The spark of creativity is a tricky thing. Sometimes the idea is waiting there just below the surface, but it doesn’t seem to quite ignite. At others, it roars out of control, consuming everything in its path. Other sparks fizzle out and die before they’ve had a chance to reach their full potential. This is the constant struggle of any creator – to get the fire started, and keep it steadily burning. Any muse worth her salt knows how to play with fire.
I have a confession to make – I was a Girl Scout. From Daisy on up to Senior, I spent a lot of time in uniform, sold a lot of cookies and visited a lot of convalescent homes. But there are two things I learned from the girl scouts that I will never forget. The first is the Girl Scout motto: Be prepared. And the second is how to build and tend to a fire. Since then I’ve built fires, cooked over them, and on one very interesting evening been the demo girl for a fireplay class. But I’ve found those fire skills most helpful in my capacity as a muse.
Every good Girl Scout knows that the success of your fire depends on the quality of your kindling. You can’t start a fire with damp wood any more than you can be an inspiration to someone without anything interesting to bring to the table. It’s no surprise the muses of Greek mythology were the daughters of Mnemosyne, the goddess of Memory. A muse needs a mind like a steel trap and vast bank of information to draw from. A good education, uncanny google-fu, and a thirst for knowledge will stand you in good stead when it comes to inspiring a creator. He’s working on a story about serial killers? It might interest him to know that a disproportionate number of serial killers have connections to the Sacramento valley. You know she’s looking for a strange and ominous location? Perhaps a poke around the Atlas Obscura is in order. You never know just which piece of info might touch off the flame.
Kindling is important, but you can’t just light some moss and toss logs on top of it. Sticks need to be arranged just so. Larger pieces of wood are laid around, and care must be taken not to restrict airflow. There’s a structure to fire building, just as there’s a structure to the written word. Writing is difficult. Understanding how a script works is not. Comic scripts, different types of page layouts, film scripts, and teleplays are all just a few clicks away on the internet. It’s a matter of hours to familiarize yourself intimately with them. Dramatic structure is more fluid and mutable, but you’ve been exposed to it from infancy. Having a firm handle on how a story works will allow you to provide more valuable feedback on a creator’s work. Gut reactions are good, but informed gut reactions are especially useful.
So the fire is built, and it’s crackling along nicely, but a muse’s work is never done. A fire needs tending, just like any creative spirit. Sometimes it’s as simple as listening to a creator vent over a character that won’t seem to behave. Offering a shoulder to cry on when things go poorly. A kick in the pants when they’re mired in the doldrums. A good old fashioned pat on the back for a job well done. Sometimes, a well timed delivery of booze is just what they need. Better yet, Girl Scout cookies.
As any Girl Scout will tell you, fire is a responsibility. So is the creative spark that a creator chooses to share with you. Being allowed to share in their creative process is a gift, one deserving of respect and care. Help them tend the fire, and you’ll enjoy basking in the glow of its warmth. Unless they ask you to wear your old Girl Scout uniform. Then whip out your folding knife and remind them of your safety circle. A muse, like a Girl Scout, is always prepared.
Photo by Dan Wickline