have a confession." Felix met their eyes in turn.
Pearl, Barb and Mike lowered their cups and leaned forward.
"I didn't have time to do any writing this week."
They slumped back.
"Me either,” Barb said. “The store's been crazy with half my staff off sick and then my son had a hockey tournament all weekend."
She looked at Mike and Pearl, who wondered if she should confess.
To what? Laziness? Dearth of inspiration? Before she could come up with a good excuse, Mike spoke.
"Haven't finished my room yet."
In class, he’d said that he had to have a proper writing room, painted stimulating colours and furnished with the perfect chair and desk and God knows what else.
Barb shook her head; Pearl knew she was lucky to scrape a clear spot on the kitchen table or pry a kid away from the computer for half an hour a week.
"Haven't found quite the right Aubusson carpet?" Barb asked.
"You're snide now," Mike’s baritone overwhelmed both the espresso machine and the stereo. "But you'll see."
"Maybe I need a different chair." Felix looked thoughtful. "If I'm more comfortable, I'll be able to write better."
"That's bull," Barb said. "Do you think Jane Austen was comfortable sitting in those damn eighteenth-century dresses in her family's parlour? And Stephen King, balancing a typewriter on his knees in the laundry room?"
"What I need," Pearl decided, "is a muse."
Mike the engineer sat up straighter, an acquisitive glow lighting his brown eyes. Felix nodded slowly and Barb rested her elbows on the table and raised her eyebrows at Pearl enquiringly.
Originally there were nine Muses, Pearl explained, women who were half memory, half divine.
“Sounds like a mom,” Barb said.
Even Mike cracked a smile.
They sang or danced, wrote lyric poetry or tragedy, discoursed on rhetoric or astronomy, Pearl continued. They made some people write, although not everyone did it well. One poor guy said that some of his neighbours considered him a poet but that compared to real writers he was just a goose honking among swans. But that was Virgil for you.
Virginia Woolf took a practical approach to inspiration. A room of one's own and £500 a year made a darn good muse in her opinion.
“I told you,” Mike said.
“There’s more to it,” Barb snapped. “You have to read beyond the title of the essay.”
Mike’s ears turned red but before he bellowed back, Pearl interrupted.
“My theory is that a muse is like Jeannie in the old TV show – or okay, the djinn in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves for you literary types.” She grinned at Barb. “Except instead of rubbing a bottle–
"You'd be better off drinking the Scotch," Barb said.
“–the Muse responds to the friction between a bottom and a chair.”
"You might be onto something." Felix’s face brightened. "I go to all the workshops and conferences and I've got every how-to book ever published and this is ringing a bell."
"Well, we're here and our butts are in chairs," Barb said. "Let's see if it works."
Rats, Pearl thought. The truth is, it wasn't the lack of a muse that kept her from creative writing. Nor was it a shortage of energy or even bad feng shui. It was fear: What if she couldn’t do it?
Felix pulled a paperback from his courier bag.
"I have this cool book," he said, letting it flop open on the table. "It's got the best writing exercises."
Pearl harrumphed. In the great Texas Hold-'Em game of life, the Muses had just called her bluff.
Well isn’t that just great, she grumbled to herself.
And, to her surprise, it was.
Felix's exercise, from Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin (The Eighth Mountain Press, 1998):
Being Gorgeous: Write a paragraph to a page of narrative that's meant to be read aloud. Use onomatopoeia, alliteration, repetition, rhythmic effects, made-up words or names, dialect any kind of sound effect, but not rhyme or meter.
Have fun with this, Le Guin urges. Don't aim for perfection, just put the words down as they occur to you. Then, if you like, read your piece aloud, either to yourself or to your writing buddies.