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Be Mused by Susan M. Brackney
Be Mused : Hiding Behind Wordsworth?

Be Mused

Hiding Behind Wordsworth?

WordsworthDear Muse,

Wordsworth said of writing something to the effect of it being moments of passion recollected in tranquility. Tranquility is the key word here, because if you want to write a novel, you first have to conceive of a fictional world, characters, etc. This is done by sitting on a couch or in the bathtub with your chin in your hand and reflecting. Only once one has thought of something to say will one be able to write something down. But when I do this, my roommates view me with undisguised contempt and call me "lazy" or say, "How come the dishes aren't done yet? You're in the exact same spot I last saw you at this morning." How do I deal with these people who hate art and don't at all understand me or my dreams? — Misunderstood

You had me until you got to the dishes. William Wordsworth was writing about poetry when he offered that bit about "emotion recollected in tranquility." More specifically, he wanted to relive or recollect actual experiences and feelings in order to permanently capture them in writing. You, on the other hand, are spending hours and hours reflecting on worlds and characters which do not yet exist. While I'll grant you the need to think before you write, I can't help but wonder if you aren't just hiding behind one dead poet's worthy words.

This is what I want to know. I ask it most gingerly and respectfully. If I were there with you I would just whisper the question in your ear, but since I am not: Are you actually writing any words down? What do you have to show for your hours of contemplation? And, also, if you're doing most of your contemplating in the bathtub or on the couch, aren't you all pruney and covered with bedsores by now?

Don't get me wrong, I know where you're coming from — I've been known to stare at the screen until droplets of blood form on my brow. But I want you to be careful since you may be jumping to some pretty kooky conclusions yourself. For one, I doubt that your roommates actually hate art or don't understand you. Have you explained what you are trying to do? If you have any writings to show, have you shared your work with them? Maybe they just need to see the results of all your thinking before they'll leave you alone. If that won't work, rest assured, there are some other good ways to get them off your back.

Because most novelists don't just conjure plot and characters out of thin air, they have to leave their houses to do research. They study their subject matter carefully; if they didn't, they probably wouldn't have too much to say.

Are you writing any elderly people into your novel? If so you might visit an old folks home and talk with some its residents to get a handle on realistic dialogue and character motivation. Or maybe you're working on some historical fiction? Visit a library or museum to study pertinent newspapers or other documents for inspiration and a sense of realism. Even if what you're working on is simply vaguely literary and you can't imagine needing to draw upon any outside sources, that's still no excuse to sit around on your [butt] all day. A change of scenery can do you — not to mention your roommates — a lot of good.

Finally, about those dishes... Wordsworth wrote a longer piece called "The Ruined Cottage." For a moment I wonder if he wasn't actually a clairvoyant beholding your deteriorating household. Just so you know, I get some of my very best ideas while I'm doing the dishes and maybe you will too. One thing's for sure, your roommates will back off if they see you making some real progress. •

© 2001 Susan M. Brackney. All rights reserved.

Susan M. Brackney Need a little help finding your way on the road less traveled? Susan M. Brackney, author of The Lost Soul Companion will try to solve your creative quandaries. More »