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Heeding the Muse, Part V - Dictation and Revision

Heeding the Muse, Part V - Dictation and Revision

By Joseph Nichols, Bluegrass Writers Studio

            In this series on the possible sources of inspiration for our writing, we have previously discussed the idea of Push Inspiration, or making ourselves available to some external source for our inspirational needs.  Today, I would like for us to assume that we have gained some measure of success in that process.  We've sat down at our writing desk, meditation spot, or other reliable venue, and have made ourselves available to receive a message from some external source of inspiration.  We have typed it across a computer screen or scrawled our chicken scratches against a tremulous pad of paper.

            But what do we do next? 

            In my own experience with the muse, this is the moment when I have felt the most at a loss for proper follow-up procedure.  During the process, I let the intended message flow, of its own accord, while recognizing that the Universe, the Muse, or whatever I have decided to call such a cosmic force, has made use of my own personal style and bag of tricks in the transcription process.  The message may be external, but the form it takes as it spreads across the page is inherently my own.

            Even so, there must be some latent responsibility that I, necessarily, owe to this message, this entity, right?  After all, prior to sitting down to listen and to write, I was speechless, idea-less, so if there is a message that the world is meant to read and I have, for some reason, been given access to said message, then what role do I play in the dictation and revision process?

            As I have somewhat obliquely alluded to above, I feel a great responsibility to extend all possible freedom to that message, as it flows through me and onto the page, even if doing so feels that it is supplanting my previously believed-to-be stylistic personality.  If nothing else, there is a freedom, as the writer, in acknowledging that the message may not be your own—to pursue angles, beliefs, and voices that we might not ever do so otherwise.  At the same time, I feel that this open-mindedness is a nod of respect to the entity and the message.  The entire process is humbling, as well as illuminating to the Self, allowing a writer to be guided into aspects of their consciousness that may have lain dormant until now.  It could even be said that, by taking such a stance, the groundwork is being laid for future Pull inspiration.

            This, then, is the dictation.

            But what do we do with the product of that dictation?

            It is my opinion that the message has been brought to me, the specific writer, for a reason.  Understand that I rarely feel I am anything irreplaceable in the process; had I not been open to listen, open to hear, open to give sufficient, or even timely, attention to the muse, she would have found another writer who was, who did.  That being said, she came to me first (or after being ignored or turned away by other choices).  She has come, then, to me, and part of who I am consists of my prior training, experiences, and beliefs.  I have to be confident that all of these facets of my personality matter.  And just as she knew the specific diction that she could conjure within my mind and heart, as opposed to the writer next door, she was aware of my writing process, one which involves a series of revisions.   

            Each of us carries this bag of nifty tricks which we can apply to the (sometimes atrocious) first drafts that we produce.  When I have a poem lying in front of me, I begin to work it over—sometimes immediately, sometimes the following day, sometimes a month or more later.  Each piece, for me, seems to dictate what that waiting period needs be.  Once that time has passed, once the piece screams in my not-so-subconscious that it is ready, that I am ready, to develop, I proceed.

            Firstly, I attempt to understand all the possible angles from which I might view the overt and more subtle messages of the piece.  Perhaps I thought that I understood what I was writing as I was writing.  Perhaps, on re-reading, I see that there are variant messages, allusions, or implications that I did not recognize, AT ALL, during the initial dictation.  To feel justified in any revision of that initial product, I have to be sure I appreciate the original, lest I carelessly throw the true intent aside in my edits.

            Once I feel that I have as good a grasp as is possible for me to attain, I begin the revision.  Unlike in my Pull inspiration pieces, I don’t rush in heavy-handedly—in those instances, I am often absolutely sure what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it.  True, the subconscious will drift into any bit of writing we attempt, but here, in Push inspiration pieces, we may also, simultaneously, be dealing with any number of external influences.

            I proceed slowly, cautiously, applying the pads of my fingers to the keys before me as if I were an archeologist or an anthropologist or even a paleontologist, unearthing mysteries that might defy the most widely held societal beliefs of a culture or a world.  Each keystroke becomes, instead, the subtle sweep of a brush across dirt, the miniscule scrape of an only slightly larger pick.  Perhaps this is a melodramatic way to look at revision—but then I am assuming that the Universe has given me a message for the world.  In the light of this latter acquiescence, does it make sense to start doubting my sanity now? 

            In the end, any piece of writing is given an author; we send it out into the world with a pat on its little behind and a liberal swath of well-wishes, but we do so with our name attached to its lapel. 

            “Hello, my name is Joseph Allen Nichols,” it says.

            Regardless of the source of inspiration for a piece, the final product flowed from my pen.  I thank the source, but I also embrace the poem, the short story, the novel, as my own.  And then I remind myself to be confident that I have played my part, however small, in the creative process.


Continued next week in “Heeding the Muse, VI: The Mobius Strip of Professional Writing," where I will discuss the inherent insanity, and accompanying necessity, of submitting our work for the larger world to peruse.

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Kristen Thompson

Published on June 02, 2014

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