Breathing room for the spirit
Tunes for a Monday Morning

On Artistic Inspiration


Today's post on artistic inspiration was inspired by the conversation with Brian & Wendy Froud over on the John Barleycorn blog -- which turns, at one point, to the delicate line between Inspiration and Madness. For those of us who work intuitively, as though the Muse is literally whispering into our ears (as I swear sometimes she does), that line can grow rather thin...and I'm always interested in hearing how other writers and artists view this odd aspect of our craft.

In the mythic tradition, both artists and shamans walk perilously close to the realm of madness; indeed, in some cases, their gifts specifically come from journeying into madness, or Faerie, or the Realm of the Gods and then back again. Elizabeth Gilbert, in her acclaimed TED Talk on nurturing creativity, describes how, to the early Romans, an artist's "genius" was a spirit or daemon believed to be attached to that particular artist, and not a personal attribute. The divine spark of inspiration came from the daemon; the artist's job was to be a worthy vessel for that spark. Today, there are still a surprising number of us who view creation much as the Romans did: as a mysterious, magical, alchemical process composed not only of skill and intent but also of ideas and impulses that come through us from some unknown and unknowable place.

Here, for example, is the Japanese author Haruki Murakami describing his creative process: "A short story I have written long ago would barge into my house in the middle of the night, shake me awake and shout, 'Hey, this is no time for sleeping! You can't forget me, there's still more to write!' Impelled by that voice, I would find myself writing a novel."

Death Visits the Emperor by Edmund Dulac

He's far from the only writer to report that tales and characters sometimes just appear, large as life, demanding to be attended to and rendered into print. On one end of the spectrum are the logical, methodical artists who map their stories and paintings and performances entirely in advance, rarely deviating from the route they've set themselves...and on the other end are the purely intuitive artists who discover the work as they create it -- as though it already exists somewhere, waiting to be found and given earthly form. (The majority of us, I suspect, fall somewhere on the line between the two.)

"I did not deliberately invent Earthsea," writes Ursula Le Guin of her now-classic fantasy series. "I did not think 'Hey wow -- islands are archetypes and archipelagoes are superarchetypes and let's build us an archipelago! I am not an engineer, but an explorer. I discovered Earthsea."

"In a very real way, one writes a story to find out what happens in it," says Samuel R. Delaney. Before it is written it sits in the mind like a piece of overheard gossip or a bit of intriguing tattle. The story process is like taking up such a piece of gossip, hunting down the people actually involved, questioning them, finding out what really occurred, and visiting pertinent locations. As with gossip, you can't be too surprised if important things turn up that were left out of the first-heard version entirely; or if points initially made much of turn out to have been distorted, or simply not to have happened at all.” 

Arthur Rackham's ilustration for the British ballad ''May Colven''

The creative process -- like any mythic act of world creation (which is what it is, even for writers of Realist fiction) -- follows different rules than ordinary living. And that's not always a comfortable thing to experience -- for the artists themselves, or for those close by.

“In the middle of a novel," says Zadie Smith, "a kind of magical thinking takes over. To clarify, the middle of the novel may not happen in the actual geographical centre of the novel. By middle of the novel I mean whatever page you are on when you stop being part of your household and your family and your partner and children and food shopping and dog feeding and reading the post — I mean when there is nothing in the world except your book, and even as your wife tells you she’s sleeping with your brother her face is a gigantic semi-colon, her arms are parentheses and you are wondering whether rummage is a better verb than rifle. The middle of a novel is a state of mind. Strange things happen in it. Time collapses.” 

Casting a Spell by Charles Robinson

While the world goes on wily-nily without us, we're off chasing visions down the hedgerows of the mind, living in a place where lines and landscapes and imaginary voices become more real than the keyboard under our fingers, the paint in the cup, the vibration of the harp string.

A Girl Mad as Birds by Rima Staines"I discover [my images] in the process of the work," says painter Rima Staines. "I may decide where a figure will go in the frame, but it is rather loose. I am interested in the spark which happens when the image suddenly comes together in front of you and starts to work. It's almost as if, while I'm drawing the lines, what I'm about to draw next reveals itself to me. Maybe I will start to see a face in some loose the same way that you sometimes see a face or figure in the gnarled bark of a tree. I am not completely in control of the's as though the characters in the image make themselves known to me. It’s like being in an altered state of consciousness. And it can take a real presence of mind to stay in that process. It often feels like walking a tightrope whilst you are creating; it is all too easy to come out of the process and look at your work as critic, or to go the other way and go too far with a particular idea."

Sketchbook page by Brian Froud "Artists often do live in two worlds," Howard comments in the John Barleycorn talk with Brian & Wendy Froud, "which is why we can seem a bit mad to other people. One foot is in the real world, where we have to feed ourselves and take on practical jobs to make money, and the other foot is in the creative world, which has a different time scale and demands different things of us: that when you sit down and draw, this is what you are going to draw, and how you are going to draw. Living this way can be both liberating and distressing I find, in equal measure." 

"When I was young, it seemed so much easier," Brian responds. "You just went for it. Youth has an arrogance. Now it’s more of a struggle, but there’s still that inner voice which, when I draw a line, goes: 'No. Rub it out, draw another. 'No.' And then, suddenly, 'Oh, yes!' And then I think: 'Where has that come from? Why is this the right line? While all these others, which to an observer would probably seem to be the same, were wrong?' "

An illustration by Henry J. Ford for the Colored Fairy Book series by Andew Lang

Ursula Le Guin has said: “I think the mystery of art lies in this, that the artists’ relationship is essentially with their work, not with power, not with profit, not with themselves, not even with their audience.” 

That tends to be true for the stories and images that I inevitably find myself most drawn to: art that has arisen from a deeply personal conversation between the artist and the work at hand. It is art that walks perilously close to the Edge, that crosses the river of blood into Faerie, that flies so high it is scorched by the sun, and then returns to tell the tale to us. It is art that needed to be written, or painted, or sung, or woven, or otherwise shaped. It is art gifted by the Mystery to the maker...and then, in turn, gifted to us.

"We're not mad," says  Sue Moorcroft, defending the peculiar habits of authors, "we're inhabited.”

Inhabited by the work. Inhabited by the lines, the colors, the characters, the stories. All clamouring to get out into the world.

'The stuff that dreams are made of' by John Anster Fitzgerald

Images above: "Ferdinand lured by Ariel" by John Everett Millais (1929-1896); illustration from Hans Christian Andersen's "The Nightingale" by Edmund Dulac (1882-1953); illustration from the Child ballad "May Colven" by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939); "Casting a Spell" by Charles Robinson (1870-1937); "A Girl as Mad as Birds" by Rima Staines; a sketchbook page by Brian Froud;  illustration for Andrew Lang's "Colored Fairy Book" series by Henry J. Ford (1860-1941),  and "The stuff that dreams are made of" by John Anster Fitzgerald (1819-1906).


I really enjoyed reading this Terri; it chimes with much that is going on with me right now. I find that I am a magpie (something I only recognised recently). I take my scraps and shiny things and store them in a nesting brain. Then later I take them out and admire them, move them around and rearrange them before using them to create for me. I believe it to belong to a long and useful tradition.

It is the sparking of creativity that is most puzzling. I have a son with Asperger's, who finds the making of original thoughts and games very difficult. He is the ultimate magpie, all his imaginative work comes from reflections of what he sees and experiences. And yet with this he is able to recreate versions of other peoples stories and games that satisfy him and help him make sense of a non-sensical world. My other son is more innovative, he can change and alter what he takes from his world and turn it into something new. Both children are able to create and we are working hard to open their ears, eyes and minds to what the world has to offer.

However my day job is as a teacher; my class are inner city Nottingham children from a range of cultures, often from illiterate families with little English. I spend my day tightrope walking between the standardisation required by the DofE and the conformity demanded by their family cultures. In the middle of all of this I want to light fires.

I very firmly believe that we can all find an outlet for creativity, but in children the flames of discovery and innovation have to be nurtured. Our job is to give them the tools and language that will allow them to ask questions, discover answers and find their own routes.

I am going to re read your post and the JB discussion; it may give me ideas for new ways to circumvent the homogeneous nature of modern education.

Invisible Friends

Linked as I have been,
well before cell phones,
to the voices in my ear,
those murmurings, mutterings,
musings of others
who have stories to tell,
who commandeer, who command
my fingers on the keys
to unlock their hidden lives,
who am I to say that writing
is a lonely life?
It is as open as a listening ear,
taking in gossip--
that beginning of story.
It is as welcoming as a door
flung wide to the universe.
Come in, friend,
sit by my fire, share my bread,
my tea, my dram.
Tell me your story,
tell me mine.

©2012 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Okay, first Charlotte's beautiful comment brought tears to my eyes, and then Jane's beautiful poem did. You guys are slaying me today.

Gosh, snap Terri! I've been thinking a lot about process this week and so have a lot of other folk in the cyber sea. Here's a link to the post I wrote this morning with a heap of links in it including your "ripening like trees" and Howard & Rex's interview with Wendy & Brian Froud... was thinking about your moveable feast as I was writing!
Am a year deep into a four year collaborative project illustrating my partner's lifetime of songwriting (or thereabouts I don't like deadlines but work up one drawing per moon with 11 songs drawn and 29 to go & the man keeps writing more) everything I have ever done in my life up 'til now is informing the mark making for this work but it's the songs... the words,the scan and the rhythms that are dictating each way to move next...
Here's a verse from a favourite that won't get illustrated for another few years but is pertinent to this thread-
"We could get there so much quicker if we just picked up the pace
Bones smile is just a flicker, he says "life is not a race,
it's a song that's in the making, a story being told
a glass of sipping liquor....
I'm old"
third verse from "Walking Home With Mr Bones" by Rod Morgan (aka Old Man Crow) © 2007 you can hear a bit of it here-

That's a terrific post, Mo. The Moveable Feast has begun...will anyone else add to it...?

This post is a delight to me. As far as I can remember, I have been so curious to know how artists imagine their muses.

I tried for a long time to analyse where my ideas came from. But the much harder I tried, the much easier the ideas where slipping away from my grasp. This is how I realize setting them free will set me free.
So I stopped looking for them, for the little shiver along my neck, for the trance while doing. And what was rare, came around more often. And the dreams started. My dreams are always introductions to the little stories I write. The story itself is all about work but the spark that lights everything in the beginning comes from elsewhere. A place, where you shall not look in for too long. I like to think about this place as the Land of Mankind Memories (always come in capital to me), where every beliefs or tales can be found. An overwhelming place for the mind.

As I began pottery, I discovered a new kind of muse or inspiration. Which is not coming from me or my human nature, but from the clay itself. But it's even harder to explain. Here, it's all about feeling.

I have to say reading this blog this morning is so heart affirming. My muse has always been hiding just beyond the wood lot...beyond that garden gate. So you can imagine Terri finding you and your blog has let her back in. Sometimes i thought i was just pure crazy...full of words and pictures and those little muse voices...poetry is my love and seeing Jane's here is so healing also. So this weekend as i turn the house of my upbringing over to the for sale sign in the front yard... i will go to the backyard and ask my muse to come with me as she had been with me high in the apple trees and the hedgerows as a child unleashed. As always a smooch to Tilly's sweet nose. J

This is just what I needed to read this morning, sitting at my dayjob, with the current story slowly growing, word and phrase by sentence by image, from someplace between my breath and the (electronic) page.

Dr. Shelley Carson at Harvard has done some very interesting studies and research on the relationship between brain structure and creativity, as well as the connections between creativity and mental ailments. You can find several of her articles here:

'Artist as Shaman' is a theme close to my heart, and in fact, I realised I'd even written a blog post about it ages ago, and I quoted...yep, Brian Froud! But there is something so compelling about it, something that feels right, deep down in those parts of our bodies/brains/hearts that don't think in logical, neat, rational, 21st century (and dare I say, boring) ways. It's a knowing that is felt in our bones. And I definitely get that 'where the heck did that come from' feeling about some of my artworks, some of my poems and stories. Not all of them, but enough for me to catch my breath and wonder. My 'Talesingrs' are like this for me. I don't quite feel they're mine. And I have a strong feeling of a muse; in my rational/logical moments I think of him as a character I've created, in my less rational moments, I think he's been there all the time and he just found me. There's so much more I want to talk about, to add to this wonderful new 'moveable feast', but it will have to wait for tomorrow, as it's late here, and cold, and I'm not quite 100% awake. Tomorrow then!

My post about artist as shaman, if anyone would like to read my ramblings on the subject!

Lovely post! And the links in the comments will keep me reading for hours I'm sure. I can't wait to read the post on artist as shaman, and to get a closer look at all the blogs.

I was so thrilled to see this entry today; I just wrote a (far less eloquent) post on creating intuitively yesterday--
Looking forward to seeing what sort of conversation emerges.

I particularly identify with Charlotte's statement about taking "my scraps and shiny things and store them in a nesting brain. Then later I take them out and admire them, move them around and rearrange them before using them to create for me." My creative process is exactly the same--sometimes in a very literal way. I'm happy to find myself in such good company.

Mo--I cannot tell you how much I LOVE "Walking Home with Mr. Bones". I am 73, and boy! does it speak to me. Please tell Rod that.



Again I am here with my bowl of oatmeal and raisins and the magick makers who add what the Muse and I need to relish. The company is kin, and the stories affirming ... nodding and appreciative of the time within ... my tradition of Polynesian calls time wa and the Ancestors teach us to view and swallow "wa" or time as permeable and nourishing. Just because most cannot see time doesn't mean it does not exist. "Wa" is not the same as "wall" in English, more like "wa" in "Water" then solid.

The "wa" is where the fluid time makes connections, I am surrounded by the Salish Sea, an ocean away from my birth water ... yet connected with all the birth waters. My process is intuitive and cyclical, I count on the moon just as the Ancestors have; I learn to count differently and tell the process as stories.To translate I criss-cross time, and as I age, the magick of translation becomes the work of "wa" inbetween, everywhere at once, and led to watering holes like this one.

First, Terri your scholarship -- generous and broad gleanings, were plenty. The links watering holes enough. But then, there was more. Charlotte, your whole story better than and as good a tattle of gossip as any crow could wish for. Jane's poem. MoCrow and on and on. Moveable Feast, oh, my -- my oatmeal bowl runneth over.

Mahalo nui loa na wahine 'ui (thank you all beautiful women).

It’s happened often enough that it no longer surprises me that an image or story is there, waiting for me, fully formed when I rise up out of sleep. The characters from that story are chattering away, in mid conversation. Or there is a vivid image with a story that it wants to tell me. If I'm lucky enough it is still resonating within by the time I’m able to write it down or scribble it onto paper. If those characters talk long enough they will give me their plot. Much like a dream journal, the more I allow this 'gift' to fill me, the easier and quicker it comes back. And the older I get the more I try, at least in the sketch or rough draft stage, to get out of the way of my thinking brain and let my subconscious have free reign. The connections that happen then are surprising and exhilarating! After all, I’ve a life time of stored information in there to build something new with. Of course, a LOT of critical attention has to be applied to those rough drafts to reach a satisfying ‘The End’.

I've always liked that post of yours, so thanks for including the link here for people who may not yet have seen it.

Another older piece that may be relevant: Some years ago a young scholar named Niko Silvester wrote an article on "Madness, Shape-shifting, and Art" in relation to my book The Wood Wife. It was published in Mythic Passages (from the Mythic Imaginations Institute), and then posted on the JoMA site here:

Oh, I so love the concept of "wa" ... thank you so much for that!

Very interesting, Duncan. Thank you for this link.

I get a lot of my ideas as I rise out of sleep as well...and so prefer not to have to talk to anyone in the morning, in that half-dream time between rising and getting to my desk, because it's such a creatively fertile part of the day for me. Hugs to you and Karen.

Your comment, Claire, reminded me of this quote from poet Gary Snyder:

"There is a point beyond which training and practice cannot take you. Zeami, the 14th century Noh drama playwright and director who was also a Zen priest, spoke of this moment as 'surprise.' This is the surprise of discovering oneself needing no self, one with the work, moving in disciplined ease and grace. One knows what it is to be a spinning ball of clay, a curl of pure while wood off the edge of a chisel... At this point one can be free, with the work and from the work."

I love your new work, by the way. Sending much love to you and Yoann.

Smooch transmitted!

Your post is lovely too, Michelle; thanks for posting the link. Have you read Lewis Hyde's book The Gift? It was a hugely influential text for me.

For me there's more than one strand flowing through any work. The first, and the one from which everything else flows, is purely intuitive, it is, as you write above, as though the ideas already exist somewhere else. But there's also the the act of translation, when we make our creations intelligible to others - the final edits or reworking to make it accessible. And there's the muse that leads us, that can definitely drive us crazy sometimes. Which the following poem "Living with a Muse" from "Magical Thinking', tried to capture:

‘Tis a frail thing this voice
That wanders at will in the debris of lost hours
Scurried in the backroom of harlots’ moments
Struggling to life like half-weaned brats
Thrusting towards the light with nary a care
For those caught in long embraces on the winds
Of naught but feelings that burble nonsense in strings
As fine as the wisdom of an ass
Coupling the dull sight of a ragged scholar spinning
Worn cotton on an imaginary loom.

‘Tis a conceit twirled with hope
And sewn with a dream as
Frail as old faltered steps
Stumbling like an almost thing
That flits between these ears
Betwixt the moment
Vexatious in its guile to prance hidden ‘neath virtuous intent
Disregarding all
To pursue this vain rattle that rings
And chimes
And never ceases.

It's been fascinating reading your post, Terri, and all the responses.

I completely agree with the idea of artist/writer/musician as being akin to shaman. Though so much of the creative process is slogging it out, honing craft, consciously developing ideas, etc, if it were just that, art wouldn't have the impact on us that it does. There is a magical element to it. Something otherworldly. Something potentially dark and wild.

With my own writing and visual work, I go through phases of slogging and struggle, but then come those moments which are truly mystical, when all off a sudden, all that's been percolating for however long, comes to a point, and I find myself in a different space, in a "flow" wherein time, self-critique, everything disappears and I'm completely entranced by the creation of art, which seems to be creating itself. Often, when I'm done, I look at what I've created and it's like seeing something alien, something which didn't come from me, but rather through me.

My husband, who spent years as an opera singer, has said that a similar thing would happen to him during certain performances. Afterwards, he'd have absolutely no idea whether it had gone well or not, and usually those were the performances that had gone exceptionally well.

As I'm writing this, I'm seeing a sense of "loosing oneself" to one's art, as the shaman looses themselves to the spirit world. Perhaps it's when the artist looses themselves too often or too completely, that the danger of what we call madness arises.

Thank you for this wonderful first course (??) of the feast.

Oh wow ! Jane, thank you for the good words, will relay them to the man when he wakes. He just turned 65 this year, am hoping to get this book honouring his life's work out whilst the band is still playing live, so I begin work each day at 3am when it's quiet in this big city of 4 million souls, it gives me that luxury of free time & space.

good to see those Brian Froud illustrations for "The Wood Wife" again Terri, x fingers an anniversary edition including them will be printed one day & look forward to reading Christina Mermaid in the Attic's words in this new Moveable Feast, am enjoying munching through all the links & replies here!

I've not read that, but I'm adding it to my reading list. Thanks for the recommendation.

I have actually often wondered what it's like to have a story or image tug at me so strongly, I had to write the story. (Or draw the picture, except I haven't had any artistic training.) It seems like a lovely idea, or maybe I'm just romanticizing it, because I don't know what it's like. I have to choose to write, or it just doesn't happen.

I do, however, love reading about people whose process is like this and seeing the beautiful things they produce. And this was a wonderful reminder to write because I have a story to tell, not because I'm thinking about how it will be received in the world. Thank you, Terri!

Dear Terri,

It's so wonderful, so inspiring, to see that so many think and feel and ponder these things. Sometimes it feels like we're all spread out across the dimensions, and maybe we are, but a moveable feast like this gives the tribe an excuse to circle up, as it were, and check in.

This artist as shaman thing is particularly resonant for me, as I've just spent the last three years in apprenticeship with a master shaman. He just announced his retirement to our community last week, and I was named his successor. It's been a time of reflection, as you might imagine; humbling, validating, exciting & terrifying all at once!

As I've been going around the medicine wheel; starting in the South where you leave behind things that no longer serve you, progressing to the West, where you learn discernment & the skills of the Warrior, then to the North where you reconnect with those who came before you and begin to claim your own power, and finally to the East, where you become a Creator & begin to make things to leave behind, I've realized at every step that these skills are universal.

When I was very young, and was just finding my way in music, I would have these deep feelings of rightness, of connectedness, that I never had words for. Now I do. When I was a young adult and first started writing poetry, bad though it was, I had the very real sense that I was collaborating with some unseen thing, like the poem was coming FROM me and THROUGH me at the same time.

Now I know about Otherworlds, about the place we GO and have to return from, and instead of feeling like I've arrived somewhere, this place feels like a beginning, a threshold in the mist, where I can with intention combine these worlds; shamanism & magick, poetry, music and photography, into the holistic whole they always were. It's an amazing feeling. As I said, humbling and validating, beautiful & terrifying.

Thank you so much, Terri, for creating this space, this spontaneous virtual salon. I apologize for this being so long. Maybe I should've written it on my own blog. But it felt right to plant the seed here, where so many trees are already growing so beautifully.

Much love and gratitude to everyone doing this work. We all make each other stronger.


Well, I wrote something in response to this, but I can't say it's part of a Moveable Feast, as it is the exact opposite of festive and joyous. I've been so stuck for so long about my art, and, while I know what you are talking about, about letting things come intuitively, rather than planning it all out, and while I've also been very much interested in shamanism lately, though not necessarily in relation to art, it's been such a long time that I've been able to make art that I'm starting to wonder if maybe I'm simply not an artist after all. I used to know. But you mentioned the word daimon, and Muse, and I do know about them, though in maybe a more literal way than most people think.

I will say that I am working my way through a lot of 'issues' shall we say, and maybe that is what must come first right now. But it is hard, really hard, and it is taking so, so, long. Here's my post. It's pretty harsh:

YES! I remember reading it, and how much it made sense to me. Reading it again, it also reminds me of the 'inter-blog' discussions we've had about darkness, the journey within, the artist's creative cycle of fallow and feast times. It all links together and I truly believe it's something really important for the health and well-being of all humans, something that we've forgotten or tried to deny to our detriment. It also links to the issue of a sense of place, the importance of nature, which also came up in the 'round-table' with Wendy and Brian. All things the modern age denigrates to its peril!

Oh Thalia--I read your post and am sending you Light. Lots of Light.

Do you know Terri's backstory? It is at least as difficult as yours. She has no been shy about posting it. (A lot of it is in the introduction to Armless Maiden, her anthology of fantasy stories and poems about children/women mostly who have to rescue themselves (or can't rescue themselves)and along the way rescue others. An homage really to how she was rescued by fairy tales from a difficult upbringing. The intro alone is worth the prince of the book!

But her story is ongoing. As is yours.

More Light here.


Actually I just came here after thinking better of it and deleting that post, something I've never done. It was just so ugly and so raw.

I have The Armless Maiden, just bought it recently, actually. I read it too fast and had to put it aside for a while, as I ended up really triggering myself, silly me. While the stories were good, and helpful, somewhat (though it can be hard to see how to make them work as a map, with specifics) really her afterword was what got me. I know exactly how it feels to be the one who 'isn't allowed to escape.'

Thank you for the Light.

Realized that there are other courses already available in the above links - got too overwhelmed in the dishes to see clearly!

Oh Thalia . . . I didn't get to read your post, but I can so identify with the pain of being stuck. I went through a decade of creative block--I couldn't write or create anything at all. I even stopped reading fiction--though it was stories that helped me survive my deeply dysfunctional childhood--because it was just too painful to be reminded of what was missing from my life. I'm so sorry to hear of what you are going through, doubly so because I know how much it hurts.

The ability to create only returned a few years ago, and it's still a fragile, tentative thing--to be honest I'm afraid of it sometimes, afraid to really surrender to it for fear it might evaporate and I'll be devastated all over again.

And I, too, have a long list of "issues" that were tormenting me and keeping me stuck. I'm not completely over my history--do we ever really leave it behind?--but the creativity did return as I slowly started to heal. We each have to struggle to find our best way out. For me, Reiki and other forms of energy work, along with ceremony, prayer, meditation, and time spent in the garden and the woods all worked together to help me start to find some relief.

I'm sending you love, and light, and a wish that you won't have to wait a whole decade to find your way to a better place. And I'd add, if you can think of any way that your artistic or spiritual community can be of help, don't hesitate to ask. In other words, don't suffer alone if you don't have to.

The illustrations are so beautiful, as beautiful as what has been written here. Could be the League Of How Fairytales Saved Us. I am in awe of so many stories, such poetry; it is a way of life as good as a quest story. Hazards and horrors and light in the distance. There's Fairyland and then, there's Terriland.

When I find posts like this, I relax as I read about another writer or an artist who lives his or her creative life in the littoral between land and sea, fact and fiction, dream and waking world. My writing begins in these uncertain places. I see or hear a face or a voice, and like "Brigadoon" there is something there that comes and goes until I step fully into the place to find the story. When I'm fully enchanted by the place and characters, I lose my grasp on everything else until the work is done. To others, the process looks like madness. Perhaps it is. I have tried outlines and logic, but they don't work for me. This wonderful post reminds me I'm not alone in that regard.


The feast is in the attic! I've had a crack at articulating my thoughts on this fascinating subject, and though I really don't feel I've covered it as well as I'd like, and there's so much more that can be explored, if I waited for the perfect post to present itself (my muse is an airy-fairy and unreliable creature), it would be Christmas...2020...before I put it up for everyone to read. So here it is. Though it may just be Part 1!

I can not be eloquent in this discussion, perhaps because I am currently soul-deep in another world of my own, and everything you wrote here is so true, so true, therefore I can only say yes - and that one word is laden with all the words I am writing this evening, and I know you can not see them, you can only see my yes, but maybe you can feel them, considering.

"her face is a gigantic semi-colon, her arms are parentheses and you are wondering whether rummage is a better verb than rifle"

I woke up with this line in my head. So true! And such priceless inspiration in the post and the discussion, as usual. I'm bringing my own little relish dish to the feast, about how I finally came around to embrace this intuition and let a character invoke me as her instrument:

I’ve always loved the print of Dickens' Dream with the characters swirling around him as he dozes in the chair and can relate so well to it. I’m one of those writers who love to channel the characters through and will actively encourage them by submerging myself in the films, letters, art etc of the period and permitting myself to fall through the characters into the story. And yes – there does feel at times as if the veil is thin between the worlds and a form of ‘divine madness’. My fantasy books were all inspired by characters that came through my paintings at art school which intrigued me so much I had to uncover who they were. Even with my mystery books, I enter into a light trance state and allow the characters to show me who is the killer. To me, it makes the writing process a lot more exciting. On the very good days, I literally hear the voice and follow along taking dictation. At other times the scenes unfold like a movie and I move behind it. In my last mystery book, Poet’s Cottage, the characters were so strong, I could feel their presence urging me to delete sentences or bring out a different part of their being. I could smell the perfume of the women characters and hear the music playing from their old gramophone. I could sense their disappointment if I didn’t take the story in a direction they wanted it to go. They are the good days – others day I have to work a bit harder to get to that state but I’ve found that just as in the spiritual traditions with the guru – if you take one step towards the story the characters take a thousand towards you. And I can’t work with music or noise apart from the sounds of the garden trees in my shed as it disturbs the process that I’m trying to channel through.
Some people might prefer to have everything plotted out in advance and I do have a very rough plan of what I think is about to happen but whatever gets the project finished for the artist is the right path.
Thank you so much for your post on this topic, Terri and to all the comments which are really fascinating.

I like the idea of shaping and editing the work as an act of translation, from muse-language to one that others can understand.

Lynn, do you find that your experience of the muse is affected by living in a foreign country? For me, inspiration is hugely tied to environment (even if I'm not specifically writing about or painting that environment), and making my home in a foreign county -- even an English-speaking foreign country -- impacts my work in ways that I'm only beginning to understand.

Please don't apologize for a long reply; I'm always grateful when people take the time to join in the conversation here. It sounds like you are at the threshold of a whole new phase of life, and it will be interesting to see how this impacts your art. Since you won't be quite the same person you were as an apprentice, you're not likely to be quite the same artist either...which should be very interesting indeed. Good luck!

Your work is wonderful, no matter what creative process you use, Shveta. I guess the most important thing for all of us is to find what works for us personally, and then to work with (rather than against) the flow of our personal process, trusting our selves and our own way of doing things.

Thalia, I was off-line all weekend and so never got to read your post. But I very much sympathize with what you've written here. I had a period in my late twenties when I was dealing with stuff from my past (through therapy, and hospitalization for related health problems) when I found it very, very difficult to be creative...and life seem pretty darn bleak for a while there. When I finally did start creating again, the first things that came out of me were pretty dark and raw (a series of large, scary drawings on butcher's paper, rooted in my childhood); I can barely look at them now they are so filled with pain. But healing did come, and life slowly grew bright again. It took time, but it happened. The things that helped? The love of close friends, who were there for me but didn't demand too much of me at a time when I was buried deep within myself. And reading. When I couldn't make art myself, I read constantly about the lives of previous generations of women writers and artists, and found inspiration in what others before me had done and overcome. I just absorbed their words, allowed them to be my mothers, my teachers. I hope you too find the support you need. The dark days pass. And though it doesn't seem like it now, they'll gift you with a very rich creativity in the future. That's a promise...or at least as much of one as a stranger can give you, not knowing your full situation. But I've experienced this, and watched so many others experience this, that I believe it in my bones to be true.

I so appreciate everyone's comments, full of food-for-thought for the Feast.

I'm putting links to blog posts on this topic ("Artistic Inspiration") on the Moveable Feasts page. If there are more, please let me know in the comments here, and I'll add them.

A truly marvelous post, as always, Christina!

Thanks Terri, for starting this conversation here. I find the straddled borders between creativity, religiosity, altered consciousness, mental health and magic extremely enticing. Can't say I have anything profoundly new to add to the topics, but I appreciate the chance to explore them and am reading through the numerous comments to find what others are experiencing in these realms. My goodness such amazing creative vitality!

Meanwhile, I've joined the moveable feast, here ( ) with thanks to you for helping me get my slow-to-start blog moving again.

Thanks for bring a dish to the Feast, Wendy! I've put you on the Moveable Feast link list for this topic ( ), but would like to add your location to the link, if that's alright with you. I gather you are somewhere in Germany?

I truly believe that fairy tales do save us, if we let them.

A tasty little relish dish, John! I've put it on the Moveable Feasts lists. I've listed you as located in North Carolina...have I got that right?

I remember reading a study a while back about the different ways that people write, breaking it down by "sense" catagories: people who "see" stories unfold in their mind's eye, like watching a movie; people who "hear" the language of the story in their ear; people for whom creating is kinetic and they have to jump out of their seat and pace and speak the dialogue and wave their arms around in the air; people for whom smell or touch or taste are a deeply important part of the creative process.

It was one of those too-rigid studies that attempted to show that each of us falls only into one of these types...and for me that's too narrow a classification system, since many of us draw on difference senses at different times and for different types of projects. But I can certainly see how one or two of these areas might be more dominant in each of us than the others. (I'm more visual than anything else, with the importance of the sound of the words being close behind -- and like you, I can't write or edit with music on, particularly music that has words in it, which interferes with the "music" of the language.) Having worked with many different writers over the years, I've certain seen plenty of examples of folks for whom one or another of the senses was especially dominant in their creative process. It sounds like you, however, use all your senses equally when you write. And that's a lovely thought.

And that's a perfectly, charmingly eloquent comment.

If it's madness, then at least it's a pleasant kind of madness. And I know what you mean -- outlines don't work for me either, though I've known plenty of good writers (from the other end of the spectrum) who couldn't work without them.

It's always in the "in-between" places that magic happens. Good luck.

Yay! Indeed, I am in Göttingen (Goettingen if you've not got easy access to an umlaut). Quite an international menu being served - tasty!

Yes! I certainly do notice a difference. In my first year here, I hardly wrote or painted a thing. It was as though the muse hadn't crossed the ocean with me.

In the three years since then, it's been like getting to know a different muse, or at least a different side of the one I knew before - (if that makes any sense). It's not a tangible thing, more a feeling, a subtle tendency in different directions. Very difficult to articulate (at least for me!) Makes me wonder more about the nature of muses...

I also find my inspiration strongly tied to environment. I'm very much aware that the German landscape is not where I feel the muse the most strongly - but neither was the Canadian landscape.

What have been (I believe) essential for my creativity, are periodic "creativity recharging" visits to England - to the moorland of the southwest and to Yorkshire. It's after these trips (always alone) that I've had huge bursts of creativity, which I believe is only partly due to the "vacation" factor. That landscape sings to my soul in a way that no other does and I find that it stirs up things which I feel I'm meant to be exploring. I always feel like I'm in sync with my creativity afterwards. (Is it that I meet with different muses there? Or does mine put on a different costume...)

Interesting to hear that even after living in England for years, you're aware of the impact on your work that being a foreign landscape has had. Perhaps those of us living in foreign lands will always have to some extent the eyes of an outsider, no matter how long we're in the new place, and that must certainly have an impact on what we create.

This has sent my thoughts dancing in different directions - hope some sense can be made of my stream-of-consciousness ramble!

Terri, every time I pop back here there are more marvelous things to be found. More thinking today has led me to post 'Part one and a half' in the attic! I still can't quite seem to articulate exactly what I want to, but perhaps that's for another time. More pondering necessary I guess! And with all the wonderful feasts on offer, I shall be pondering for a while yet.

Thanks! Yes. I'm native to Ohio, but now enjoy the lush green here in North Carolina.

My post about inspiration is here:

Can you tell me where you're writing from so I can add your location to the listing?

(This question applies to everyone who has a blog post they'd like me to list, if it's not obvious on your blog. Thanks!)

Wow, much to mull here - I had a spurt of creatability early after my arrival here in Germany but it's tapered off and I'm a be-mused (un-mused? not a-mused!) by it. Scrabbling about in the accessible parts of my mind to see what I can find. So far nothing that looks like something "worthy" and the project is on ice.

I'm not sure what being here means for the bigger picture - as far as I've ever been able to tell, "my" work is deeply tied to place even if I haven't managed to stay put. I'm working on knowing the land here too, to see what emerges.

Thanks for bringing this up, I hadn't consciously given myself permission to be kind of discombobulated.

Hi Wendy, yes, give yourself time - and permission - to have a period of adjustment. Moving to a new country is a huge thing and it's going to impact on all aspects of one's life, including the creative life. I was so relieved when my muse came back, I'd started to wonder whether I'd been abandoned for good and that was a horrible, deadening feeling.

Getting to know a new place is getting to know new parts of ourselves - it takes time and will probably involve surprises here and there. All the best! And, I enjoyed reading your moveable feast post!

Terri, many thanks for asking about my experience of the muse when living in a foreign country. I'd thought about it before, but always in a vague way. It was good to have the opportunity to (try) to string my thoughts together more coherently.

Terri (and all of the beautiful souls who have left such treasures here),

thank you SO much for this gorgeous came at just the right time on my tumultuous road..i can't even begin to articulate just how much i needed to be reminded of this.

i've written a small something inspired by your post -- not really a dish worthy of a feast...perhaps more of an hors d'oeuvre -- i'm trying to undo the knots of Responsibility that i've bound myself with...

thank you again...more than i can say.


ps. if you are moved to link my post, i'm in Troy, Ontario. :)

sorry -- i feel like i'm intruding on a conversation -- but i am so intrigued by what you've all written here about 'place'.

we recently moved to a beautiful place in the country -- not terribly far away, geographically, from where we used to live -- but spiritually and sensually, it's a world apart. i thought i'd explode with inspiration and know bursts of productivity never before known -- it's just that kind of place.

not so much. :)

so i shall take your advice, Lynn, and continue to allow myself this period of adjustment and reassembly and try not to worry that my daemon got lost on his way here...;)


Mel, in my experience, it takes time for the spirit of a place to get to know you (and vice versa) be patient!

Another fabulous post, Christina. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Oh, what a lovely blog! Thanks for joining the Feast and the conversation.

you're so right, Terri -- it's a bit rude of me to expect to march in and start right away.

time to leave something on those little offering stones i've set up in the doorways, methinks...;)

(it's also true that i'm a desperately impatient sort)

Not intruding at all, Mel - that's what's so wonderful about these discussions, everyone can add their thoughts.

It really does take time to adjust - and we never know how much time. I can imagine it must have been frustrating, thinking that the new place would allow for a burst of creativity, but it will come, just needs more time. One of the hardest things is giving ourselves permission to allow for these natural processes of adjustment to take place. They don't like deadlines or the clock much, do they. When the time's right, the muse will reappear.

environment is crucial to me. despite not being british, i found a depth connection to the Land here, specifically in Cornwall/Devon (we're moving down there soon). I haven't analysed it, so can't say whether there is inspiration coming from the Land, or whether it is the connection to place that provides peace, safety, soul-anchoring, and that in turn supports the creative process.

hi, came here by way of mel from above. :)

I love your term "soul-anchoring" with regard to the Land.

It's always fascinating to see what specific landscape calls to people - sometimes it's the land they've grown up in; other times it's one they don't have any obvious ties to, but when they experience it for the first time, they know that it's where they're meant to be.

Through the magic of the Internet and a line from the post being quoted on Twitter, I've just found this post. The magic is a prosaic and logical kind of magic created by the heavy hand of man but it depends on chance and a soupcon of weirdness, so it qualifies.

Thank you for quoting me. (It would be great if you could remind me where you found the quote, because I've forgotten.) I've really enjoyed reading this post and the amazing, evocative illustrations. So much talent in one place!

I'm having an odd kind of difficulty with my muse. She's making me feel guilty for spending so much time with my new hero, Jed (work in progress novel), when I haven't made a clean break with my last hero, Dominic (novel in edits). I hadn't realised that she had such a definite moral compass ...

Sorry, the above post was meant to say 'Sue Moorcroft', not 'Sue M51'. sigh.

Sue, thanks for stopping by. A friend gave me that quote, in a conversation we were having about inspiration and writers' block. She says she jotted the quote down without noting the source (I have a bad habit of doing that too), but says she's fairly certain it's from your book "Love Writing." (Which she liked very much, by the way.) Or *possibly* from an online article or interview about that book, but she remembers it as being from the book itself. She was struck by your words because that's exactly how she experiences the writing process, as being inhabited by her characters.

Hi Terri,

I think it probably is from 'Love Writing' (glad that your friend enjoyed it!) It's certainly how I feel about the fiction-writing process. Recently, I asked somebody to let me visit them for research matters and she honestly thought I was bringing somebody with me - but, no. Just a character in my head ... That's why I describe it as 'inhabited'.

Terri, and everyone – I don’t think I can fully express just how much this beautiful post and all the other wonderful, insightful riches served up here have helped, reassured and inspired me... but I’ve had a try at sharing some of my thoughts on the link below.

I feel hesitant and nervous about placing my inexpert offering on the table amongst so many accomplished and delicious dishes, but my muse has been pestering me so much - telling me to act on my inspiration, and to dish up the results come-what-may, that I felt I should be brave! Despite my muse’s pester-power, she is very sleepy, rusty and slow - so apologies that it’s taken me quite some time to bring this to the feast. Since writing my post, I’m still bumbling along trying to keep up with all the magical discussion developments – and am constantly struck by a deep sense of recognition and revelation, as yet more aspects illuminate my own experiences. A huge thank you to you all!

Anyway, here’s my very slow-cooked contribution for the after dinner platter (with added flavour kindly supplied by my daughter’s own beautiful, swift-flying muse)-

(I'm in England - near Bristol).

That's a *wonderful* addition to the feast, Melanie. Thank you so much. I've added it to the list!

Sometimes the prize is a real thing...I mean, why not use a 'carrot' and the inspiration of some other writer's style to get the pen rolling...and maybe win a bicycle?:

I came back here to copy your reply out in long hand into my journal, so I would have somewhere permanent to refer to it. And reading it again I thought, Oh, butcher's paper, that says it all right there doesn't it?

And then I wondered which artists to read about, as you said, as a model for surviving and I thought well I've never been much of a Frida Kahlo fan myself; then I realized that these past couple of months I've been devouring the fairy-tale essays in the back of this site (especially the ones about Donkeyskin, and I think I may have to paint that story), and also your essays, Terri, about what you've been through, especially, because it really resonated with my own situation. So I was doing it, and guess what you've already passed it forward, as they say. Thank you.

You've very welcome, Thalia. I honored to be able to pass it forward.

Here's another essay about fairy tales and childhood, which was posted over on Katherine Langerish's blog (in her excellent Fairytale Reflections series). The page starts with an introduction from Kath, and the essay follows:

Also, you might find Meg Zivahl-Fox's work of interest, particularly her art book, Nettles and Deliverance.

And here's an interesting recent post from Dora Goss on the subject of fearless women:

This feast has been inspiring me since my first reading, and now here is a bit of feasting posted on one of my blogs. Inspiration from you and all here -- the links and comments plus the listening that fills my head and heart from cantadora Clarissa Pinkola Estes' The Dangerous Old Woman. The link to my post about inspiration is here:

Many thanks again for the fine work, the art, the company.

This is a wonderful addition! I love the idea of honoring those times of life when "still standing" is an accomplishment in itself. And your environment sounds magical indeed. Thanks so much for contributing to the Feast! I'll put your offering on the list.

Okay, here's my dish for the movable feast, finally:

It's a little odd; we'll call it ambrosia, that salad made from coconut, marshmallows, Mandarin oranges, pineapple bits, and sour cream, that you think Whoa those ingredients will NEVER work together, but somehow they do.

It's not on my usual blog but one where I write under a pseudonym, but it's me there, Thalia. I swear I wrote the damned thing out like five times, trying to get past it; it's still not quite what I want to say, but it had to come out, I guess.

Sorry took it down again. This is just not going to happen. I'm just too uncomfortable leaving it up. Ai me.

That's okay! Sometimes it's the writing of a piece that's more important than having people read it. But one day, when you're ready, there will be something you feel comfortable leaving up, and we'll be glad of the contribution to the Feast!

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