O! for a muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention. ~ William Shakespeare
What is it about fire? Humanity as a whole marks the beginning of civilization with the harnessing of fire. It warms us, cooks our food, and in its wild, flaming state – preferably contained in a campfire ring – entrances us for hours.
But it also terrifies us. Uncontained, fire is a horrifying menace. Wildfires in the forests of California and the plains of Arizona and New Mexico have devastated countless lives this season, scorching untold acres of land. We load our homes and businesses with smoke detectors to enable us to escape its fury. Furniture and clothing are often drenched with fire-retardant solutions of questionable safety that we’re willing to overlook if they save us from the blaze.
Yet even as it burns through our communities, we are attracted to its flames, mesmerized by the flicker and gleam of indescribable colors. We have a condition named for the more extreme fascination: pyromania – fire madness.
Shakespeare had it right, as he so often did, when he yearned for a muse of fire. As writers, we need that spark of creativity, a gleam of horrifying reality, almost uncontrollable, whenever we embarked on a new project. It gives us impetus to do battle with our self-doubts; enchants us with possibility while terrifying us with fear of failure; and draws us into the deepest recesses of ourselves from which the best writing springs.
I generally prefer my muse to be a bit calmer, easier to control, but as a fellow writer noted in last night’s critique group, maybe we need to write in the throes of fiery emotion more often. That’s when bold, gripping, and powerful words explode onto the page.
And with the right kind of fire, we can also make s’mores.