Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The Writer’s Muse Wears Different Shoes by Maggie Lyons

The writer’s muse sports a variety of footwear. Sometimes she leaps out of nowhere in spring-heeled running shoes. Sometimes she shuffles along in flip-flops that make a soft flapping noise heard long before she actually shows up.

And she comes from an endless variety of directions.

For A. A. Milne, she trotted out of his son’s collection of toy animals and gently prodded him to pen Winnie-the-Pooh. The muse who inspired Jerry Spinelli’s Wringer screamed up to him from a Pennsylvania pigeon shoot she couldn’t get away from fast enough. J. K. Rowling’s muse materialized after the legendary author took a train journey and the idea of a boy wizard named Harry Potter—to quote Rowling—“fell into my head.” Maurice Sendak’s muse for Where the Wild Things Are raced out of a gathering of Sendak’s unsavory relatives who had scared him when he was very young. Judy Blume’s muse marched in from a story Blume’s daughter told about a school bully and demanded that Blume write Blubber. Jeff Kinney’s muse is reluctant to show her face—a common occurrence even among the best of writers—but when she does, she’s positively quirky because of where she shows it. In Kinney’s words, she arrives as he’s “stepping into the shower or walking out the door or crossing in some sort of threshold”—and another Diary of a Wimpy Kid episode is spawned.

Kinney’s inspiration comes from everyday life, as it does for so many writers. “Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day,” Orson Scott Card once said. “The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don't see any.” Anton Chekhov put it another way: “If you look at anything long enough—say, just that wall in front of you—it will come out of that wall.”

And when the muse urges, how does a writer meet the command?

Sometimes by doing nothing for a while. Judy Blume usually has “a character or story idea inside my head for a long time (sometimes years) before I actually begin.” Gabriel Garcia Marquez finds that “One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph, and once I get it, the rest just comes out very easily.”

And after that first paragraph, whether scribbled down in a rush of excitement, or hewn out by laboring fingers, where does the inspiration come from? Even though the rest of the story flows like molten gold, where that ore was mined may be a mystery. The muse arrives without a sound. She’s not wearing any shoes at all, and gives us no warning so we can’t see where she’s come from. Ideas simply fly in, pop up, magically appear.

Perhaps more importantly, it’s what writers do with inspiration that really counts. “Ideas are the cheapest part of the writing,” Jane Yolen has commented. “The hard part is what you do with the ideas you’ve gathered.”

By now you may be wondering—if you’ve read this far—how my muse attacks me. She ran at me in a pair of frayed sneakers from the direction of my own experience to plant the initial idea of my middle-grade adventure Vin and the Dorky Duet. My love of music, challenges—which I don’t always meet—and that ancient genre, the quest novel, find their way into the story about a trumpet-playing seventh-grader who sets out on an embarrassing mission. Well, it embarrasses him, but then what doesn’t embarrass a twelve-year-old? The specific ideas that flesh out the narrative flew in from outer space and caused quite a stir before I could put them behind bars where they belonged. As for my middle-grade adventure Dewi and the Seeds of Doom, my muse wore little black boots and the Welsh national costume—the one with a tall, stove-pipe, black hat on top of a frilly, lace bonnet—that’s what Welsh ladies wear, I should add. She didn’t have to sing the Welsh national anthem to inspire me to make a nano-contribution to the Welsh literary map. After all, we can’t let Dylan Thomas hog it all, can we?

About the Author:

Maggie Lyons is a writer and editor who was born in Wales and crossed the pond to Virginia. Writing and editing business literature was fun, and editing for academic publishers brought plenty of satisfaction—she admits she has a fondness for nerds—but none of it matched the magic she discovered in writing fiction and nonfiction for children. Several of her articles were published in Stories for Children Magazine and knowonder! magazine published a chapter book—the entire book! She hopes her stories encourage reluctant young readers to turn a page or two.

Her middle-grade adventure story Vin and the Dorky Duet is available as an e-book at MuseItUp Publishing’s bookstore (MuseItYoung section: and on Amazon at, and as a paperback at Halo Publishing International at and Amazon at

Her middle-grade adventure story Dewi and the Seeds of Doom will be released by as an e-book by MuseItUp Publishing in October. Halo Publishing International will release a paperback version. More information at:, and

For the boy's sneakers:photo credit: FotoRita [Allstar maniac] via photo pin cc


  1. Many thanks, Billy, for posting my article today. I'm available if anyone has any questions.

  2. I'd like to order this book but the courier service have the poorest fulfilment service ever. Anyway, enough of the rants, is there any way I could have a copy? Thanks!

  3. What can you say about django & juliette? I just love their powder black flats. :)


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