My struggles with the muse

Oct 27, 2018

Composing a weekly column for CHL requires careful listening.

Although folks often offer vignettes, eager for me to pluck and dissect the highlights into a story, writing is not something that can be rushed, manufactured, or harvested too early. Oftentimes I will be notified of a development that, at first blush, seems to be of likely interest to the community and suitable to post, but I must patiently wait until I find the corroborating sources that can shed light on the true colors and texture of the story — often containing complex hues and contrasts untold in the original telling.

Of course, there is an absolute imperative that the article is honestly written and fair to all sides, something that takes not only time to record, but also time to reflect on, so as to present the issues in a non-judgemental way.

(Fortunately, we have a dozen “commenters” willing to do all the judging, complaining,  and solution creation for everything, every day.)

Occasionally, I become quite anxious and concerned about my weekly deadlines — worried that I have nothing to say and that I will never again have anything to say that will be of interest or have meaning to you, the reader. This is by far the most agonizing aspect of writing a column.

It is at this time I sit at my desk and meditate on three of my most cherished notions.

There is always a sheet of paper. There is always a pen. There is always a way out of the long, deep trough of silence.

I have never been capable of going rigidly into a story. Every article I have ever worked on is different from where it started or was intended to become. On every occasion I have been overwhelmed by the muse on my shoulder, suggesting, shaping, and often times taking me so far afield of my intention, that it takes hours of slogging my way back — sometimes until early morning — but always with a prize to be shared.

Writing does not come easily. It is hard work that keeps me up hour after hour and day after day as I sweat the details and then sweat the result.

The demands are great and the rewards are few, but few rewards are greater than the opportunity to press through the mesh of obstacles in pursuit of the human condition and bring it to you in writing to read in the morning as you sip a café con leche and contemplate your day.

I will add here that there are some things that need daily attention and do not need the nudge of inspiration. The sun’s slow exile across the walls of San Sebastian, rivers muttering in their stony beds, and the refrain of children’s voices at play. These are elemental clockworks way too important to be overlooked or ignored, and I call upon them often.

Folks have repeatedly asked what it takes to write for CuencaHighLife, and my answer is always the same. It is easy and requires just three simple ideals.

Love words. Agonize over sentences. And pay attention to the world.

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