The other day an MFA student of mine got in touch and said that her husband just got a new job hundreds of miles from where they were living, that the job started in a couple of weeks, and that she’d have to suddenly focus on the move and have to take a hiatus from her work on her major script project for the semester. She was worried that she’d get behind schedule and her project would get derailed.
I told her not to worry.
And I said this with some confidence because this student had been stirring the pot of her story for over a month and a half already, doing extensive research, completing multiple character exploration exercises and making a number of preliminary jottings regarding aspects of her plot.
But what was really going on unaware was that she was pouring ideas and story questions into her subconscious, the dwelling place of the writer’s muse. “Feeding” her subconscious with rich material and energizing her inner mind to sort out the issues involved and when ready to send solutions and the keys to locked doors back up into the conscious mind. I told her to trust that was happening, that work was continuing on her project even though she was packing boxes, making to-do lists, saying goodbye to friends, closing down her apartment and on and on for the next three weeks.
Ray Bradbury, in his excellent and classic collection of essays on creativity called Zen in the Art of Writing has a wonderful piece on this called “How to Keep and Feed a Muse.” He, too, thinks that your subconscious is your muse and that you have to play this game with yourself. He writes: “What is The Subconscious to every other man, in its creative aspect becomes, for writers, The Muse. They are two names for one thing.” And, “…I wanted to show what we all have in us, that it has always been there, and so few of us bother to notice. When people ask me where I get my ideas, I laugh. How strange–we’re so busy looking out, to find ways and means, we forget to look in.” He goes on to suggest the “diet” we need to feed this inner muse.
Of course, this only works if you indeed do feed your muse, have patience, and trust that she’ll come through when you need her. So I told my student to enjoy her move, celebrate the new job and the setting up of their new life, and visualize that muse working away and ready to deliver the goods upon a return to the writing desk.
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I’m the Program Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen being offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art. Our last residency ran January 3-11, 2016 and we are now considering applications for starting the program with our July 2016 residency that runs July 21-31. I’m also a playwright and screenwriter, producing partner in my production company Either/Or Films (The Sensation of Sight and Only Daughter), a professional script consultant, and the author of The Playwrights Process.