I remember as a wee child, sitting at the dinner table in the old kitchen of our family home in Paddington, Sydney. My food would arrive in front of me and each night I recall burning my mouth on one thing or another, too impatient to let my food cool before I ate. Every night, I would watch, mesmerised, as the adults took turns with the salt shaker. After sprinkling the mystical contents over their food, they would eat. I would sit and ask for someone to pass the salt – not wanting to miss out on this family ritual. I would ask…and ask…and ask until finally someone would pass me the salt shaker. By the time I sprinkled my food, my food had cooled off and so, for the next few hundred meals or so, I concluded that salt cooled your food. It took a long time for the truth to reveal itself. My mother questioned why I wanted salt on my steaming hot pudding one night.
“Because it’s too hot, and salt cools your food,” I replied, thinking the woman was barking mad not to realise this. I went on to explain to her the obvious – that salt cooled your food down. I was shattered when I realised after experimentation that my deduction was wrong. My belief had been shot down in flames.
As a writer, for the longest time I believed I needed a muse in order to fill the page with wonderful words. I had spent years sitting before an empty page waiting for this mystical presence to spice up my mind and bring huge shakers of inspiration to my table. And on the odd occasion when this belief held true, I remember feasting on the sensation. I believed it was all about waiting for that divine moment when the gates of creativity would break open and drown me in fabulous words. I never really considered that you could just sit down and write – without a morsel of muse being present.
I came to the writing table of life believing this was how it all worked. It wasn’t until I started looking to others that the truth was revealed. This belief I had about my divine muse was as fictional and irrational as salt cooling my food. It was an unsavoury belief I had carried around for too long. Learning from other writers, I now see that writing has no quick fixes. It’s not about waiting for the muse to turn up to carry you off into word-land. I now know it’s much more about perspiration than inspiration. Doing the hard yards and hard work in order to savour the fruits of your labour.
The act of sitting and simply beginning without any form of a muse is enough. Sometimes she joins me, sometimes not. And I’m happy now to venture along without her, bland and unseasoned because I know that eventually she turns up to the page and joins in, adding the spice and flavour to what sometimes begins as boring and bland. These days, for the sake of my health, I’ve given up salt and the for the sake of my writing health, I’ve given up waiting for inspiration to strike. The important thing for me now is to start. Consistently. Every day. You can’t season what doesn’t exist.