UnknownI was listening to an NPR interview of a woman writer explaining how she keeps her muse happy by talking to it. After a while I realized the woman being interviewed was Eat Pray Love’s author Elizabeth Gilbert, whom I consider to be a writer’s writer, one of my favorites because she crafts her words so beautifully.

I loved this notion, that you need to talk nicely to your muse or it might not treat you so nice in return. In the interview Gilbert (or should I call her “Liz” as she referred to herself in the interview?) explains how she talks to a book if she’s going to be away from a project a while. “I talk to it every day,” she says. “I say, ‘Listen, in April I will be with you. I want you to stay. Don’t let me wake up and read in the New York Times that someone else wrote you.’”

This is another idea I resonate with—that ideas are there to catch, and if you’re open you can catch them and run. But if you don’t act on them, but let them wither in the dust, they might just pick themselves up and turn to another, more alert writer.

These are all reasons for a professional writer like me to sit down at my computer and write every day, to treat my job with respect, to keep slogging through the dry spells as well as flying with the highs. Because you never know when your muse is going to give you a perfect ending to your story, or a great idea.

It’s also a reason to cultivate your mind to catch the big ideas, to be open to your muse, as filmmaker David Lynch says in his book, Catching the Big Fish. For me, the most effective way I know to heighten my receptivity to the cauldron of creative ideas that bubble up from within, is to experience the silence of my own mind through daily meditation. Lynch, too, recommends Transcendental Meditation—it’s such an important part of his creative life that he’s never skipped it for 40 years.

And I guess that’s a different way to look at your muse—as a part of yourself that needs to be nourished and cared for. As my mentor Kristi Holl writes in Writer’s First Aid, when you’re a writer, your own mind and body are your tools. So you need to take care of yourself. And you know how to do that—eat well, sleep well and stay fit—to keep your creative mind at its peak.

So either way—whether you believe your muse is outside you or inside you—this Valentine’s Day, give your muse a hug.

Listen to NPR’s Radiolab interview of Elizabeth Gilbert and Oliver Sachs, Me, Myself, and Muse, here. The Elizabeth Gilbert part starts about two minutes in. 

Listen to Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk on Your Elusive Creative Genius here.

To the New Year
January 26, 2014
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My friend Carol Olicker wearing her sparkly Cinderella slipper earrings

One of my favorite ways to revitalize my writing is to spend an evening sinking into the soft couches of my friend Christine’s living room and journaling with our women’s writing group. We’ve become super close over the years, sharing our birthdays, triumphs and setbacks. Some of us write or teach professionally, others write for the pure joy of expression.

Our formula is simple: we start with a writing prompt, such as a poem or exercise from Natalie Goldberg’s memoir-writing book Old Friend from Far Away, and let our writing take off from there. Here’s a poem that poured out of me during our last session, where we used the beautiful poem “To the New Year” by W.S. Merwin as a jumping off point.

 

To the New Year (Inspired by the poem by W.S. Merwin)

by Linda Egenes

“With what stillness at last you appear”—this I love.

Somehow this line will forever be entwined in my mind with the sight of our Carol,

looking like a benevolent Christmas elf in her red tank top and green polka-dotted socks,

adorning herself with red camellia—not one but two—behind the ear,

inserted in her hair with deft, effortless care,

hanging on her ears the emerald-green dangle earrings

somewhat in the shape of Native-American dreamcatchers

and finally uncoiling on her wrist a diamond-studded watch

with a thick, white plastic band.

 

She does this matter-of-factly,

like she is used to getting dressed at the party,

her face relaxed, her blond curls set off perfectly by the ruby flowers and tank top,

her earrings catching the eye in perfect unison with the green socks,

even the white dots echoed by the white watchband.

 

I do not know how these small acts of adorning herself like a human Christmas tree make my heart swell in a chorus of appreciation for Carol,

for her honest and flower-blossoming heart,

for her daily acts of sparkle

and her compassion that shines forth in the darkness like a Christmas star,

but somehow I know that these are the moments,

untouched and sweet,

that make up a life here in Fairfield,

where every moment is true and zooming forth from one heart to another,

where all the moments link together

to make me feel loved and in love

with Carol and everyone in this room and the snowy streets beyond,

to make me feel that here, here in this 150-year-old room,

wrapped in the healing tonic of Christine’s cushions and throws

and Bud’s slow breath

and Ellen’s clear and soft vision of unity

and all our shared moments of 40 years together,

that here, here we are living the best of all lives

and anything is possible,

anything at all.