The Muse Is a Cat Lady

April 18, 2018 § 10 Comments

zsmith muse.jpgBy Sandy Smith

If you’ve been writing for any length of time, you’re acquainted with the chilly dread of staring at a blank page and coming up dry. So how do you catch yourself a muse? In the old days, you could summon the Muses by traveling to Mount Helicon and performing supplications or having a god intercede on your behalf. Thankfully, modern-day muses (having dropped the pretentious uppercase) are more accessible. They are notoriously picky though, so everything in your arsenal has to be on point if you want to successfully enlist a muse in your battle against writer’s block.

Ideally, your writing will take place in an area with sufficient privacy. You should optimally have an office of your own. If you can’t have an office of your own, have a closet. If you can’t have a closet, sit in your car. If you don’t have a car, sit at your kitchen table, but wear an afghan over your head to discourage interruptions.

You will need a Mac, particularly if you ever venture out to write in public. (Note: appearances matter, especially if you are courting the muse at Starbucks.) If you cannot have a Mac, you can get by with a Windows-based device, but for the love of God, get a laptop. Towers are for accountants. You want to be ready to write in a coffee shop at a moment’s notice. You could get by with a notebook, but then you run the risk of looking like a hobbyist writing in a journal and the muse might not recognize you as a Serious Writer.

At some point, though, you will need to put words down on paper instead of typing them into a computer. This can happen if you write conspicuously (and of course you do) and find yourself somewhere laptops would be considered gauche, e.g., your kid’s ballet studio, a fancy restaurant, church. The muse will not take kindly to waiting, so be prepared with a quality notebook and a very expensive pen. Do not show up with a ninety-nine-cent composition notebook (unless you have decoupaged the cover with attractive vintage postcards, say) or a single-subject spiral-bound pad. If you must choose something with a spiral binding, stick to a 6×8-inch trim or, better yet, choose a steno pad.

Regarding pens, you may have a nostalgic preference for the retro Bic Crystal that you used to scribble down your tenth-grade poetic angst; the muse will not. Woo her instead with a Montblanc or a Waterman. If you really want to make your muse swoon, you’ll need a fountain pen. If you fancy pencils, it’s okay. Just, please, either spend some money on a decent mechanical pencil or get the Blackwing 602, like Steinbeck (a guy the muses clearly dug).

It’s common knowledge that muses love office supplies—have plenty on hand. Stock up on index cards and Post-It notes in all sizes and colors. Buy legal pads large and small, Sharpies bold and fine, and gel pens in every color. If you’re fortunate enough to have a home workspace, decorate it with wall-sized white boards and corkboards. Crowd the corkboards with multicolored index cards featuring pithy writing quotes. Remember, a whiteboard filled with convoluted diagrams of a story outline is like a roadmap that will lead the muse directly to you.

Don’t skimp on arty curios. Station them on bookshelves, on the windowsill over your desk, on your actual desk. Make sure you curate an exhibit of these talismans that is blatantly writer themed. Pencil boxes, antique typewriters, and vintage spectacles do nicely.

Get a cat. Consider what Muriel Spark had to say about this: “If you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially some piece of writing or paper-work, you should acquire a cat. Alone with the cat in the room where you work … the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle placidly under the desk lamp … The cat will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding. And the tranquility of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk…” The muse is a cat lady.

If all the above fail to coax and retain a muse, secure a writing assignment with a deadline. That usually does the trick.
Sandy Smith is a New York transplant living in Las Vegas with her family. She’s a freelance editor specializing in YA, and she’s currently working toward her MFA in Creative Writing at UCR/Palm Desert. Her short stories have appeared in The Offbeat, Gravel magazine, and the MacGuffin.


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§ 10 Responses to The Muse Is a Cat Lady

  • Lindsey Graves says:

    I already feel more inspired!

  • Chandra Graham Garcia says:

    This was fun. Thanks for the great read!

  • blankpaper11 says:

    Wonderful! Some years ago I wrote a letter my missing muse, only I called him Mojo.

    Hello Mojo? Are you here – on this blank page? I used to always find you here. if you’re not here, then where are you? Where can I find you – in an old photo, on a walk, or in a sink full of dirty dishes? Mojo, are you at work, lurking somewhere? Maybe you are sitting in a hall watching or hiding somewhere. Maybe you are out wandering around, waiting for me. I miss you mojo. You used to help me so much when I sat down to a blank page. Where are you? I have searched for you everywhere, sweeping the floor, folding laundry,looking through old photos, ransacking files of memories, even re-reading other projects you helped me with in the past.. I even looked you up online; it says you are self-confidence, self-assurance, a belief in ones self’s display of a skill. Yup, that’s you! Now that I know what you are, will it make it easier to find you? Why did you leave anyway? Where are you hiding? Why? Are you trying to tell me something by vanishing?
    Or was it something I did – or didn’t do? That might be it! Maybe you think I deserted you! I’m sorry, I should have taken care of our friendship, but here I am blaming you! How rude of me! If I promise to call on you in the peaceful silence of early mornings, will you come back? I miss you. My blank pages miss you. I will anxiously await your reply.
    Your old friend,
    Margi Bettelyoun

  • I have always found the notion of a muse silly, thank you for making it sillier. (Even so, I use a Mac laptop, my second in 14 years, a journal with a spiral large enough to contain the fountain pen, which is like my dad’s and was gift from my husband and I have carried everywhere for 20 years. I haven’t counted the number of journals.)

  • “Retro Bic Crystal that you used to scribble down your tenth-grade poetic angst” So that is my problem. Now it all makes sense! Thanks for sharing! Deadlines tend to be my biggest motivator. LOL! Love this!

  • But, but…I love my Bic crystal pen! Guess I’m doomed. I do have cats, though, so maybe…. nah.

  • Loved this! I must say, the BIc Cristal 1.6mm pen is THE ONLY pen I ever want to use.

  • Yes! Cats and deadlines are my jam.

  • Love it and agree, except that I prefer dogs. (Kitty-cats make me sneeze, but they sure are pretty to look at!) Bic is best!

  • Ah-Ha… and so it makes sense to many 😉 The slowing down, the Serenity that must be within in order for IN-spiration to come out and to be expressed in ways that others can relate. ❤

    In that light, it also makes sense to me why I am a Dog Lady. My inspiration source is constant. It comes from my inner source where serenity has always existed. It bounces off of long past musings found in many little memos tucked away here and there in a long life-time of jotting and journalling privately as my understandings grew and developed and continue developing. It leaps from reviewing images of pictures and memories that I have stored. It bounces out of the twinkling eyes of others that I talk to as the light of comprehension and understanding. It reflects in every thing of beauty that I see in the natural world around me; things that, too often, I seem to be the only one who notices.

    And yet, as time marches on, it also comes together in trickles and rushing torrents of Other's Enlightenments as we connect together in great rivers and contributories raging over waterfalls and in rapids to reach the vast oceans of wisdoms coming together. My Muse explodes in the boundless energy of Unconditional Love for all that is expressed in the bouncing body, the clearly enlightened accepting gaze and wagging tail of a Dog. Such energy cannot be easily constrained by rules, command, or deadlines. It does not willingly permit itself to be chained to a desk or a time-table when it is perfectly willing to flow easily, to stop and smell and taste each flower or blade of grass, or to stand staunchly facing the breeze to sniff each nuance of the fragrances carried on the wind. When that need has been perfectly satisfied, then my Muse rests calmly curled comfortably at my feet while the inspiration pours itself through my finger-tips and on to many and endless blank pages to be filled. And at the end of the day, again curls comfortably and completely relaxed by my side as we both drift away on the currents of peaceful slumber.

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