“The Muse is an ornery creature and rarely comes when called. She wears feathers in her hair and birkenstocks on her feet and is often out in the woods when you are home at your keyboard.” – Jane Yolen
On the day Isaac Asimov died, the muses of the world formed a union because they no longer wanted to be at the beck and call of prolific writers who expected free ideas 24/7. Some authors were exempt, including Nora Roberts who–according to informed sources–has a stable full of muses that supply “enough ideas for ten normal writers” just to keep those bestsellers flowing.
In school, writers are encouraged to become bold, insane or desperate as a means of churning out poems, plays and promises to publishers. Usually, this procedure fails. Why? Nobody knows what to say any more. Enter, the writing prompt. This is a sentence, paragraph or shot of Scotch that starts a writer writing. If your muse is on vacation, here are some a few prompts to get you started:
- Hire a mob hit man to shoot you in the knee every day you write less than 5,000 words. (Alternately, you can write about a writer who does this, especially after both of your knees are in casts.)
- Write a modestly erotic novel with the title “Josie has a screw loose.” (Try to avoid bad puns or the kinds of unsavory words your mamma taught you to avoid using unless you were being threatened by a hit man.)
- Visualize the end of human life as we know it. How would the smarter insects react to that? (This is likely to be a cautionary tale.)
- For a somewhat speculative story, visualize what might happen to literature as we know it if William Shakespeare returned to the world of the living and started writing chick lit. (Potentially, this could be a bittersweet comedy that catches the conscience of the reader.)
- After having an affair with an older woman, a graduate goes into the plastics business.
- Write a letter to Nora Roberts in which you explain patiently that since she has more ideas than she can shake a stick at, you’ll be willing to take thirty or forty of them off her hands assuming she doesn’t get any lawyers involved. (If you’re not bold enough to do this, write about a bold protagonist who writes the famous author with unintended and calamitous results.)
- Consider writing an essay about the origin of the birkenstock, citing informed sources about what might induce a person wear such a thing in this day and age.
- A writer—possibly you—becomes trapped in the Twilight Zone and realizes that when s/he calls 911, s/he can only speak in limericks.
- After hearing that the Eskimos have over 300 words for “snow,” you bet the guys down at the factory that you can put all of them (the words for snow, not the guys) into an epic poem of great beauty about an old newspaper publisher whose favorite possession is a sled named “Rosebud.”
- Fearing that he has immeasurably harmed the environment by making the plastic bags used by stores, an old man shuts down his factory and goes into the strip mining business “to even things out.”
- While sending an e-mail, a disoriented preacher realizes that the entire online world is nothing but but an illusion or, possibly, a Fellini movie or Dali painting, and does on a quest to return the world to real reality. (Speculative fiction.)
- Write a black comedy about a cult that resolves to get all the sleds off the streets, hills, vales, or wherever they may be, entitled “Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May.”
- A man spends a lifetime climbing Mt. Everest only to find a wise man at the top who says “coming up here was damn stupid.” What happens after that?
- You (or a fictional character sort of like you) discover that “your” muse is cheating by “keeping company” with the plumber at the local recycling plant and resolve “to set things right” (without resorting to foul language) by drinking a potion that turns you into a powerful wizard who teaches the plumbers of the world a powerful, but amusing, lesson.
- What would happen if somebody, possibly you, brought Isaac Asimov back from the dead?
By the way, ideas like these don’t grow on trees. So, if none of them work for you, and you can’t get Isaac Asimov or Nora Roberts to help, you might want to think about sucking up to your muse with candy, praise, Scotch, and a new pair of birkenstocks (whatever the hell they are).