Monday 9 September 2019

Poking the Muse: Weird, Wacky, or Wonderfully Worthwhile?

Mazzy Adams

The Muse can be a fickle and cantankerous beast. Give it a deadline and it will run away and hide behind any number of obstacles and excuses, be it a flu virus, a family crisis, or the sudden need to binge watch six seasons of a thirty-year-old television series because, you know, you can never experience too much historic authenticity in research mode … (a worthy cause according to The Right Honourable Idle Pro Crastination). Yet that same Muse will shove its stubborn creativity under your nose when you’re trying to grocery shop, work the 9 to 5, drive a car, cook dinner, shower, catch up on desperately needed sleep, or during any number of awkward and inappropriate moments.

Despite her unpredictable (and unreliable) nature, I’ve learned to truly appreciate my creative writing muse. Her weird, wild, wasteful, wistful, and wonderful moods have actually inspired some worthwhile words over the years—not to mention several truly wacky ideas.

But hey, I love her anyway.

When we first met, I thought my muse was amazing—funny, clever, sophisticated—and with my typing prowess, surely we were a match made in heaven. First love …

is blind.

(Image by 139904 from Pixabay)

Truly great relationships don’t just happen. Ours was no exception. Our relationship needed nurturing. It took time and effort for us to discover each other and to develop an understanding of each other’s hopes and dreams. It demanded tolerance, patience, persistence, perseverance and mutual respect (we agreed Alliterers Anonymous meetings didn’t work for either of us).

We spent our courtship hours creating quick responses to writing prompts for uni, socialising with other writers (and their muses), dreaming and scribbling together, chatting about all the wonderful places we could visit, all the friends we’d make along the way, arguing over which of us would take the rap for the characters we planned to kill off, choosing cream and white sheets to make up our literary bed, picking out names for our book babies …  

Though I speak tongue-in-cheek, for a writer, the relationship between inspiration and actual, useful text on a page requires active encouragement, engagement, and frequently, some outside assistance (like education and counselling). Poems, flash fiction, memoirs, novels, informative and/or inspirational works of non-fiction don’t magically arrive perfect and mature on the first draft. It takes informed effort to transform ideas into useful and entertaining literature. For this reason, I say kudos to every writer who perseveres to improve their craft.

But today, I don’t want to focus on the hard slog of editing and perfecting. I simply want to rejoice in that crazy, delightful ‘something’ that calls and inspires people to write—that’s calling you to write. I want to celebrate the huge variety of writing styles, voices, forms and expressions arising from the relationship between muse and writer. I want to sing and splash around in the bubbling flow that springs to life when the muse turns on the faucet. I want to thank God for it. Thank him for the fun and the frustration alike. Thank him for the solid, worthy ideas that translate into powerful text. And thank him for the absurd, quirky ideas that remind me to embrace the momentum of words and enjoy the ride.

Speaking of quirky ideas, 10% of the marks for some of my creative writing uni subjects were earned by completing ‘Quick Writing Exercises’. Students were required to read the prompt, write for ten minutes by the clock, post the piece to the forum and engage in mutual feedback and discussion. I found the challenge daunting at first, but also very fruitful, because it taught me to think beyond the obvious, to stretch my imagination, to get words on the page without stressing about their initial quality (big ask for a pedant and perfectionist) and, ultimately, to not only discover my ‘voice’ but to trust and treasure it. Like all good relationships, I believe our connection to the writing craft grows in quality as we invest in it and strengthen it through engagement.   
If your relationship with the muse is a tad stale, if you’ve been neglecting it (willingly or reluctantly) of late and it needs a bit of a jump start, or if your muse has been persnickety, hiding behind excuses when it should be making you a cup of tea, perhaps it’s time to try a quick writing exercise or two. All it takes is a prompt not unlike the example* I’ve posted below (or a word, an image, the poke of an umbrella …) and ten minutes of your time. It’s a small but invaluable investment for such an important relationship don't you think?

One of my favourite uni prompts was this:

*Write a piece that begins with the words, ‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink …’

The variety of responses posted to the forum ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous, but it was a great deal of fun. Here’s what I wrote way back then. Why not give it a go? If you’re game, post your piece in the comments.

Sitting in the Kitchen Sink

‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink’ is an intriguing opening to a story. It raises so many questions at so many levels.

At level one, I consider the grammatical structure and its implications; if the absence of a full stop and capital letter is intentional and not accidental, the introduction proposes several truly mind-boggling possibilities. For example, I can envisage a scenario which quite reasonably puts me in the sink. I’ve cleaned the gable windows above my kitchen sink before and very nearly come a cropper. A landing in the kitchen sink would be a more viable option for survival than a continuance of movement downwards to the floor.

If, however, my comfortably large posterior is actually lodged in my kitchen sink, I doubt that I would have the peace of mind or inclination, given the unlikely and clearly uncomfortable circumstances, to engage myself with pen and paper and wile away several minutes, hours or days in creative composition. I suspect my first, and only, priority would be to dislodge myself from my constricted circumstances with as much haste and as little pain as possible.

At level two, conditional upon the previous assumption of grammatical correctness of course, another possible scenario involves my accidental exposure to some strange beam of light which has transformed me instantly into a midget. Or a tea-cup. But tea-cups don’t have hands, so the ‘writing’ part of the opening becomes problematic in this instance also. Perhaps the beam allows me special new skills, such as the ability to project an image across the room onto a piece of paper or onto an interactive whiteboard using purely the power of thought. That could be cool.

(Image by haidi2002 from Pixabay)

Of course, there’s level three where I might not actually be me. I could be someone else. Or something else. That raises even more mind-boggling options. I could be a cockroach in search of a tasty morsel left dangling on a dirty dinner plate. If so, I am not only intelligent, but extremely skillful and I have access to miniature writing implements, unless I intend to cocky-poo my message on the illicit bacon rind which should be residing in the bin.

I could be the mouse that I once clobbered with a rolling pin and then drowned in the kitchen sink. (Ick! Disgusting, right?) I doubt that in the midst of all that violence, with the threat of imminent death looming, I would have the presence of mind to write, not even my last will and testament. Hmm … Imagine that –

‘To my darling great-great-grand-nephew, Horatio Mousling, I hereby bequeath my summer nest in the pile of left-over roofing insulation in the rear right-hand corner of the Brown’s garage. To my cousin, Katrina Ratspring, I leave the directions to the dog-bowl at 57 Evinrude Avenue, St. Kilda …’

Sadly, given my current predicament, the creative juices just aren’t flowing as swiftly as they should. Perhaps I should play it safe, and punctuate. Therefore:

I write this. Sitting in the kitchen sink are the questionably salubrious leftovers of my husband’s first adventurous exploration into the world of gastronomic creation. I have to say, for a first effort, the dinner didn’t taste too bad. Even the after-taste was reasonable. After the third and fourth regurgitations however, I have begun to suspect that something was not altogether kosher.

I would rise from my chair at the kitchen table and call an ambulance, but the slightest movement results in another violent altercation with my digestive system. Thus I write this, just in case I don’t survive, so that any investigation of my demise will be straightforward.

I write this so you will know there was absolutely no ill or harm present in my husband’s intent. He’s just never tried to cook anything more adventurous than a fried egg before! 

As for the lengthy verbosity of my report, I simply offer, in my defence, that I never do my best writing when I’m throwing up.
© Mazzy Adams

Mazzy Adams is a published author of poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction. She has a passion for words, pictures and the positive potential in people.



  1. Hi Mazzy, thanks for a wonderfully, whimisical post :) I love the idea of courting the muse & writers and their muses catching up (can just see your muse & mine chatting in the corner over ambrosia) & goodness, lots of thoughts about writing in the sink, not a place I'd choose for sure.

  2. Thanks Jenny. Our muses chatting in the corner? Oh Honey, what a lovely, Homer-ly picture - until they kick their high heels off and start dancing, then look out world. Or, in your muse's case, out of this world by the light of two moons. Certainly better than being stuck in the kitchen sink.

  3. What a great post, Mazzy! I've been trying to tame mine for years, but she still gets capricious and plays up sometimes. Thanks for your examples of poke and stimulate them. I think on the whole, they know we're friends, which is why they choose to show up surprisingly. It seems they want to make it clear it's on their terms, and not ours.

    1. Thanks Paula. Glad you enjoyed it. I'm rather impressed with your muse, and even more so at your obvious compatibility because you've produced some terrific novels between you. As for that capriciousness, perhaps a smattering of rebellion ensures neither writer nor muse becomes lackadaisical, or complacent. Has your exploration of the classics poked your muse at all? Perhaps Charles Dickens' 'best of times/worst of times' opening gambit was inspired by a dispute with his muse.

  4. Loved this - my first thoughts: I am not the only one!! So many things look so attractive (even housework and paying bills!! ����) when I sit down determined to write. However, if I go and do some gardening or take a walk, the ideas come thick and fast!! ��

    Here is my attempt at the prompt:

    Sitting in the Kitchen Sink: A metaphor of life.
    I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. At least, that is how it feels today. I find myself sitting in the murk and drear of yesterday’s leftovers, surrounded by the tepid waters of things left stagnating too long: too cold to be comfortable; too warm and polluted to be refreshing. How I long for Someone to come pull the plug of release, to wash away the greasy cold dirt of the past, to purify and cleanse, to take me out of this place of constraint and feeling boxed in. How I long to see beyond the mundane, the ordinary, the muck and dregs that no one else wanted. “It is time! It is time!”, I cry. Time to refocus my attention, refocus my outlook, to look beyond the surface of the ordinary, to see again that this is the product of the meal enjoyed in the company of loved ones; of stories told around the table, of laughter and of joy; the simple fact that stomachs were filled – comfort and nurture given, bodies grow and minds develop. Rather than looking at what is leftover, look to what has been given, shared, enjoyed. And as I do, this kitchen sink turns from a place of stagnation, abandonment and loss to a place where new starts happen, where I look forward to what is next and where I reconnect with the good memories from the past.

    1. Ruth, what beautifully inspirational words. I can hear the satisfying gurgle and slurp as yesterday's drear disappears down the drain and see the sparkle and shine of positivity prevailing. Thank you so much for engaging with the prompt, and for sharing such a powerful metaphor in response.

  5. Oh WOW Mazzy, I really enjoyed your post.
    I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. Or at least my muse is. She’s a weird creature. I told her I wanted her to be ‘on tap’ as I wanted her available every time I sat down to write. What does she do? She takes me literally and goes and sits on the tap in the kitchen sink. I tell her to get off but she gives me a spray. Literally a spray. I wipe the water off my face and tell her to get off the tap and get to my desk and help me.
    ‘Here, put this in your brain.’ Not only does she blow a raspberry, she throws one at me. A dead, mushy, stinky, half-rotten one, lingering in the sink from last night’s dessert. I duck but the decaying fruit hits me mid-forehead. SPLAT.
    I grab a hand towel, wipe the fruit from my face.
    ‘Didn’t I say not to throw fruit at me?’
    ‘Not listening!’ She sits, back turned to me, with her fingers in her ears.
    ‘Come on. Please, my marvellous muse. I need you.’
    She unblocks her ears. ‘Flattery doesn’t work remember. You tried that yesterday.’ She swings around, straddling the tap, and gives me a stern, folded-arm gaze. ‘What’s In it for me?’
    ‘For you?’
    ‘Yes, for me. You expect me to turn up, be at your beck and call, Do all that la-de-dah inspiration stuff. What do I get out of it?’
    I try not to let exasperation huff out of me. Then I get a brainwave. ‘I could give you chocolate.’
    ‘I’m trying to lose weight. Oh, yeah, that’s right, YOU’RE trying to lose weight.’ She starts tapping her foot up and down.
    ‘Well just a little chocolate, then. The good stuff.’
    ‘Harrumph,’ she says. ‘Wine? Can we have some red wine?’her foot stops tapping.
    Hope wakes within me. At least she’s negotiating. ‘Well only a little. You know it doesn’t agree with me any more. Maybe half—‘
    ‘A bottle?’ She smiles for the first time that day.
    ‘I was going to say half a glass.’
    ‘Oh.’ She pouts.
    ‘But we could sit in the sun for a few minutes,’ I offer. ‘Or we could take the dog for a walk.’
    My muse sniffs. ‘That smelly thing with short legs?’
    ‘We could go to the beach.’
    She brightens. ‘I like salt air, and seashells, and mother-of-pearl, and looking at boats, and sandcastles! Can we build a sandcastle?’
    I consider for a moment. A grown woman building sandcastles on the beach? It would look weird. What would people think? ‘Well, maybe,’ I say.
    ‘And kites. Could we fly a kite?’ She’s jumping up and down on the tap now, clapping her hands.
    ‘I don’t own a kite.’
    ‘We could make one. It can be red and green and yellow and blue and magenta. Or we could make one in - um - the shape of a fox.’
    ‘Foxes are scary.’
    ‘Only if you try and cuddle them.’
    I see that I am beaten. If I’m to get any creative work done today, I have to indulge this pesky creature.
    ‘Many hours later I sit here with my hands in the kitchen sink, washing dishes. I’ve written nothing but I’ve had a blast and my muse has danced with my inner child all day. But what of my writing? It’s then that I hear a whisper. It morphs into a happy song - or at least I sing out loud when the answer to my plot conundrum is revealed to me as if it’s in technicolor and broadcast in surround sound. I dry off my hands and sprint to my desk, only to sprawl next to my laptop three hours later, exhausted yet satiated. I’ve nailed two chapters. My beautiful, beautiful muse.
    Hmmm... I wonder if she’ll be on tap tomorrow?

    1. Oh Sue, that's fabulous and hilarious! I love it. As for tomorrow, you'll know where to look for her. Nailed two chapters? Woohoo!

    2. Pity it’s fiction - genre fantasy. :)

  6. I think it will morph into a blog post one day :)

  7. Great post Mazzy. Thank you. Love your use of language and your weird, wild, wasteful, wistful, wonderful and whacky use of words too! :) Your piece on 'The Kitchen Sink' was hilarious. Fully agree that our relationship with our muse (as with human beings develop) as we spend time, resources and energy to breathe life into it. Thank you for making me smile and laugh and think! Keep writing - you do a wonderful job!