December 2nd, 2005

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This Day in History, 1942: Atomic Pile

Sixty-three years ago today, Enrico Fermi created the first artificial nuclear chain reaction in his laboratory beneath the football stadium at the University of Chicago. The experiment was the precursor to the eventual construction of the atomic bomb. Upon succesful completion of the experiment, a coded message was transmitted to President Roosevelt: "The Italian navigator has landed in the new world."

From This Day in History
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This Day in History, 1954: McCarthy Condemned by Senate

Fifty-one years ago today, the US Senate voted 65-22 to condemn Senator Joseph R. McCarthy for his overzealous investigation of suspected communists in the government, military, and civilian society.

"What is known as 'McCarthyism' began on February 9, 1950, when McCarthy, a relatively obscure Republican senator from Wisconsin, announced during a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, that he had in his possession a list of 205 communists who had infiltrated the U.S. State Department. The unsubstantiated declaration, which was little more than a publicity stunt, thrust Senator McCarthy into the national spotlight.

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From This Day in History
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Robert's Rules of Writing #9: Lose the Muse

[Rule quoted from Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello (Writer's Digest Books, 2005). See my original post for the rules of this discussion.]

Ah, inspiration. We all know that professional, working writers don't wait for inspiration, right? Amateur and wannabe writers talk about waiting for the muse to arrive, but real working writers dismiss this sort of talk. They know that writing is a job, day in and day out, and that if you wait for inspiration to hit, you'll never get anything done.

Well...

Okay, I'll admit it. Masello makes a good point here, as many other writers have done before him. It's true that if you want to make a living as a writer, you have to write. And if you spend your days waiting for inspiration to strike, and not writing until and unless inspiration strikes, you'll be a long time waiting.

Masello goes even further, saying that one way to encourage the muse to show up is to sit down and write. As he says, "The muse is most effectively summoned by the clicking of your keyboard or the scratching of your pen." And he talks about how as you write, you might suddenly look up and realize that you've been feeling that inspiration all along.

And yet...I sometimes feel that this piece of advice, as useful as it is, neglects the important role that inspiration can and does play. After all, why are we writing in the first place? Presumably, at some point in the past, we were inspired to do so. I've taken and given the advice of writing every day and not just waiting for the muse, but I've also noticed that some of my best work -- or at least the work I'm most proud of -- came to me in a flash of inspiration. And rarely did that inspiration happen at my desk. Rather, it happened as I was teaching a class, or reading a magazine, or participating on a panel at a convention.

So I think this rule has to be balanced. If you want to write, don't wait for the muse to arrive. But whenever and wherever the muse arrives, learn to recognize her and try to keep that inspiration alive when it's time to return to the keyboard. Because that's how you'll probably do your best work.

So, where and when have you been visited by the muse?