Author of the forthcoming novel, The Only Living Man With A Hole In His Head, inspired by the true story of Phineas Gage.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Six Freakishly Effective Ways to Court the Muse

Every artist, whether musician, painter, writer, etc. has their own way of courting the muse. I used to be able to write with music blasting away in the background or on a crowded plane with the food service cart bumping my arm (when airlines actually handed out meals, as tasteless as they were) or even at times at a ball game, if the creative juices were flowing. Inspiration could hit at anytime and it was imperative that I got the words down on paper without hesitation. Now, I find the atmosphere is as quiet a space as possible. Turn off the phone, the television, create a completely serene place. What about other writers? Below, I am posting an article from the magazine, Mental Floss, that details some of the unusal ways writers throughout history have found inspiration.

Six Freakishly Effective Ways to Court the Muse

Smell the Success
German writer Friedrich von Schiller composed the 1785 poem “Ode to Joy”, which Beethoven later set to music in his 9th Symphony. What inspired such a passion for happiness? Rotten apples. The poet insisted that he needed the smell of the decomposing fruit in the air to write, so he kept his desk drawer well stocked. But here's the strange part – Schiller may not have been off his rocker. In 1985, researchers at Yale University found that the scent of spiced apples can lift a person's mood significantly and stave off panic attacks.

Get A New Hairdo
Ancient Greek orator Demosthenes found early in his career that he had trouble staying on task while studying or writing. It was tempting to throw on his sandals and go have some fun. However, Demosthenes found a clever way to stay focused on work. When he felt wanderlust, he'd shave off half his hair. Knowing that he appeared way too ridiculous to leave the house, Demosthenes would be able to concentrate on his writing for a couple of months at a time – or at least until his hair grew back.

Take Orders From a Dog
Often times the only thing standing between an artist and true greatness is the lack of a good pet. German composer Richard Wagner relied on his spaniel, Peps, to help him through the creation of “Tannhauser”, an epic opera about the struggle between sacred and profane love. Peps had his own stool next to Wagner's piano and, whenever Wagner was having trouble with a passage, he'd take direction from his pooch. In the process, Peps would go berserk when something didn't agree with his ear, and Wagner would tweak the opera to please him.

Play Dead
When poet Dame Edith Sitwell was a young girl growing up in Victorian England, her parents would lock her into an iron frame to straighten out her spine. Sitwell despised them for it and she rarely spoke to her parents later in life, even as she became increasingly famous for her poems about the London blitz during World War Two. The countless hours that she spent locked inside of that iron frame may have had a peculiar effect on her mind. As an adult, to cultivate a state of tranquility, Sitwell would wake up every morning and lie down in a coffin. After a few hours, she'd feel calm enough to write.

Turn Hatred Into Motivation
Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen despised Swedish playwright August Strindberg, but he couldn't have written some of the greatest works of modern without him. The two traded jabs for well over a decade at the turn of the twentieth century – Strindberg accused Ibsen of copying his work, claiming the Ibsen's “Hedda Gabler” ripped off his “Miss Julie”. Ibsen countered that Strindberg was psychotic. And Ibsen may have had a point – Strindberg was given to catatonic spells and often lashed out with a knife at invisible enemies behind his back. Ibsen loathed Strindberg so fiercely that he hung a portrait of his nemesis over his desk, which he used as a particularly masochistic form of inspiration. Ibsen would tell visitors, “I cannot write a line without that madman standing and staring down at me with those crazy eyes.”

Lay Everything Bare
Clothes can be such a distraction. Victor Hugo, the celebrated French author of realist novels that would become sentimental musicals (Les Miserables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame), conquered writer's block by shutting himself in a room, completely naked, with just a desk, a pen and paper. He ordered servants not to give him his clothing until he'd finished working. To write his final novel, Ninety-Three, Hugo took his nudity outdoors. Every morning, he'd stand in the buff on his roof and pour a bucket of water over his head. Fully refreshed, he'd then go into a glass cage, which he called his “lookout” and write standing at a podium - still naked.

Victor Hugo was not the only author who found inspiration in the nude. As part of his creative process, D.H. Lawrence, who authored the erotic novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover, would remove all his clothes and climb mulberry trees in his yard. The rough would stir his imagination and then he'd sit down to write. Benjamin Franklin, during the time he spent in France, loved doing as much as he could in the bath - playing chess, flirting, and of course, writing. He loved his bath time so much that in the 1780's he imported the first bathtub to the United States! And, every morning in his Manhattan apartment, Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Cheever would get dressed in a suit and hat, and take the elevstor downstairs with the other commuters. But – and this is where it got interesting – instead of getting out in the lobby, Cheever would continue down to a windowless storage room in the basement, where he would strip to his boxers and work until lunch. He'd then put his suit on again and take the elevator back upstairs.