23 February 2011

Woo Woo 101; or, Building a Better Connection with Your Muse

Luna by Helder da Rocha
In the other, non-writing portion of my life, I run with the woo woo crowd. I teach and practice tai chi and qigong meditation, and I train with a Taoist monk. My world is probably a little bit different from yours: in my particular (you could say peculiar) dimension, energy / chi is real, thoughts and intentions have genuine impact on reality, and non-corporeal beings are just part of a normal day.

It's fun where I live.

I don't tend to talk about it because for a lot of people, even the merest whiff of this stuff is a call to write you off. "I don't believe in energy," such a person will huff (while leaving behind a massive energetic stink wave that ruffles the feathers of everyone in the room).

I mention this now because I do think there are some things that creative types can learn from the woo woo crowd, and I'm planning a couple of posts around this theme. In the works is a post about using feng shui to arrange your writing desk so it's just perfect for you. Today, I want to talk about intentional creation, aka manifesting, aka getting what you want out of the universe.

(Don't click on any of those last three links if you have a New Age allergy, btw.)

You might be familiar with the concept of manifesting from the massive bestseller The Secret. Oprah promoted it. The concept behind The Secret is called the Law of Attraction. There's a large, complicated set of explanations about how the Law of Attraction works, but the basic message of The Secret is that if you can fully imagine yourself in the situation of having that new job, car, house, relationship, body, or whatever, and you don't engage with thoughts like "that's impossible," then it will be yours.

Personally, I find The Secret utterly repugnant on all possible levels. I think it's immoral to imply that people don't have what they want or need because they just didn't wish for it hard enough. political and economic hegemony, anyone?

Moola! by soleiletoile
Don't strain yourself waiting for your money ship to come in.

But - and this is a pretty big but - there is a softer version of the concept of intentional creation that is very, very useful for creative types. It doesn't depend on external events arriving that confirm your deep connection to the universe. It depends on your connection to your inner self, your subconscious, and possibly the collective consciousness. 

This is the essence of the idea: 

If you're stuck on a conscious level with your writing, ask for help with it, then relax. The answer will come. You do not have to wait for inspiration to strike any more, nor do you need to rely on a cranky muse who flits in and out when she wants. Who is in control here, anyway?

(I'm hearing a chorus of writers out there saying, "My muse is in control! Obvy!" Well, no longer, my friends.)

I don't mean worry about it. I mean sit back in your desk and think to yourself (or say out loud): "Okay, I need an ending that makes sense for this story. And I want it to match the tone of the beginning."

Or: "I need a new short story idea by this time tomorrow."

Or: "I'm going to go take a shower. By the time I get back, I want to have a clear idea about what needs to happen in the next scene."

Too often, we flail about while our muses skip merrily out the window just when we need them - or, if you're not into personification, while our creative urge turns to bitterness and our minds drift and we begin to feel so, so guilty for taking all this time to produce nothing. What I'm suggesting is that we can take control of our creative process by telling our muses - or our inner selves, our subconscious, our connection to Story - exactly what we need and then letting them go to work for us. Two key points here are very important: being specific about what we want or need, and then letting that idea drop down into the well of our inner selves.

We all know that we can't put the muse in a stranglehold. "Work for me, dammit!" is not a healthy creative attitude. But any relationship will benefit from a little clear communication. Your subconscious already passes info to you on a regular basis. Isn't it time you started talking to her?

At first, if you're unsure, it helps to sleep on it. If I'm working on a big problem (like I need a short story idea for this week's Write 1, Sub 1 and it's just not coming to me), I ask for an answer by the next morning. As I'm passing out, I think, "I need a medium-length short story idea to work on this week. Something I can write in a day or two." Lo and behold, when I wake up, usually the answer is there.

I think of this technique as an ordering system for my imagination. Remember when you first discovered the wonderful world of ordering stuff online? You click a few buttons, and a package of books (I assume books, but it could be anything) arrives on your doorstep a few days later. Awesome! This is the true function of the muse: ask and you shall receive.

You don't have to wait. It's there at all times, waiting to be put to use. You can specify a time frame, long or short, for the answers you need. If I encounter a problem in my novel, for example I need a way for a character to get across town in the middle of the night and a reason for her to meet up with another character, I'll make a resolution: by the time I'm done vacuuming the couch, I'll know the answer. And so it usually is. 

Really I think the key here is learning to trust the connection between your conscious self and the vast ocean of your inner world. There are more stories roiling around down there than you could possibly write in your lifetime. Stories inspired by things that have happened to you; stories about people you've known and perspectives or ideas you've shared; stories from the earliest time that people told stories; stories that have never been told. That's the vast untapped wealth that we creative types carry with us at all times. 

All you have to do to remain unstuck is to put the necessary structures in place. Learning to work with (instead of at the mercy of) your Muse is like building a muscle. The more you do it, the stronger you will be.


Hart Johnson said...

Oh, now I LOVE thinking like this. It makes so much more sense to me than all this super-plan, exact word, each thing is three things stuff. I can't get a word out if I have to think too much. My first draft HAS to come from this relaxed 'let it come' place. I write mostly in the bath (with a glass of wine) and the story comes. Editing? That's another matter entirely, but the writing, I just try to stay out of my way. (and energy is totally where my spiritual beliefs focus)

Elizabeth Twist said...

"I write mostly in the bath (with a glass of wine)..."

Most awesome writing habit ever. But now I'm Do you have one of those little tray thingers that stretches across the bathtub? How is this done? I need to know!

Summer Ross said...

This is a very indepth post. It makes me think about things. Thanks for posting it.

Len Lambert said...

I love this, Elizabeth! I'm in New Thought and I love reading things like this. I've read the book, The Secret, there are things there I like and the ones we don't like, we can just ignore.

Deborah Walker said...

I've done this by dreaming, gone to bed thinking about a story problem and waking up with a solution. Alas, the finished prose is never as perfect as the dream.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

I became disillusioned with "The Secret" when I failed to see how one obtains the title "Visionary" as showcased in the movie version of the book. I want to be Mike Offutt, Visionary. But no one will give it to me... /cries in a corner.

Liz A. said...

Yeah, I run with the woo woo crowd too. I'm looking forward to your fung shui post.

Tanya Reimer said...

"New Age allergy!" Made me giggle. Funny.

I agree with this strategy, countless times I've left a scene unwritten with notes on where I'd like to see it go, not sure how to get there. When it comes to me, I go back and do it.
Always thought I was insane, nice to know that not forcing it works for others too.

Adina West said...

Love this post Elizabeth. :-)

New follower.

jkraus8464 said...

Love your blog. Now I see why you liked the story on mine. I am following you.

Kari Marie said...

I love this post. Thank you for sharing, I can't wait to learn more. I've always believed there was some credence to New Age thinking.