A Gift to My Muse

When was the last time you gave your creative muse a solid week of your time?

I don’t believe I ever had before last week. But there I was, spending 7 hours a day at The Writer’s Center in Maryland, participating in what the instructor labeled a “writing staycation.” As in a “staycation,” we went home to our own beds at night, but there was no “vacation” here. It was work.

This was my professional home last week. It's a fantastic resource in Bethesda, Maryland, containing marvelously supportive writers and frighteningly decrepit bathrooms.

Ten of us arrived at 10 am on Monday morning, ready to spend dedicated time on our personal writing projects, and nine of us were still there at 5 pm on Friday afternoon. I can’t speak for the others, but my creative-writing productivity in that one week surpassed what I had accomplished in the last month, both in volume and quality.

Our instructor used the time to make finishing edits to her first novel. Another student worked on compiling into book form letters from an ancestor who was a Medal of Honor winner in the Civil War. Yet another student worked on a novella set at a 1990s competitive bridge tournament. We had an aspiring playwright and a lawyer/poet working on a book to advise law-school graduates how to harmoniously connect with the workplace.

We were productive. But something else happened last week. Through early-morning and late-afternoon creativity exercises guided by our instructor, a mid-afternoon walk along a nearby nature trail, and a variety of brown-bag lunch speakers, we become more than just a collection of autonomous solo creators.

We became a creative family of sorts, a support group and sounding board.

This was not a writer’s workshop. No one read their writing aloud or distributed written copies. As such, we offered no critique of others’ work.

We did share, throughout the week, the types of writing projects we were pursuing. We were not seeking feedback, however. Instead, we were offering a bit of ourselves, contributing to our bond.

The space where I honored my muse each day. Our instructor spruced up the dreary space with decor brought from home.

On Friday, our instructor had us make some promises to our muses, commitments to carry forward from our week. We are going to support each other in this.

Later this week, I am meeting at a local coffee shop with one of the other participants. We will replicate the week by sitting beside each other, engrossed in our own writing but through our very presence holding each other to their commitment to their muse.

I am also in the process of assembling a writer’s group that will include one of the other participants.

In July, our instructor is having us to her home for brunch, to allow us to reconnect and share how we’ve stayed true to our muse.

I was on a creative high all week. Now, as I return to my routine, I am filled with anxiety, worried about a week lost from chasing much-needed freelance income. I had to decline a last-minute request to cover a local event for aΒ  publishing client, and my mind is filled with other unknown lost opportunities. A voice inside me is saying I was selfish to give my muse an entire week when I have a wife and children and bills.

I’ll soon have to work even harder to find balance between my muse and my professional obligations. In June I begin a low-residency MFA in Writing program with a 10-day residency in Montpelier, Vermont. There will be no income-generating writing then, only intense work followed by six months of MFA-related writing involving about 25 hours per week. That pattern will last for two years, with the expense not just of time but of tuition.

As loyal readers know, late last year I returned to an art-committed life. The word “commitment” is key. I need income, but I also need to embrace my creativity. Over time, I hope my creative writing and my MFA contribute to my financial well-being, but that hope doesn’t cover this month’s mortgage payment.

Still, I have no regrets about how I spent last week. I have a good sense now of what I am capable of when I give my muse free rein. I am committed to honoring her, and she understands that she shares me with other life commitments.

About Patrick Ross

I'm the author of Committed: A Memoir of the Artist's Road.

25 Responses to “A Gift to My Muse”

  1. Oh, what I would give for a “writing staycation.” I admire your commitment to your muse and completely understand where you are coming from about that inner voice that says “selfish.” In a way, art is selfish, but, more so, it is necessary to your well-being. Glad you have no regrets for the time you gave your muse. And good luck with the MFA. I did mine and have never regretted it. Thanks for a great post!

  2. A writing staycation sounds like pure bliss!

    I know what you mean about the positive effect of working around others who are working. Parallel work sessions are part of the Kaizen-Muse creativity coaching model I use, and I just love it.

    What’s interesting is that you don’t even need to be in the same room. My work buddy and I just IM each other on Skype at the beginning of our work session, then call to talk about what we did at the end. Just knowing that she’s working too and that this is our special work time makes me incredibly focused and productive.

    The next time you question giving time to your creativity instead of income-generating tasks, go back and revisit one of your own posts, LOL. It’s the one I always think of when someone questions whether it’s legitimate to take time for art.

    I can’t remember the woman’s name, but she talked about how her father would make the family wait while he took photographs because the light was just right and he understood that he had a right to do that.

    I’ll say again a variation on what I said in response to that post: Creativity is what makes us human. Not something we should be willingly sidelining.πŸ™‚ So three cheers to you for giving it such a high priority in your life!

  3. I don’t even know you but am proud of you for jumping off and doing what you know you need to do. I am standing at the edge of the ice-cold water of that, but the beach is warm (and the beach helps pay the mortgage and my daughter’s college tuition). You may have already written about your decision in an earlier post (I am new to your blog) but I would love to hear about your process of deciding it would be OK for you to go this route. Like, what job did you leave and did your lifestyle have to change? How freaked out are you or did you get a sense of peace? What was your tipping point? The MFA is a dream for me, so I’m really happy to hear about you doing it in the midst of real life.

    • Welcome, Suzanne! The beach may be warm, but the water isn’t as cold once you’re fully immersed.

      I’ve explored some of your questions on the blog and will continue to do so. Short answer is that I stepped down as CEO of a nonprofit to be a freelance writer. I was inspired by the creatives I met while running that nonprofit, creatives who had taken their own leaps (I’m profiling some of them here on this blog). My family and I are trying to be frugal but hoping to weather through the temporary income drop. The timing seemed right on the MFA; I’ll finish it summer 2013, and my first child starts college that fall, so no overlapping tuition!πŸ™‚

      • Thanks, Patrick. I look forward to hearing more. We are smack in the middle of college tuition already for daughter #1. On the bright side, all those huge numbers just run together once they get up that high, so why not add some more?πŸ™‚

  4. What a beautiful post. What a beautiful experience. I love the way you honored your experience with this piece of writing.

    This post is brimming over with so much to feel and think about. I’m going to just savor this for now and let it sink in.

    So happy you had that wonderful opportunity. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    ~ Milli

  5. It sounds like a fabulously productive week, Patrick! πŸ™‚ And productive in a way that honors your creative spirit. The best kind.

    While you were away, I Tweeted you a ton of writer’s opportunity links. I didn’t read past the headlines, and don’t remember if any off income producing opportunities. (I think there were grant and competitions in there, could be!). I hope some of them come in handy for you and/or some of your other writer friends. I’m busy focusing my income earning energies on art, myself.

    May your mortgage be paid with ease, your family be well cared for without (painful) effort and your muse be blissfully satisfied! πŸ™‚

    Best,

    Amy

    • Hi Amy,

      I’m catching up on my tweet feed now and did see that you sent some links. Thanks for thinking of me and my fellow writers!

      On your last point, I’ve been telling my muse today how blissfully satisfied she’ll be getting to keep living in a house with the note kept current…

  6. One week dedicated fully to creating in the company of other creatives sounds divine! I need to find a visual art equivalent… Maybe with better bathrooms, though. πŸ™‚

    • You won’t regret it! And one bit of good news was the new director of the Center telling us he wants to upgrade the bathrooms as much as we want him to…πŸ™‚

  7. Congratulations on your commitment Patrick…Well done!

  8. That’s awesome- thanks for explaining what ou did there- it sounds fabulous- did you get a scholarship to attend this? I might have missed that post. I have always wanted to do this and there was one in New England that you could go free of charge for a seven day writing retreat- I was going to apply and then learned I was pregnant and now with a new baby it won’t be possible for some time- still kudos to you!

    Sometimes I feel like when I work on my manuscript for tooo long, like seven hour stretch- it blurs together- did you worry about that or find that happen at your retreat?

    • No scholarship but it was cheap on a cost-per-hour basis compared to some Writer’s Center courses. Wouldn’t have minded free! But as Sue points out above, you can create these (without guest lectures) with other writers for free.

      I couldn’t have written 7 hours daily. I did about 90 minutes of writing/editing twice a day (first day tons of writing, rest of the week revising and writing). I spent some time reviewing audio and video from the road trip (reviewing notes, essentially). I gave myself 30 minutes daily after lunch to read an unrelated work of fiction or nonfiction (Elle by Douglas Glover and Quotidiana by Patrick Madden), and about 30 minutes for Twitter!

  9. Love the concept of the writing staycation. Also love the idea of sitting and writing in a group, on our own projects. There’s synergy in that collective energy. Sounds like a great week. And, I bet you’ll find that spending all that time on your own writing project is just the fuel you need to chase those free-lance projects.

    • That’s a good way of putting it. I’ve secured paid work for two articles this week and stumbled across some contacts willing to talk for a longer article I’m working on. I certainly jumped in with enthusiasm on that front this week!

  10. Hi Patrick. Sounds fabulous. I look forward to meeting you at VCFA’s residency in June! I’ll be graduating. I think you’ll find the same amazing spirit of community there.

    • Thanks, Sion! Your last residency and my first! I’ve spoken with a couple of alums and “community” was the word that kept coming up. I’m looking forward to joining that.

  11. What did YOU choose to write about?πŸ™‚
    Sounds wonderful. I’m sure this is the beginning of a great adventure. I highly recommend setting up a writing group. Like ‘souled’ folks inspire each other and help tame the anxiety that accompanies the creative endeavor.
    Good stuff! I’m so excited for you!
    Maryse

    • Ah, I’m being a reporter again, sharing other people’s stories and not my own! Bad habit.

      I worked on a book I’m writing about my cross-country road trip, the one this blog was created to help share.

  12. Wow, Patrick – that sounds fantastic! A writing “staycation” really appeals to me.
    I think it’d be refreshing to spend time with other writers and focus on writing, rather than critiquing. I don’t think there are any events like this for writers in the UK, but I think I’ll take a quick look around anyway!
    Great post – really inspiring.πŸ™‚

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