We went camping this weekend. We packed up the tent, sleeping bags, food, and an oversized, overexcited dog into the car and drove for five hours to go sleep on the dirt.
Normally, I’d be psyched about this, but several months back I hurt my back, and it has made any physical effort, or really any movement other than laying down, a real pain in the back (haha). I told myself that it’d be ok. I’d hold down the tent, go on shorter, shallow hikes, and write.
I pictured myself sitting next to the tent, notebook on my lap, wrapped in a blanket while our campfire warded off the chill and the bugs. I waived optimistically to my husband and fur-baby as they went off on a longer hike. I was sad that I wasn’t going to be burning mad calories like they were, but I’d be using up those creative juices. I knew I’d get a good chunk of my next chapter drafted out.
Instead, I got colder sooner than I thought I would because I didn’t have the blanket I’d imagined. The bugs were everywhere because we didn’t bring wood for a campfire, and I was finding the book I’d brought much more stimulating. Every time I did try to write I would get distracted by a noise, or I simply couldn’t make the creative juices flow. It was as if they’d frozen along with my toes.
Note: we were up by the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, and it got to low 60’s, which is freezing in my book.
I simply didn’t want to write. As romantic as writing while camping sounds, I really just wanted to be hiking, or fishing, or doing something than feeling like the good wife waiting for her husband to return home from his adventures.
I was frustrated. Beyond annoyed. I wanted to throw my notebook in the tent and ignore it. It was something wrong with me. I was sure of it.
But it wasn’t me.
I just didn’t have my muse.
Now, some people think of a muse as a person or image that gives you that special gusto to write, but it doesn’t have to be either of those things. For me, my muse is a place, and a specific set of items that allow me to get comfortable when I write.
It used to be classical music. I would only play it while working, and it was almost like I was one of Pavlov’s dog salivating to the dinner bell. It signalled my brain that it was time to work. That it got to be too much. I’d focus too much on the music. So, out it went.
Now I work in complete silence except for the mild drone of the fish tank in the corner of the room.
I need something warm to drink. Honestly, I just need to be warm. I prefer a blanket around my legs even though it makes waddling to the kitchen rather awkward. I do highly prefer my swaddled legs to be accompanied by either tea or coffee to drink.
I need these things. I need to feel in control of my surroundings, and when I was sitting in front of that tent trying to make my muse come to me it’s no wonder why it didn’t arrive.
I used to feel bad because when other friends were getting to write together I would always feel rude by saying I had to leave. It’s not that I didn’t want to write with them. It’s that I simply couldn’t. I couldn’t feel comfortable with other people shifting to get comfortable. Other people sipping their coffee. I’d love to be able to write in a group, but for me it just doesn’t work.
I used to make up excuses. I’d say I had somewhere else to be. I had a doctor’s appointment. I lied, and it stressed me out.
It stressed me out because I was being dishonest to my friends and to myself.
I need to be willing to say what conditions I can write it, and you should too. If for some reason something just isn’t working in your current setup, and you have the means to try and adjust it to help yourself, then I think you really should try.
If we can’t write because our muse isn’t showing up, then something needs to change. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.
I went camping with the intention of getting work done, but despite coming back with literally not a single word written, I did learn something about myself and my muse. Distractions and noise are killers for my creativity, so being surrounded by beautiful woods and chirping birds might encourage someone else to write the best work they’ve ever written, but for me it just made me miss my slippers and coffee.
My muse, if we want to humanize her, might be a bit of a hermit, but if I want to keep writing I’ve got to give her what she wants, and she is not up for camping.
Side note: I was trying to find a picture to contrast the happy camping picture at the top of this post, so I searched for “solitude” on several free photo websites. They ALL show someone standing at the top of a mountain, breathing in the fresh air, and looking rejuvenated. That sound? That’s the sound of my muse laughing at me. She’s also apparently sarcastic as heck.