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  • Sarah Donkin

Muses and what I've been up to lately

I have always had mixed feelings about muses. Over the last few years, I’ve started viewing them the same way I view shoes: they might have pretty exteriors and shiny surfaces, but they don’t do you any good unless you can put them to work. I don’t just want to look at my inspiration - I want to make it walk, hear the clicking of the heels on the pavement, and see the soles start to scuff against the curbs.


Maybe more importantly, I don’t want to wait for it. After all, shoes don’t just walk up to you and wait for you to put them on. You have to go out to a retail store, or a thrift shop, or the side of the highway, pick up a pair, and try them on.


I learned a lot about finding and working inspiration last summer and fall when I decided to write a collection of song about nature as my senior project for my writing major. I enjoy songwriting. It’s therapeutic sometimes, and outrageously fun other times. But sometimes, it’s also really, really difficult. This project gave me a strict deadline to write a specific number of songs on a specific topic.


I chose my muse - the expansive beauty of the natural world and our relationship to it - over the summer. Then I started chasing it down. This included reading academic articles on nature writing and poetry, going to places that I associated with the natural world, like state parks and national seashores, and tearing up while listening to John Denver songs that I hadn’t heard in years.


It was easy when I first started writing songs in August. I’d had all summer to read, listen, and explore, and I was full of ideas, little lines and phrases that I’d jotted down in my phone notes and notebooks, and melodies that I’d written down using solfege. One of the first songs I drafted, “Face in the Moon,” was one of the fastest that I wrote last fall. At the beginning, the songwriting seemed as natural as the world I was writing about.


Then, the middle of the semester hit. I started second guessing some of my song concepts. New ideas weren’t coming to me. I found myself writing and scrapping different versions of the same song over and over again. If I’d started the semester gliding smoothly on my muse-shoes, I was now tumbling to the ground as one of the heels snapped in a grate.


So what do you do when your muse decides it doesn’t want to work anymore?


Well, if you’re like me, you might lie on the ground for a few minute, hoping that your professor doesn’t notice what’s going on. You might sit up and take it off of your feet for a few minute, glaring at it and thinking that you chose the wrong muse.


Then you fix the heel, put the shoe back on, and keep walking.


That’s it. That’s really all there is to it. Keep going.


There are a lot of ways you can do this. Recently, I’ve been finding it helpful to set aside specific times to write. For example, most days (until daylight savings ruined my schedule again - I'm still adjusting), I get up early enough that I can be writing by 7:30am, and continue writing until about 8:45am. If I hit my word count goal before that, I take the extra time to work on a different project or plan ahead for my next writing session.


Last fall, the most helpful thing was to allow myself to fail repeatedly, not worrying about how perfect each draft was until I had something written down. From there, I could work on editing and rewriting parts of songs, or in some cases, entire songs, until I was somewhat happy with them.


Some songs took longer than others. Some songs took more drafts than others before I was happy with them. But in the end, the effort paid off. I finished the semester with a collection of fifteen nature songs, just as I’d planned.


There’s something wonderful about seeing a project all the way through to the end. It’s not the first time I’ve done that with a project, but the feeling will never get old. I think that’s because rather than simply trying on inspiration and then leaving it hidden in the closet, you’re taking your inspiration and walking on it all the way to your destination. You’re becoming acquainted with your muse, learning all of the positives and negatives, and using it to make the best project that you can.


Since last fall, I’ve been working on finishing my senior year of college, writing more songs, and starting a few other writing projects on the side. While music and songwriting may be taking a backseat for now, I was truly blessed to be able to spend so much time songwriting last fall, and I look forward to continuing to work on songwriting as time allows. I’m planning to try to write a longer post like this for the second Monday of each month going forward, and will hopefully be able to start sharing some of my covers and original songs on here too soon.


Until next time, have a great month and don’t forget to put your muse to work!

- Sarah

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