Be Your Own Muse
Everything you've experienced is unique.
June 27, 2019
Many writers enjoy talking about muse, that elusive thing that brings unique inspiration to writing. But the reality is that we are our own best of all possible muses. Everything you do, everything you read, every emotion you feel, every new experience feeds your well of inspiration. Many of us block off that well, thinking the things that are common and ordinary in our lives couldn't possibly be sources of interest to other people. But the truth is really quite different. Everything you've experienced is unique in its own way and it all comes together to shape who you are as a person and therefore who you are as a writer.
Freelance writers generally work via commission. They don't originate the idea (much of the time) but they do bring their own pool of experience and expertise into the freelancing marketplace. Many children's writers overlook the possibilities of freelance writing since it's not what we think of as "normal" publishing in children's writing. Normal publishing is when you write something and then look for a market that will accept it (or you self-publish). Freelancing is quite different. In freelancing, the market contacts you with an assignment after you’ve sent them your information, or you pitch an idea and get a contract for it before you begin the writing.
So what does this have to do with your life experiences outside writing? Well, they are often part of the resume of a freelance writer. For example, freelance educational writers often include a list of personal interests. Do you ride horses as leisure activity? Put it in. Are you an organic gardener? Put it in. Do you knit, crochet, embroider, sew or engage in some other craft? Put that in too. The purpose of this list of leisure activities is to help the publisher see areas where you might bring a passion and an experience to an assigned piece. And the connections the publisher makes can sometimes be surprising. A writer who puts sewing as an interest might be assigned a biography on a clothing designer. A writer who grows a small organic garden each year might be offered a chance to write a book on genetically modified crops. And a writer who loves riding might be assigned a biography of a pony express rider or a piece on feral animals in America (which certainly includes horses). So your life experience can definitely lead to publication in the freelance sphere.
Then There Are Story Starters
Your list of passions can be great story starter fuel. Make a list of all the things you are either interested in (what kinds of books do you read, for example, or what kind of television and movies do you choose, or what kinds of museums do you like) or things you have done. The list should be long. Don't self-edit. Instead, list everything that comes to mind as you free associate items to add to interests and experiences.
Once you have a list, pick one at random and turn to your computer for research. Find something you don't know about that subject. For instance, if you love knitting, are you familiar with making plastic grocery bags into a kind of yarn? And do you know the things being done with this unusual recycled yarn? If you love riding, are you familiar with the evolutionary history of the horse? Are you familiar with the Przewalski's horse and its history? And from there, perhaps you might want to look at wild animals saved from extinction by human efforts. Peer deeply into the things you find interesting. You may find something totally new to fascinate you, and potentially to either include in your next fiction piece or to write nonfiction about. The best writing exercises are those that can eventually fuel publishable writing, so this one is well worth your time.
What Have You Written?
Sometimes it's worthwhile to view the things we've already written with a different viewpoint. Consider all the stories of articles you've written and trace the ways you were your own muse. In the story about the child lost in the mall, did you tap into your own memories of once being lost or the memory of when your child was lost for a short time or a memory of something you read about a lost child that touched you deeply? Consider all the ways the person you are with your unique experiences, memories and passions shaped the story. And from there, you may see ways to go even deeper, thus giving you new revision possibilities for those pieces that haven't sold. Really, we all shape our writing through the people we are and the experiences we've had, even when we don't consciously think about it. But by paying closer attention to that link between who were are in real life and who we are as a writer, we can use this more voluntarily, if not in the writing step, then definitely in the revision step, because the more who were are in real life comes into what we write, the more authentic the end result. And that's always a good thing.
Jan Fields is a full-time, freelance author and an Institute of Children's Literature Instructor. Would you like to have your own instructor teaching you on a one-on-one basis? Show us a sample of your work here.