Fantastic Erratic: on muses, flow, and writing in spurts

IMG_5668When I started blogging, I posted for the first three years without a single visitor, not even my mom. It didn’t matter because, a.) I didn’t really understand (and wasn’t interested in) social media, b.) I didn’t think my writing was ready for prime time (though there is no such thing as ‘prime’ or time, here), and c.) I feared people’s reactions to my writing would change or discourage me — pretty much how I feel, nine years later.

But I set up a daily practice in hopes my writing and blogging could grow to offset what I did for money, which wasn’t making me happy, was starting to become something that would dominate my life in a way I’d regret, at my own doing.

I was in the kitchen this Sunday when a radio program came on about the psychologist Abraham Maslow, someone I liked for his theory of self-actualization, a term I’d first heard in high school. It was a contemporary of his speaking about work he’d done on what makes people feel happy and fulfilled (he coined the phrase ‘flow’), that there is no increase in happiness that correlates to increased income, based on some 40 years of data, but instead this notion that people who are really skilled in a vocation or activity can actually lose themselves in a state of temporary bliss, whether musician, figure skater, corporate executive…

The program ended with Maslow talking about his idea of peak experience, similar to the flow idea, that while some people can enjoy this feeling of exaltation, of losing oneself, it doesn’t last (‘you may get to heaven, but only for five minutes’). And it reminded me of my writing, the fact I may produce a half dozen good phrases a day, and a half dozen good phrases a day does not a book make — but could, over time.

And I took to the trail in the Issaquah Alps to lose more of my gut, and found something on the edge of the map called Fantastic Erratic, a large, glacial boulder: and as my mind spooled out on the switchbacks I stopped to write in my notepad and thought my writing is like that too, a Fantastic Erratic, it’s good in spurts but I have to catch those moments myself because there is no muse, the muse is you (and if you want to believe in one, you better know how to train it, they don’t like cages).

I visited the artist Matthias in town the day before I drove Dawn and the kids to the airport, in Frankfurt. Matthias showed me some of his art, which hung on the walls, and I asked if I could take a photo with my phone, and one by one he took them down and handed the pieces to me and asked what I thought–like what I saw in the pictures–and then, with care, told me what he’d meant by them.

I realized I didn’t have enough time to be there and told him I had to go. He had a key for the nearby watchtower, and I followed him up the corkscrew stairs to the top, to look out over the village. He explained the design of the stairwell, a column inside another column, that it was the most efficient use of the space, and very smart for its time. And it made me think of Dumbledore’s office, what we’d seen on the set for the film outside of London, how his office was really a series of interconnected rooms intended to symbolize the multiple layers of Dumbledore’s character and past, stories nested within stories.

I can’t write a blog post until I’ve got a first line that hooks me. The first line is like a keyhole through some door to a space I go inside but can’t get to without that first line, which rarely changes after it’s drafted. Those who write or paint, or do whatever requires balancing two parts of the brain, the creative and the critical, can relate to the need to toggle between those areas, to learn how to keep them separate but keep them in check: I do that by previewing posts so I can read them like a reader would before they’re published, and bounce back to the other area to edit. If you think you can really take people somewhere else with what you write or create you need to imagine you can go there yourself, first.

I got to the boulder called Fantastic Erratic, but was a bit disappointed by it. I guess I pictured something really fantastic because of the name, and it was, but I was tired and knew I wanted to use it in my blog post, to tie it to my thoughts on writing, to end it. In some ways I’d pictured it as something more, no different than any number of story ideas that change once they become real.

Because the forest was thick with ferns and fallen timber, I wasn’t sure if I could even see it, but there it was, bearded with golden fronds, a carpet of moss, a sleeping giant with stories of its own, arriving a hundred thousand years ago for reasons we’ll never know, we can only imagine — it’s erratic because it differs from the surrounding rock, that’s what it means to be erratic, and also because it’s unsettled, inconsistent, irregular. It’s all those reasons to start a blog and write. No muse knows that better than you.


Categories: writing

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

20 replies

  1. It’s the words, I find, that are the stumbling blocks. Your thoughts geological have me thinking of post-glacial moraine – the slow sedimentary slither and slide full of lumpy rocks and gravel and kettle holes. So it’s not only making peace between the creative and the critical, but also between the ‘what you really want to say’ and the means you have to say it.
    I’m thinking aloud here, but I often think focusing too much on the words can lead one astray. They lead me astray anyway. When the real focus might more usefully be: what’s the story? The trouble with writing is that you can get straight down to it, unlike say a painting or sculpture where there is much work preparing the ground.
    Free-flow is fine if it’s daily practice, but not so fine if you’re working on a sizable piece of fiction. This fiction writer is pretty sure she does not do enough forward planning, even though she knows that not to do so is ultimately self-defeating. We perhaps tend to think that too much planning destroys spontaneity/is boring etc. But it’s hard to create without boundaries of some sort. To have some could even be liberating. Just need to overcome resistance to the notion…Cheers, Bill, and thanks for a v. interesting post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, to the boundaries, the planning, the art of planning and not sounding that way, of editing something so it still feels freshly picked, not overly sanitized. I spun off on a lot of metaphors thinking about this whilst hiking, and one thought was that we do need the map. You can twirl around inside it, but without the map, without defining the park boundaries, you could get lost in the woods, which no one likes, especially readers. You need to be that cab driver who takes the scenic route, has the people in the back fearful at times if he/she really knows the route, not making them feel gypped, and emerge somewhere magical. That’s me talking to myself, at least one person listening, ha! Great to hear from you Tish. Cheers and enjoy the day, thanks for ruminating with me.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I don’t believe in the muse. The idea is everything for me, and then it becomes a question of sitting down and doing the work. Where those ideas come from, who knows. But I know if I’m rested, feeling healthy and not too stressed, they come more readily. The muse of well-being, I guess.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Classic Pearse. Nice flushing out of some great ideas. I’m a big believer in “the muse is you,” and I’ve always been skeptical of writers/artists who say things like, “I just take dictation.” It’s true, you can get into “the flow” where you might not be thinking consciously about what you’re doing, but it’s your subconscious doing the work. You’ve given it a way to come out.

    Fantastic Erratic is a pretty good name for it …


    • “I just take dictation,” that’s weird. I’m not above being weird at all, I think it’s kind of necessary — but once you start calling it channeling, that just goes elsewhere. I’m glad you liked it Kevin, thank you. I just loved the name of that boulder and knew I had to do something with it. I couldn’t fit it in my hip sack or my camera frame. Thanks for riffing there with me on the conscious vs. subconscious too….


      • My muse seems to start to flow in mid-September, I don’t know why but that’s the only time I seem to channel anything. And then it gets to be October and I feel like I have permission to be as dark as I want to be with Halloween coming and all. The rest of the year I’m overthinking most of my thinks, and trying to be crafty, and right on time, like Ad Rock. None of this is going to make sense, so I better skedaddle.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s funny you mention Ad Rock because as I was getting in the car with my kids today I said I get it, I got it, I know it’s good — the rhymes I write…
        and they both looked embarrassed and got in.


      • My girls are just coming out of that stage where anything I do is funny and getting into that stage where some of the things I do are “weird.” I can still get a laugh most of the time, but other times I feel old. Inside, though, I’m still dropping science like Galileo dropped a orange.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice. Really nice thoughts. Reblogging. You had me at Erratic! Thank you!


    • What a cool word, huh Mo? I had to look it up, because I had bad connotations of it, and yes, I identified with that rock and its name. Thanks for sharing the post, I appreciate it. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Erratic flow. What a lovely way to describe a thought process. Sometimes more flow, sometimes more erratic. Bouncing around like a ball on a pinball table; long runs, short ones, sometimes a roll where you’re scoring left and right, sometimes you try something and it just drains down the exit hole. And on a geologic scale, the fantastic erratic is just a big pinball.


    • I like the pinball, that’s right, that’s good. Glad you liked the description Dave and the nature of erratic. Seems it would come from the root for err, maybe it does, which doesn’t sound altogether good, but it’s just different. When I came out of the woods there I came right into a development, which was strange: I crossed the park boundary, and then had to find my way out of the development, which I assumed led down, and had to find where it drained too. It was strange, but part of me thought ‘wouldn’t it be great to live here, right next to the woods?’ Thanks for stopping by. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Fantastic Erratic is a wonderful name and theme and makes for a cool picture with the sign here. I can relate to all of what you write about here, about the 5 minutes of heaven and the blogging for no visitors and then for some kind of support or validation, whether I want to admit it or not. I could just write for myself, but when I do I write differently and it doesn’t give the same high. The idea of a muse is fun, though I find mine most often after multiple nights of little sleep. So fuck her because I feel terrible every time she comes. It reminds me of that movie with Sharon Stone and Albert Brooks. Well, I hope you know I’m a huge fan of your writing and style and I get a lot out of your blog. So thank you for all of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So glad you’re a huge fan and get a lot out of it, that’s what I’m going for. It’s really just a few great readers that makes it worthwhile for me, that’s really fun. I love that name too and I’m glad you do, thanks for sharing how you relate to the idea of visitors and how it feels to write. Oh what a good feeling. I don’t know that film with Sharon Stone, but I like how you trash the muse. That’s good. Good luck with your writing and enjoy the end of your week. Bill


  7. Someone just gave up blogging because it was interfering with her more serious book writing. I get that. This is a terrific time suck. I’ve tried to give it up but I’ve always come back to it. I go back to that first year of blogging and the posts were so bad. So dull. Don’t look back.



  1. Fantastic Erratic: on muses, flow, and writing in spurts — Pinklightsabre’s Blog – Mugglestones and Mayhem
  2. Early autumn mixer | William Pearse | pinklightsabre

Leave a comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: