| Coffee Spoons
Mustering Your Muse at Manitou
by David Schleich, PhD
When the urge to write sneaks up your spine, there’s no hiding out. You may want to eschew the impulse, but if a poem, story, diary, journal, or memoir is on the tip of your pen, the train has already left the station. There are many reasons this happens.
One writer I know speaks of how writing helped steer her out of isolation, find solidarity with others, and understand her thoughts and demons. She is an unstoppable writer. “I like tall stories, gossip, and dinner party lies,” she explains. “But all my books so far plus three bucks might get you a good cup of coffee, maybe.”
Another writer feels the same way about the power of writing in his life. He reports that he welcomed his Muse early in his life. “She was there and wouldn’t go away,” he said. So, he honed his craft and went on to produce many books. Eventually there emerged a novel which, no kidding, became the 1996 movie which won nine Academy Awards. Four years earlier that same book won the 1992 Booker Prize and the Governor General’s Award. Wow, eh? Snuck up their spines, that writing urge, and stayed put.
There are two big ditches on every such spine-tingling writing road. The first is the default to forms we know or think we know. Thus, people who attempt poems think lines have to rhyme, for example. There is no easy road for those who try short stories, either, that multi-layered complex genre. Margaret Atwood likened the short story and the novel to be akin to brain surgery in terms of skill, focus, and execution. Alice Munro, a Nobel Laureate whose magnificent short story legacy spans decades, early on said that yielding to your Muse is a sacred act and keeps you “out of the ditch” where “you might lose your confidence.”
The second default ditch is to mine and mimic stereotypes of character and plot because finding and shaping your own content usually means going inside. “Scary in there,” Al Purdy, the Canadian poet said more than once from his house in Prince Edward County, Ontario.
Staying out of such ditches keeps you whole as a writer. But we still need to talk about Muses for a moment. The story goes that these Muses, this group of sister goddesses of obscure but ancient origin came from Pieria at the foot of Mount Olympus. Just for fun let’s iterate their names: Clio [proclaimer], Euterpe [well pleasing], Thalia [blooming, luxuriant], Melpomene [songstress], Terpsichore [dancer], Erato [lovely], Polymnia [she of the many hymns], Urania [heavenly], and the ever famous Calliope [she of the beautiful voice]. Their mother was Mnemosyne [memory].
What abundant stimuli and inspiration for our writing, those Muses. However, how easy is it to muster a Muse when needed? Are you among the lucky who can pour out a coffee and the Muse arrives to join you as you fire up your keyboard or put pen to paper? Classical Muses are often spoken of as unmarried mothers of famous sons (Orpheus, Rhesus, Eumolpus from Thrace, for example), but the record shows that they have spawned many famous daughters too, novelist, playwrights, poets, and journalists aplenty for eons. Seasoned writers acknowledge something inside or outside themselves at work, and attribute this energy and intuition to the Muse. However, these same writers are hard workers to take pains to get their writing going. They finish something.
At Manitou Waters, our Coffee Spoons workshop series is designed to woo the Muse to you. The workshops are customized to the participants. Whether you’re partial to Oliver, Pound, or Dickinson; to King, Hemingway, Atwood, Munro, or Tolstoy, it’s vital to be a reader in your writing. There’s no shortcut to getting the symbiosis of form and content in hand. As well, there’s no shortcut to getting your writing to your readers.
Writers’ lives are full of sorrows, joys, disappointments, confusion, and inspiration. The act of writing means composing, editing, scheduling, and scrimping. The act of writing presents a cacophony of pressures that collectively sharpen your senses to deal with the dulling whacks of contemporary life which can pull you back from committing to writing.
Whether you’ve got in mind a memoir, a personal essay, or suite of poems, the Manitou Waters Coffee Spoons series (3 workshops each year), manifesting the writer in you is our goal. You will be among kindred spirits and feel less alone moving through the bumps.
Sip some Coffee Spoons camaraderie at Manitou Waters. In an invitational, supportive space, we’ll work together on the emotional and technical roadblocks you’re facing. Give shape, momentum, and confidence to your writerly gaze.
Sample Coffee Spoons topics: Finding Your Voice, Showing Up, Shameless Imitation, You Have to Read Great Writers, Annotating as an Art, Just Saying “Said,” Finding Your Genre–Finding Your Form, What is the Ideal Writing Space Anyway?, Getting to Commitment, Am I a “Pantser” or a “Plotter?”, The Promise of Outlines, Mistakes as Positive Events, Galloping Grammar in Your Backpack, Deadlines and Writer’s Block, Writing the Next Draft.
David Schleich, PhD, serves on the board of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild. He is president emeritus of National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) and former President of the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto, Ontario. A nationally recognized expert in medical curriculum and professional formation, he was the editor for many years of Quarry Magazine/Quarry Press. His doctoral studies at the University of Toronto focused on higher education, with a special interest in the regulatory and public policy frameworks that affect medical education. Dr. Schleich has published extensively and lectures internationally. His most recent publication is The Terms of His Surrender (Crusoe House Press, Portland, 2021), a collection of poetry. He was Contributing Editor to the Naturopathic Doctor News and Review (NDNR) from 2005 to 2020. He is an intercultural/cross-cultural authority on medical education, having studied and lived in England, Germany, Spain, Australia, and U.S.A. For more information, see the display ad on page 11 of the 27.5 January/February issue of the WHOLifE Journal.