A Writer’s Ritual: Summoning a Muse

Happy Halloween and good luck to those headed into Nanowrimo month! Here’s a short bit of spooky fiction, a ritual meant to help you summon a Muse. If you’re sure you actually want to. 

Every real writer you know knows at least one of a set on 29 perfect rituals. These rituals vary in usefulness depending on their age, usage, and intent of the writer. You will often see debates and arguments as to the definition of ‘real writer’. That is, what makes one legitimate as a craftsman or artist with words and stories. It is these rituals that define all writers. Period. Someone who uses none of the set is likely something else. Maybe a content creator. There’s nothing wrong with being a content creator, but that has its own, less ancient rituals. Performing a ritual as a plagiarist, or intending to plagiarize has its own consequences. These are best not discussed. While there are gray areas, be careful.

Most writers don’t realize they are performing a ritual as if it is something they just do. Every writer who has earned some or all of their income for over five years or more knows they perform these rituals. Anyone who says otherwise is lying to you.

Writers lie to tell the truth. Best to get used to that. As you are about to become a liar. Or at least become a better one.

If you are reading this, it means you want to be a writer. Or you are a writer and want to become a better writer. You have either lucked upon this ritual or else worked very hard to find it. Congratulations. It is recommended that you read through this document completely before attempting this ritual. Of the 29 perfect rituals for writers, this is neither the easiest nor the most harrowing ritual. It is common, among writers, but not the most common.

In short, you must sacrifice something of yourself to draw the attention of a Muse. Contact with a Muse always results in a burst of inspiration and artistic focus. The inspiration granted may not conform to your brand, the course of your career or your ability to isolate what you create from who you are. That is not the purview of this ritual. Neither is it the concern of any Muse. Muses do not care about you.

You must be willing to sacrifice time without really knowing how much time you will lose to the Muse. Because they are fickle and this sort of time cannot be measured.

To some extent, all of this is true of any writer writing. Writing, from planning, editing and the deed itself, takes time. If you ever check out your competitor’s release schedule and see them releasing a book a month, you should now know. Either they’re performing a series of dangerous rituals, or they’re somehow a group of people instead of one author. No book gets written overnight, and every article you can put together could benefit from one more editing pass.
And yet for the sake of this ritual, nothing so mundane is meant. Besides whatever time writing and revising requires of you as a writer, this ritual takes that and more. It takes time off of the end of your life. There’s no ratio, and no one knows when they’ll die so it isn’t as if it can be calculated, observed, or even guessed at. Why not sacrifice something so ineffable? Is it a sacrifice to lose something you can’t measure? Yes. It is. If the ritual is completed, when you interact with the Muse, you will feel the drain. You will feel the intense pull of time slipping away. It will be palpable and terrible. But plenty of people talk themselves out of carrying the trauma of it for long. You’ll probably be one of those people. Write on that first sheet of paper a number. Write it small like it was a page number or a layout note. Or type it in the same place if you’re using a computer. Make sure it can’t be moved or changed. That is the time you are willing to give up. The more time, the stronger your inspiration is. The catch being you don’t know what unit the time will be measured in. Seconds? Days? Years? The Muses are coy and cold. But you signed up for this. You might ask, ‘what happens if I offer more time than I have left.’ You’re clever, I bet you can guess. It’s like that, but messier.
You must be able to sacrifice part of a relationship. As a part of an offering to a Muse, you must put a strain on your marriage for example. Or make your children hate you a little more. Or disappoint a friend for the last time.
Again, it is true that in mundane socializations, being a writer and writing can put a heavy strain on your relationships already. Of course. But this is something more. You are severing real spiritual bonds between yourself and whomever you decide to sacrifice. Perhaps ‘choose’ is not the correct word. It’s true you can try to manipulate the situation so that the emotional damage done goes in a certain a direction. However, there’s no clear way to demand the ritual only effects the person you target. You may decide to cut out on your best friend’s wedding to perform this ritual. Or you might refuse to help your son with his homework in order to influence the results.

Your aim can’t always hit the mark, though, If your best friend was too drunk to notice you were gone, but her new groom fumed about it, you may not have gotten your intended results.

If you make no effort to manipulate which relationship is strained, it will be random and perhaps, more devastation. It is thus highly recommended that you perform this ritual on a friend’s birthday or other times you might be building a relationship. The effects of this sacrifice may not be noticeable to you right away or even at all if you are obtuse toward social connections. You may think you’ve gotten away with something. Maybe you did. Maybe the strain goes to a loving husband whose ability to empathize with your drive help heal the riff. On the other hand, maybe your current agent stops talking to you during an important pitch period and quits as your agent. The thing is, contacting a Muse is worth it. Every time. Why else would people keep doing it?

You must be willing to sacrifice some of your ability to enjoy the mundane world. Again, this is an aspect of any writer. We bore often and have no patience for the banal. This is different. You can, again, try to assuage the Muse so it will take only a specific tolerance from you. Try a symbolic gesture by performing this ritual in the bed you and your partner use to make love. It’s possible the Muse will reduce your ability to enjoy vanilla sex with that partner. But what you write? It will be the hottest thing you’ve managed. Sex too important to you? Perform the ritual in your kitchen surrounded by cooking tools. Food will never taste the same but, again, it’s worth it. What the Muse takes in sacrifice is hard to put a finger on exactly. It isn’t until after the fact you’re likely to realize the color red has no vibrancy. Or you cannot stand the way your daughter chews her food and yell at her. You can’t drink tea anymore as it doesn’t have enough kick. Or maybe asking you to do your share of the chores drives you to a rage even though you know you need to do your part.
Some writers report finding ways to work around these new intolerances, but writers lie. So who can be sure?

You have manipulated the events surrounding your ritual. You have most of your components. You’ve meditated on what you will give up, but still, you feel uninspired? Some writers experience a jolt to write before starting the ritual itself and stop to avoid the consequences. Plenty of writers manage to write without ever summing a Muse. Some poor souls are visited by Muses without this ritual. But if none of those things are true for you, then you have no real choice but to begin. It’ll be worth it. Promise.

To alert the Muses you are prepared to sacrifice to them, you must now make your fingers ache. That is, to make the call, you must make your fingers itch, tingle, hurt or ache to begin. If you don’t use fingers to write, aching in your throat or headaches will work in a pinch. (Writers who frequently experience debilitating migraines may be accidentally summoning a Muse. Each and every time.)

How you make your fingers—or head or what-have-you—hurt is up to you. Some writers prick their fingertips or whack their knuckles on the table. Some skip a dose of their pain medication and hope for the best. It is surprisingly common for writers to chew their nails and cuticles until they hurt and bleed a little. Though it is not recommended, substances you are allergic too that make your skin itchy will do the job, but you have to be careful. This, like any other method to make your fingers hurt, should be done with care. Permanent damage to your hands or other tools for the craft will slow you down. A sprained finger at the start of the ritual, for example, can have dire consequences as described later.

That’s it, really. If you’re in some kind of terrible hurry, you know everything you need to know to perform the actual ritual and summon a Muse.
However, there is more to know if you’re the cautious and careful type.
Shortly after you have caused yourself to ache, a Muse will come. This guide will make no effort to outline the actual visitation. It is known the visitation is different for everyone and may seem different from ritual to ritual. It is understood that your mind cannot comprehend the appearance or experience of being visited. Modern writers describe a giant, fleshy amalgam of typewriter parts and screaming faces. Some describe a mood, an emotional oppression that is heavy and smells like a train station. One writer describes a male-like shape with three handsome faces and various unnamed pleasure giving organs. All throbbing to excite and enter him. He does not state if the visitation is conjugal. Ancient writers describe, in secret letters to their peers, horrific and exciting monsters. Talking walls that bleed children’s stories. Or great hands made of shadows and worms crawling across the ceiling, scribing the writer’s secrets across the walls in blood-ink.
We have many theories as to the variety and bizarre descriptions of Muses. There are some who believe it is not a series of separate entities even no matter what the Greeks believed, but rather one Outside entity we see and cannot process. The most likely is that we lack the language to properly describe the experience. Many writers forget the visitation. You may perform the ritual and not notice anything again until you realize you’ve been working for thirty minutes without checking your Facebook once. If so, you can count yourself fortunate. Seeing a Muse, or otherwise remembering your experiences of it during a visitation is a harrowing event. Try as you might, you will not be able to apply your words and measly descriptions to what happened. You cannot describe what the Muse is and what it had to do to you to get you writing. It’s enough to drive some writers to a breakdown. But it’s worth it. It must be worth it for the number of writers who cry, constantly, for a Muse to visit them.

After the visitation, you will write. The writing will be as rough as your first drafts usually are but there will be key differences. One, the ideas will be deeper, better—not necessarily more marketable, but more artistic. No good craft or business but better art. After all, isn’t that what most writers want? Beyond that, though, the writing will be faster. If you’re the sort of writer who usually labors over word choice or struggles with comma placement–and other pointless grammatical distractions–those worries will be gone. Nothing will get in your way as the ideas flow. If you’re a writer who already clocks a word count that leaves your keyboard smoking, you’re going to have a bad time in the morning. It will be worth it. But it will hurt. As mentioned earlier, if you hurt yourself at the start of this ritual, you will have a terrible time. You should plan to visit an ER when you regain consciousness later.

How long the ritual lasts will vary from writer to writer. Based on your personal stamina, wakefulness, caffeination and health factors like narcolepsy. In general, if you could manage eight hour work day without the Muse, you may expect to triple that before you pass out from exhaustion. 24 of the most productive hours of your life. You won’t sleep, eat, need the bathroom or thirst until after it is over. You may pause to meditate on what you’ll write next or check notes, but you’ll feel no need to rest, research or struggle over grammar. You’ll simply write and think and write more and more. After you pass out, you will pay for the physical drain with dehydration, hunger or intestinal difficulties, but it will all be worth it.

If you are interrupted in this period of inspiration by someone demanding your attention you will experience consequences similar to running out of writing material as described below. So best to avoid that. The magnitude will depend on how long you were interrupted.

Of course.

The Muse has inspired you and filled you—no—overfilled you with creative energy. Which is what you wanted. As suggested above, there are consequences to this supersaturation of ideas. If you run out of writing materials because your computer crashes or your notebook runs out of paper, the experience does not stop. Rather, the unspent words will bubble up in your mind and your mouth causing you actual physical pain. Your nose may bleed. You may vomit. You will most certainly begin to menstruate if you have the physical capacity for it. According to some accounts, you may menstruate even if you don’t, depending on what you write and who you write as.

That said, it’s easier to write on a wall in blood than it is with a pencil, so at least you’ve got that going for you now. If you can’t find or cobble together new writing materials or have been restrained the inspiration will not end. For example, if restrained by a hospital security guard or cop, your frustrated agony will not end until your period of inspiration is over.

Worse, you will walk knowing the greatest words you will ever write will be lost forever. You can attempt the ritual again, of course, but those words you were meant to write on that day? You will never have them back. (It is worth noting that once you commit the words to paper, pixel or clay tablet, they’re your words. If you lose a file on a poorly backed up computer, you’ll probably be able to remember most of what you wrote. Your rewrite might even be better. But the flow won’t be the same. It will take a lot longer to recover but at least it isn’t any more lost than a more mundane misplaced draft.)

It would not be hyperbole to say that some writers never fully recover from the permanent loss of what should have been. A depressed state, a loss of confidence, a new phobic relationship to writing and worse have been reported. Of course, writers trend toward these things anyway, so maybe it’s coincidence. But probably not.

And that’s it. More or less. You can stop reading now if you want and get started on summoning a Muse.

Let’s assume that you’ve stuck around, because there’s more written, and you’re wise and curious.

Good choice, Remembers, writers lie to tell the truth.

The thing you may already suspect but are afraid to admit is that this is not a one-time deal. You’ve glimpsed raw creative potential. It is not something you are likely to walk away from. While the old yarn is that Everyone’s Got One Book In Em, you contain multitudes. Why else go through a ritual like this? If your goal is to produce one great work and find a new hobby, this ritual is not for you. Even if you don’t remember the details of your visitation in your conscious thoughts, it is still there taking up a lot of space in your unconscious. When you dream, you will dream of the thing you saw. Glimpses or flashes of the experience will come to you when it’s dark and you are alone.—You’re a writer, you will be alone in the dark, make no mistake. You will think about your Muse, and in your desperate moments, be certain you cannot write without it. You will try a million lesser rituals to evoke another visitation without the sacrifices. They may even work, but make no mistake, they will not satisfy in the same way as that moment of incredible creative power. You will crave a new visitation the way most people crave love, food, and acceptance.

Strictly speaking, there’s nothing stopping you from giving in. The ritual is simple. Free up some time, get some paper ready, why not? You’re a better writer now than you were the last time you summoned the Muse. Who knows what you’ll be able to create this time! There’s no reduction on return either. The Muse is fickle in what it takes from you to some extent, but not in what it gives. Some say the experience is even better the second or third time. Some lonely souls—fantastic writers all—say it never stops getting better. For most of these sorts, their writing won’t be appreciated until after they are dead—tragically young—since no one in their lives will talk to them anymore. But it’s worth it. Of course, it is.

I’m a writer, I’ve done it. Would I lie?


 

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