My Muse

MinimeLots of things happen during my morning run. In the first few minutes, I grunt and groan like an old Buick and consider calling it quits. Then I level out and just go along with the tuff tuff tuff of my shoes against pavement. After a few more minutes I feel my pulse and go, “hmmm.” And I also smile and wave at any other runners I come across. My logic is that if I collapse into a ball of sweat and athletic logos, I’ll need all the allies I can get.

And sure enough, somewhere along the run, my stupid muse will show up.

My muse sits on my shoulder and starts whispering things into my ear. I have never seen him, only heard him. And yes, my muse is a man, yes, it’s not fair that Quentin Tarantino gets Uma Thurman and I get some guy with a bourboney lisp, and yes, you should get over it as I have. His insights range from a character quirk to a funny description, from a story nugget to a perfect last sentence. And then he giggles as he watches me try to keep these things in my head for the next 1.9 miles.

I do this in several ways. Sometimes I create a song out of them, which I then sing aloud to keep in my head until I can get to a pen. Sometimes I count them on my fingers, repeat, and memorize them as though learning them in the rote style.

While I am thankful for the inspiration, I do get irked by my muse’s bad timing.

Does he arrive when I am sitting on my couch holding a notebook and laying into a box of chocolate chip cookies? No. Does he show up when I am sitting in front of my computer? Not usually. No, my muse is like one of my students who doesn’t come to class. They never show up when they are supposed to, but they sure as hell have no problem approaching me in the fruit section of a supermarket and asking about the essay deadline.

Now, I do understand that the very act of being away from my work is a huge reason for my muse’s arrival. By stepping away from my writing desk I stop focusing on the work at hand and thereby allow a more free channel of thought. “Stepping away” from your work is a strategy I highly recommend to academic writing students. Go for a walk, go for a drink, watch TV. But dammit, have a pen handy!

So what to do?

Tom Waits had the same problem. He said that his muse often visited at inopportune times; he’d be driving down the road and a tune would pop into his head and he’d have no way of getting it down. He said that after a number of years he finally turned to his muse and told him to piss off until later. And that’s fantastic, but I am not Tom Waits. I don’t have the luxury of being able to tell my muse to come back later. I need to hold that bastard around until he gives me something good to work with and then he can go to his next appointment, a ticked off painter in Trenton or a waitress/playwright in Copenhagen.

Or maybe he just goes to get some more bourbon.

If anybody out there – runners, writers, artists – has had a similar issue, I’d love to hear about it. How do you note ideas that come up during a run? How do you note down ideas that come up at inopportune times?


  1. #1 by greg galeone on April 24, 2014 - 5:46 pm

    I need a muse just to conjure up a response to one of your blogs. Nice entry Damo.

  2. #2 by Tiffany N. York on April 24, 2014 - 6:08 pm

    The ONLY time I get inspired is while running on the treadmill. Because I know this, sometimes I will specifically focus on an idea I need to flesh out, or a plot point I need to resolve, so in that sense it’s a good thing.

    I keep focusing on the ideas until my workout is over, because if I stop during, I will never go back. As soon as I’m done stretching out, I run for a pen and pad to try and get it all down before I forget important details.

    I’m pretty sure the reason I never get hit with the inspiration bolt otherwise is simply because my brain doesn’t get enough oxygen. So 98% of the time I’m walking around with a brain severely deprived of O2. It’s a wonder I manage to get anything accomplished at all.

  3. #3 by Jill T on April 29, 2014 - 8:50 pm

    While I do not write, I am a creative person with many interests. I have learned that the voice memo app on my phone is a lifesaver. Since I always have it with me (listening to music, to call 911, whatever) I just put in a voice memo and write it down when pen and paper or a computer is available.

(will not be published)