How to Believe in Santa & Find Your Writing Muse

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Can a little holiday magic help you write some fierce prose?

Do you tell your kids the “truth” about Santa?

I’ve read some hot debates about the topic this season. Honesty is a word that gets thrown around a lot in these conversations. I consider myself to be exceedingly honest. My mother once told me I was too honest and that says something about the childhood I endured growing up in the Deep South. I made it a goal to never lie to my high school students about literature or life when I was teaching English. Even now with my almost 2-year-old, I don’t sugarcoat much.

But in all my honesty, I still love the idea of Santa.

I remember believing in him as a real man until I was about 9, then I continued believing in him as something ethereal. For me, he didn’t cease to exist, he just transformed into the spirit of the holidays. Getting too corny for you yet? I don’t care.

Believing in magic doesn’t take much magic at all.

My belief in magic keeps me happy at the holidays, plus it’s what keeps me writing. Ideas on tap. It’s why I’m always able to produce content. And this magic gives me something to look forward to.

Believing in magic doesn’t take much magic at all.

All that’s required to believe in magic is to see beyond the daily grind, the grocery shopping, the laundry, the bills. Throwing all life’s random experiences up in the air and infusing each one with meaning as they rain down all over you. Too abstract?

If you’re a writer, you’re also a magician.

Let me put it this way: If you’re a writer, you’re also a magician.

How’s that?

As a writer, you’re required to make decisions about what words to use, what words to leave out, and what meaning those words create as you combine them into a story. It’s really that simple.

Words have power. And your ability to manipulate those words into meaning is one of the most compelling tools on the planet. Your use of words is a force of nature that gets a reader to believe in something beyond themselves. To animate an entire narrative that never existed before you wrote it. In essence, you cast a spell with your words.

This is how I see Santa. Not as a living, breathing bearded man who brings me presents (my husband has a beard and he buys me presents, too), but as pure magic. He’s an device that promotes good will and positive change. A reminder that the coldness of winter will soon transform into the warmth of new beginnings. Children need that. So, we supply them with it in a literal form until they grasp the metaphorical significance on their own.

Santa is a kind of seasonal muse.

Sadly, some people grow up and refuse to grasp the concept. They let Santa die away and stop believing in anything they can’t see or touch. The lifecycle of birth, death, and rebirth falls into a linear path directed towards one end. Santa becomes a caricature and life loses its magic.

If you think about it, Santa is a kind of seasonal muse.

Who were the Muses?

I’ll let you read the in-depth Greek history of the Muses on your own time. But here’s a quick overview. (My definition is cobbled together from theatre, philosophy, and mythology classes. I need Clio to help me out here!) The nine Muses were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne—the Titan goddess of memory. Each held a different creative specialty that could be bestowed upon humans for inspiration over an art form.

Yeah, yeah, that’s as far as I’ll go with the history lesson, promise. 

But I’m pretty certain that no matter how much a person claims they don’t believe in this stuff, if that person’s a writer, she’ll nearly always have times that burst with creative flow and periods where the inspirational embers die away. Writers imbue their writing practice with magical significance all the time. Whether they acknowledge literal goddesses or just give weight to a creative force.

My muse was of a different sort. My muse was an alligator. I honestly (there’s that word again) believe (and the other word, too) that my writing path started the day I took a nap and dreamt about that damn alligator.

I tried to write stories before this nap but could never produce anything with much consistency. Living in Arizona for two years, I was on the verge of visiting the South again. Terrified, I laid down to shut out the world and wham! the beast showed up.

He was massive.

Even as he chased me through the backyard of my childhood home, I knew there must be some deeper meaning here. Frightened, I ran from house to house to get away from the creature. Before I woke, I landed in a neighbor’s home where I swiped a sawed-off shotgun (I hate guns—so this was even more surprising) and shot the beast between the eyes. I fried and ate him on the spot with a little remoulade sauce.

Fried Alligator was the first short story I ever wrote. Technically speaking it was pretty terrible, but it became the underpinnings for all my future writing. I learned, in one dream, how to infuse my childhood experiences—the ones still lurking in my subconscious—into a story structure. Of course, I had to keep working on my practice of writing. But it was at that moment that I understood, almost as if by magic, how to weave in the action of the present moment with metaphorical meaning. The stamp of my writer’s voice.

I’ve since identified my muse as this alligator (his name was Fred, btw). Yep, I ate my muse, but that didn’t mean I destroyed him. He became a part of me. A muse I carry inside no matter what writing I’m working on.

Dream or no dream, you can do this, too.

You can choose to believe the world has significance beyond the everyday.

Literally speaking, there’s no such thing as a real muse. Just like there’s no such thing as a real Santa. But you can choose to believe the world has significance beyond the everyday. That there’s more than just what we see, hear, and feel. Believe that no matter how difficult life gets there’s room for things to improve. Or at least write a damn good book from your horrible experiences!

For this holiday season, I invite you to believe. Believe the way little kids believe. Believe that your stories matter. That you can make life bigger and better for yourself and someone else through the magic of how you arrange words.

What will take you through the heartache and pain of life? What will help you use your creativity to help other people? 

Santa?

An Alligator?

Or your stories?

Pick one. Believe. And keep writing. Happy Holidays.