I believe that I have a muse, and she lives in the shower.
I fear that what I have just written may put me firmly in the category of those who are utterly insane, or those who are arrogant enough to believe the world should be hanging on their every word. Or – more simply – ‘writer’, which is a combination of the two.
Let me tell you about my creative process.
I am, ordinarily, a rather organised and systematic person. Thoughts strike me as I am reading or chatting, and I note them down in my iPod touch as I get them, creating a comfortingly long list of ideas for blog posts. This is not my muse: this is me being organised, hoarding the ideas for a rainy day.
On a typical day, I start my writing as all true writers do: by spending half an hour on Twitter, entering into spurious theological arguments and reading people whose writing is so intimidatingly good I feel I have nothing in me worth saying.
I then look at the list of rainy-day ideas, and contemplate them. I can sit there, then, for hours – but my muse will not be caught: I am Peter Pan chasing after his shadow, spilling thimbles and dogs in the process. I end up lying in bed with my iPad, staring at a blank screen: a disconsolate sprite, attempting to attach my shadow to my foot with a bar of soap. I cannot write then. It just doesn’t work.
So I store up two or three ideas and walk into the bathroom. I tell myself that I don’t have to write today; I shall just see what comes when I am not looking.
I don’t know what it is about the shower. I suppose other people find it in coffee shops or going on a walk – any activity where you are not using much brain or physical energy, and you go into automatic pilot. I will scrub my hair, and idly consider the two or three ideas. No pressure.
I switch the water on. I wait, like a small child, crouching in the grass with a piece of bread. I am not looking at the bird, I am not watching as it hops nearer. If it sees me looking, it will fly off. I will scrub my hair and feel the ideas, and see what emotion bubbles up. Just as soon as I feel something strongly, I know what it is I need to write about today. It is no matter if everyone is talking about that thing that the mega-church leader said – unless that’s what I am feeling deep in my bones that day, I should not write it.
Today, I am pondering the goodness of God. It’s just the wisp of an idea, and I don’t know what it means, so I rinse my hair through with water. I sit, holding out the crumb.
I see the glass steam up and I think about my Facebook feed. People share answers to prayer – and they end it with ‘God is good’. I do this too – sometimes it’s because I feel the need to be a bit more spiritual instead of just saying, ‘this cool thing happened to me’. It’s good to thank God.
I squeeze the shampoo onto my hand and rub it into my hair – where was I? God is good because He answers prayer.
Hang on a minute – God is good because He answers prayer? Does this mean His goodness is contingent on our answered prayer? That doesn’t sound right. I rinse out the water, enjoying the warmth and the feeling of timelessness and relaxation that comes from standing in a cubicle with nothing to do except wash myself.
I shampoo my hair again, and consider the implications. Is our ‘social media shorthand’ limiting the way we see God? So often my prayer life consists of: ‘thank you God for the good stuff in my life’, and ‘God – there’s some bad stuff/inconvenient stuff in my life – please sort it out.’ My Facebook feed shows the same pattern. We say: ‘the sun is shining – God is good.’ But what would it take for us to say, ‘it’s raining and miserable – God is good’?
I reach for the shampoo, feeling like I am on the cusp of something, like the bird is very near now – oh wait, did I already shampoo it? (This is the unfortunate side effect of having Important Thoughts in the shower – I cannot for the life of me recall how many times I have shampooed my hair. It may be once, it may be five times – there’s no way of telling).
I put down the shampoo, reach for the conditioner.
I realise the real question is this: what would it mean for me, Tanya Marlow, to be able to say, ‘I am severely ill and housebound with severe M.E. – God is good’? I stand in the shower, the hot water trickling down my body, but there’s suddenly a heat from within, and the emotion bubbles up from nowhere, and suddenly I am not asking that question but feeling it, feeling the cost and the pain of even asking it, my stomach tensing, eyes pricking with tears.
This is what I need to write about today. I cannot write anything else until I have written this.
I rinse my hair, step out of the shower, wrap myself in a towel and nod my thanks to the muse. My face is flushed, and I know that I have to start writing now, while my body is still warm, otherwise it won’t get done. If I so much as open Twitter, I am sunk.
I switch on my iPad and consider this: my best ideas only come when I am in the shower. If I lived my whole life in a hot tub I would be a certified GENIUS.
A version of this post was first published in 2013.
“I believe that I have a muse, and she lives in the shower.” NEW from @Tanya_Marlow – How to Find Your Muse:
“I start my writing as all true writers do: by spending half an hour on Twitter” NEW post from @Tanya_Marlow
“My muse will not be caught: I am Peter Pan chasing after his shadow” NEW from @Tanya_Marlow on being a writer:
“If I lived my whole life in a hot tub I would be a certified GENIUS.” – @Tanya_Marlow How to Find Your Muse:
Over to you:
- What helps you in your creativity? Where does your muse live?