“When the Muse comes She doesn’t tell you to write; / She says get up for a minute, I’ve something to show you, stand here.” –Michael Goldman
In a previous post I commented on my struggle to read Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. The Blackstone Audio edition of Pilgrim, narrated by Tavia Gilbert, transformed my struggle into an epiphany.
As difficult as Pilgrim is to read, I am thrilled I found a way to access it. The book’s content is not interesting to me; but, Dillard’s writing style is poetic. The sound of her words, her detailed descriptions, and the exuberance of her feelings are breathtaking. The Muse had something to show Annie. And Annie shows us what she saw from where the Muse told her to stand.
“Show, don’t tell,” writers are told. “Use the words you have to paint pictures.” Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is about seeing; and, Dillard shows us what it means not only to see but to be “present” in the moment. Dillard writes to the bottom of every scene she describes. That’s probably why Pilgrim won the Pulitzer Prize.
I wonder what the Muse wants to show me. She comes and often I catch only a glimpse. Maybe I don’t stand in the right spot.
I’ve felt I was led by the Muse; but, nothing of the depth Dillard describes. I know you can’t just sit and wait for the Muse to tell you where to stand. You have to write. A lot. The Muse can only tell you where to stand if you show up.
I’ve begun writing many times waiting for the Muse. Until I read the lines of Michael Goldman’s poem, I thought writing was taking dictation from the Muse. Goldman turns that idea on its head.
“Stand here,” says the Muse. “What do you see?”
The Muse is not going to tell me what she expects me to see. She’s showing me what is there to see. It is up to me to find the words to describe what I see.
I’ve written enough to know the difference between showing and telling. I can spot it in my writing and I am quick to point it out to fellow writers in critique groups.
We tend to write the way we speak and end up telling because so much of every day speech is telling. We say or show little of the affect of our experiences.
“I’ve something to show you, stand here.” Often what I am shown is a metaphor. When that happens I pay attention. It has happened several times.
Sometimes I resist following the Muse. I’m involved in another project and don’t want to be distracted. I make note of it what the Muse shows me; but, I don’t always get around to writing about it. Ignoring the Muse’s inspiration leaves me spinning my creative wheels as I stubbornly pursue my own agenda.
The Muse is patient and continues to show up with images, scenes, and metaphors. She doesn’t care what you do with them. As long as you show up, the Muse will show up, too.
“Stand here,” says the Muse. My eye catches an object, a metaphor. I don’t take dictation because I have to get what the object means on my own. The Muse’s job is to suggest where to stand to see the scene to its best advantage.
The line from Michael Goldman’s poem handed me a paradigm shift. Reading Dillard’s book has more than served its purpose.
A simple declarative sentence. “Stand here,” says the Muse. See the universe unfold before your eyes.
“Catch it if you can,” says Annie Dillard.