How to keep the Muse happy in 2016 (or five strategies to start the year on a writing note)

“Cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can’t fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.”
—William S. Burroughs

I have a Muse called Adam, demanding as hell; mean as that mad tomcat that viciously attacked  me some years ago in Mombasa. He accepts nothing but the finest things. If I’m to keep this one, I’ll have to improve my skills and dish up a continuous flow of engaging writing in 2016. Here’s how I propose to up my game.

One word: Every morning, when I switch on my computer, I plan to go over to One Word.  I like that at this site, I never know which random one-word prompt to expect.  The instruction is simple – you have sixty seconds to write about the word you see on the screen. Don’t think, just write.  When the timer comes to an end, you’ll have a few additional seconds to finish your last sentence. You don’t even have to be a registered user to use the site, but if you are, you can publish your paragraph and get inspired by what others have written.

Take a walk through the market: I pass through Dagoretti market to work sometimes, slowly and leisurely when the sun is shining, apprehensively when it has rained, because I know that by the time I get to work, my feet will look like I just came from a farm. It takes less than five minutes from one matatu stop to the next, and it’s amazing how much colour and characters I see in those few minutes. It can be ugly, like the morning a drunk, stinking old man, patted me on the back and called me beautiful while leaving a trail of ugly brown finger prints across my white blouse. Still, I enjoy walking through busy markets, bus stops, and malls. There’s a lot of action, life and people to write about there.

100 words: I would like to use words sparingly and effectively. Some time ago, I discovered a simple exercise to discipline one self. First, you write everything you want to with no reservations. When the message is complete, the task is to review, edit and rewrite the same passage, until you’re left with 100 words. No more no less. The message must remain intact. I like this exercise, it helps me reflect a little harder on what I want to say, and it builds my vocabulary.

Travel once a month: I figure imagination is a place where real life merges with a magical place in our brains to create another reality.  I believe I should travel some – not for tourism’s sake, but to extend my horizon and in the process, enrich my writing.

Talk to strangers: We’re not children any more; it’s okay to let go of some of the things our mothers warned us against. I plan to start talking to complete strangers, to find out a peculiarity, a uniqueness in the expressions, stories, characters of people whose existence would otherwise not make a beep on my radar. To know their names, and where they come from. I’m sure that will be interesting, whether I write about it or not doesn’t matter at this point.

Pictures are worth a thousand words (literally):  I found photo albums from my undergraduate years at Kenyatta University in an old suitcase. It felt like I’d struck gold. I’m not in touch with most of the people in those photos, but I’m surprised at the vivid memories that the images evoked. I plan to start picking a random photo from my archives and letting myself be transported back in time. I think I’ll have a lot of reflection and writing prompts there.

If you have a Muse like mine, you may want to try these ideas. By my calculation, just following each of these strategies will provide enough writing prompts for a whole week. But maybe you have already figured out ways to tame your Muse. If you have other ideas to keep the fingers tapping away at the keyboard, I’d be happy to hear about them!

Happy writing in 2016!

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