The Muse   4 comments

It’s been a few years since I wrote a song – five years, in fact, since I rustled up a bassline, drum patterns, chord sequence and lyric to a something that became ‘No Chilli’, which I went on to record with my bandmate Dave. It’s a good song, turned out really well (I’m sure I uploaded it to YouTube but I can’t find it). It turned out well because The Muse was there as I wrote it, and how pretentious that sounds.

It seems even more pretentious when you mention The Muse as something you rely on as a cryptic setter but, you know, she’s either there or not, and if she chooses to take some time off then you can come unstuck. What is she? Well, she is NOT the clue-writer.

Let’s be clear. With money in mind, we set a rough time limit for each puzzle we’re going to set for an outlet. If a puzzle pays £100 we should – ideally, anyway – try to get it completed in half the time we’d spend on a puzzle paying £200. That’s not mercenary, just common sense. But for this to happen a number of elements have to fall into place and run smoothly after the grid has been filled. It’s a marriage of spotting definitions, sticking to the rules, being original, being coherent and getting all of those things to merge at the same time. What The Muse does is facilitate the blending of those disciplines, and in the past month I’ve discovered what happens when… well, when it doesn’t happen.

As it’s been so long since I wrote a song, I recently opened up Word and began penning some lyrics. I think I got one verse and chorus before the ideas dried up. The document got scrapped.

For about two months crosswords had been equally frustrating; there were times I stared at an answer and couldn’t see a single wordplay breakdown that could be exploited. It was almost as if I’d forgotten how to write clues. Thankfully The Muse seems to have returned. A standard 28-answer grid is one I’d hope to clue in a day but, recently, 2-3 days has been typical. I’ve just finished a 46-clue effort for Eric Westbrook’s 2015 RNIB Calendar and squeezed all of it into one day – fingers crossed, the lady has decided she likes me after all (at least for now).


Posted May 13, 2014 by Anax in Uncategorized

4 responses to “The Muse

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Thank goodness the Muse has returned, Dean. It was interesting to read about the economics of setting, which is something than many of us solvers are oblivious to. It is impossible for us to know if a masterpiece has been conjured up in a matter of hours or over a number of days. Looking forward to grappling with your latest, Muse-inspired creations!

    Richard James Fletcher
  2. Hi Dean. I don’t know how you pros do it — consistently coming up with brilliant ideas and puzzles. I’ve probably written some 60 puzzles this last three years but my ideas are drying up.


  3. If it’s any consolation, Neil, I’ve been there.
    When Roger Squires took me on at the Birmingham Post all those years ago I must have had 20 or more A4 pages of clues ready to use, and I made the mistake of trying to cram as many as possible into each grid. I ended up using them far quicker than I was writing them, so I burned out. In terms of technique I was fine, but the missing element was discipline.
    The lesson was simple, although it took me a while to get my head round it. The ideas WILL continue to flow – for me, the answer has been to resist the temptation to collect a large number of clues waiting for use. What I do now is open a grid and spend a little time working on one really good clue, so at least the puzzle can have one highlight. Beyond that, it’s simply a case of evaluating any answer that will fit a slot to see if it has potential. If I think there’s something good to work with I’ll commit it to the grid and either make a note of the idea or go all out and get the clue written.
    You’ll be surprised. If you take the one-at-a-time approach you’ll find ideas (eventually) come more readily. The problem with stuffing a load of pre-written corkers into the grid is that you put yourself under pressure to make the rest of the clues just as good, and that sort of pressure is far from enjoyable.
    Once you find that sweet spot of getting good ideas on a step-by-step basis it can stay there for a long time. Yes, you’ll endure barren patches where clue-writing feels difficult, but the knack does return.

    • Hi Dean   Many thanks for your response. Very useful advice. I think my problem is that most of my puzzles thus far have been themed and the themes have tended to be based around things I know a bit about or quite like. I’m running out of such things. I’ve written a few puzzles lately on themes of which I know nothing. Perhaps I need to write fewer themed puzzles and then hope for some theme ideas to come my way.   I saw a few photos that you’ve had done of the band and the ones I saw looked really good.   Take care   Neil 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: