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bewitched, bothered, and be-mused
finders keepers? i wish!
by roger striffler

$39.95 was going to change my life forever. It was going to be the best investment I ever made, and years later, when people asked me the secret of my success, I would smile and say "$39.95". It was a simple fix to an age-old problem.

You see, like most aspiring writers, I am plagued with a fickle Muse. This is, of course, nothing new. Throughout history, the Muse has been infamous for being unpredictable, to say the least. She spends hours, days, months, sometimes years, dancing and singing just beyond the sight and reach of the struggling artist. She tortures him with her absence. Taunting. Teasing. Then appears suddenly, bestowing her gift in fiery moments of...oh, what's the word? Damn! See what I mean?

Since the time of the Ancient Greeks, the Muse has symbolized the elusive nature of inspiration and creativity. Today, she holds a similar place in our lives. In the heart of this technological age, we cling to the romantic notion of the Muse. It adds a bit of mystery to our craft, making it seem somehow more magical. It’s a fun explanation for those times when the words just flow and our hands can barely keep up, when the story unfolds and the light shines brightly on the scene before us. And, let’s face it…it’s a good excuse for the times when the words don’t come; when we sit and stare blankly at the paper or the computer screen. When writing, as my friend says, “is like trying to shine a flashlight on a shadow.”

It should be pretty clear then, that time spent with your Muse is a pretty valuable thing; the kind of thing that can make or break a career. Definitely something you’d want to maximize. This leaves us with two problems to solve; a) how do I attract a Muse?, and, b) how do we capture this magical inspiration she brings?

Now, in my case, a) is simple. Not because of any particular trait or skill I might have, but because my Muse loves to visit me. She does it quite often, as a matter of fact. The problem is, she has kind of a sick sense of humor. She loves to give me this inspiration in situations where she knows that I can’t use it.

She visits me fairly often in the car. As a result, the great American novel has been born, lived, and died, several times in my Jeep between Raleigh and Philadelphia. Casts of interesting, colorful characters have come to life, taken part in mysterious intrigues, and shared delightfully witty repartee. Great plots have been formed, seeded by a simple thought and expanded as the miles rolled by. And all have perished - lost to the dust of time - for the simple reason of not having been written down. The fact of the matter is, while driving long, monotonous stretches of highway may free your mind, it doesn't free your hands, and I strongly recommend against taking pen in hand at 70 mph.

But, it’s not just the car. Alcohol works wonders. Give me a couple of drinks, and there she is by my side. “Bartender, another glass of inspiration for me and my friend!” A couple more cold ones and I become the poet of the universe. I grab a pen and write until my hand is cramped. It’s good stuff too. Some of my best…at least, I think it is. It’s hard to tell, because every morning I find the pages missing, replaced by ones on which it appears some pigeons have been dancing, after walking across an inkpad. Damn birds.

So for me, the problem is clearly one of capturing the inspiration – which, as I’m sure you’ve been wondering, is where the $39.95 comes in.

In a moment of supreme at-one-ness with the obvious, I purchased a pocket tape recorder. Never again would I be caught empty handed! No more lost thoughts on the highway! No more pigeon tracks where my words should be! I would record the ideas whenever, wherever, they came, and I would write them down at my leisure.

I was so happy. So proud. So wrong.

In an unrivaled wave of enthusiasm I began to record my thoughts and observations everywhere I went, and I very quickly learned several important things…

1) A person who cannot remember things he thought of while driving in the car is not likely to remember to bring the cassette recorder, extra tapes or batteries.

2) If you think you sound bad when hear yourself on your answering machine, you cannot possibly imagine how bad you will sound drunk off your butt, slurring your words into a cassette recorder. Believe me when I tell you that it is the vocal equivalent of pigeons and an ink pad.

3) There is a difference between writing, and storytelling. While it obviously takes great skill to tell a story, it takes an entirely different skill to write one. Writing is a visual activity. Whether you use a pen, pencil or keyboard, the act of seeing the words, organizing, massaging, and arranging them is integral to the whole process. The flow of the sentence, the timing, the way that the words play against each other to carry across the point…this is an activity more akin to sculpting; you have to add clay to see where clay is missing. You have to give your words roots and grow them from there.

So, the tape thing didn’t work out, and I still haven’t perfected catching my muse. I still write scary bird marks on cocktail napkins and lose great stories in the car. But, in the long run I learned something very valuable about my relationship with my writing, and that’s worth a whole lot more than $39.95.


See that job title? Check it out: "Spy". How cool is that? I know, you're probably wondering what it means to be a spy for an international organization like Intrepid Media, huh? Well I'd love to tell you, but I can't. It's all part of the spy game, baby.

more about roger striffler


the scariest book i own
and it isn't stephen king
by roger striffler
topic: writing
published: 3.19.00

a poem of present memory
by roger striffler
topic: writing
published: 6.25.01


jael mchenry
5.26.00 @ 9:41a

I have the same problem: brilliance at the wrong time. Generally it's right as I'm falling asleep: an idea for a new story, or rewriting an old one, or a great title, and it seems SO incredibly obvious that there's NO way I could forget it. And then I do. My muse appears in the form of the various brothers from Malcolm in the Middle: cute but mean. And right now the youngest brother keeps saying: More colons. Why am I using so many colons? Sigh.

joe procopio
5.26.00 @ 9:50a

I have the exact opposite problem that Jael has. I get the most horrible, ridiculous ideas just as I am falling asleep. However, since these ideas and the timing seems so prohpetic, I'm often compelled to write these ideas down. I end up waking then next morning trying to figure out why a column called "Lunchmeat Roundabout" was a good idea.

michelle von euw
6.22.00 @ 3:05p

I have the evil-twin-brother of Jael's muse. He whispers to me in the middle of a long dream, this is it, this is the novel that will bring you fame and fortune and eventually a oscar nomination. But then I wake up and realize the dream was so bad that even Matt Damon wouldn't option it.

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