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Heeding the Muse, Part I - Classification

Dr. Dolittle's Pushmi-Pullyu

By Joseph Nichols, Bluegrass Writers Studio

            Every time I go to a professional writer’s question-and-answer session at the local bookstore, the same question is raised: Where do you get your inspiration? The writer always seems annoyed; I’m sure they get asked that so many times they want to vomit. Accordingly, they always give the same, simple answer: Observation and Work.

            Neither of these are satisfying answers, or at least they aren’t for me.

            So, as writers, where can we look to gain our ideas, beyond just keeping our eyes open to the world around us and establishing the habit of sitting down to write daily?

            This blog entry will mark the beginning of a series of such entries wherein I will attempt to describe the ways in which I gain inspiration for my writing. I am going to do my best to avoid the obvious answers. I am going to drop the walls that I usually maintain to keep from sounding every bit as crazy as I may be. If anything that I share becomes useful, in your experience, then wonderful. After all, as writers, I tend to believe we’re all a bit crazy, don’t you? Better that we share our personal quirks so that, together, we might find the avenues that work best for each of us.

            And so, I will begin with classification. My friend, poet Jay McCoy, described to me two clear sources of inspiration, Pull Inspiration and Push Inspiration.

            Pull inspiration is the inspiration that comes from within the writer; we sit down knowing we have a story to tell, so we reach deep down inside to find the unique experiences of our life, opinions, beliefs, that will flesh the story or the poem out on the page. We are pulling it, from inside, to the fore so that we might share it with our readers.

            Push inspiration is, in my opinion, endlessly more evocative, perhaps just because, as artists, we seem uniquely aware of it. We sit down, whether because we simply want to write or we feel an overwhelming necessity to do so. The inspiration that assails our consciousness and the page, then, flows over us from some external source. Call it whatever you find least intimidating, least “crazy.” Perhaps you believe in deity, or the Universe, or the ageless Greek Muses; perhaps you are merely inspired by the rhythms of music, or the influence that your spouse or your children have created in your life. Regardless, the writer is looking beyond him/herself to connect with something larger, something more encompassing to the human condition, and is seeking to create a bridge between that source and his/her eventual readers.

            In the weeks ahead, I will speak more on these two types of inspiration. I must confess, I will likely speak more heavily on Push Inspiration, simply because it is what I, more often than not, experience, and because I believe there to be a wealth of information out there on how to locate and rein in your own experiences.

            At the end of Heeding the Muse Part I, consider where you most often draw your inspiration. Perhaps you have asked the question of other writers; perhaps you have never stopped to ponder it in regard to your own writing. Allow me to be that annoying person in the audience that asks you because, chances are, you will one day have to answer it in just such a panel.  

            What is your norm: Push or Pull? And are you open to approaching the other type—if I give you some practical ways of doing so?


Continued in Heeding the Muse II…                  

Contact Information

Kristen Thompson

Published on May 15, 2014

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