Ah… the muse. This is an idea that comes from Greek and Roman mythology wherein there are 9 goddesses who inspire. Usually personified in the singular, the muse is responsible for providing inspiration. While it is certainly a seductive notion and it can sometimes feel, during the process of creation that some magical force is guiding the work, there is no muse. The muse is you. The magic happens during one of those rare moments when all of your accrued skills are working in tandem more beautifully than you think is possible on your own. But it is still you.
Waiting for inspiration to strike is another excellent way to prevent you from finishing things. I’ve said before in this series that not every moment of the creative process is joyful. Sometimes its painful, sometimes, the words are sluggish, or you feel distracted, or some other activity seems more promising. The idea of the muse, though, is pervasive and there are ways that this notion hurts writers beyond preventing us from finishing drafts, which I’ll get into later.
I repeat, the muse is you. Inspiration or story ideas come from everywhere, overheard conversations, a news story, a science article, something you and a friend were talking about, weird notions that present themselves to you in dreams, that guy that made you angry at work, or any number of things. The point is that inspiration comes from the real world around you, it is what happens in the creative person’s brain that turns it into magic, but it doesn’t turn into magic unless you roll up your sleeves and turn up at the page regularly, prepared to work. Working writers often have a host of rituals, tips, tricks and processes to court ideas that lead to craft. Rune Skelley has two awesome writing prompt generators to help get the creative juices flowing. If you use them, you might not end up with a story that works, but you will be working on craft and generating ideas that are new to you and could lead to something greater.
There are books out there that contain nothing but writing prompts if you need a jump start. There is no quick and easy fix to courting inspiration, but my advice is to try new things and most importantly, pay attention when you are out in the world. You never know what will capture your imagination in a useful way. If you wait for the muse to strike you might never reach your goal, which is a finished draft. When you do have one of those moments where a story arrives in your brain, seemingly complete, embrace it, celebrate that, but recognize that it is still coming from you, and don’t wait for the moment to arrive. Chase it down, make it happen. And that’s all I’m going to say about the self-sabotaging aspects of the muse idea.
The muse is a pervasive myth about writers and artists, that I think is detrimental in a couple of other ways. Everyone knows that there are frequent, and necessary, conversations in writing communities about paying the writer. (I would extend that to paying the artist, just to broaden the conversation. It is a bad problem in the arts. I should note that my fave business blog can be found here.) There are a lot of factors that lead to writers and artists not getting paid for their work, but I think that this notion of the muse has something to do with how art and the work of art is perceived.
The idea of the muse adds to the perception of non-creatives that art itself is not actually work, or that if it is work it isn’t hard work. If the perception is that all creatives are inspired by some genius that comes from outside of their own effort, that makes it easier to justify not paying artists. And that, my friends, is just disgusting. Those of us in the trenches know that creating is fraught with challenges and difficulty and it is a hell of a lot of work, sometimes with very little material reward. Yes, we do this because we love it, we can’t imagine not doing it, but it isn’t magic. It takes time and effort. A magical muse did not dump a story or painting whole cloth into our laps and say, “Sell this and reap the rewards!” To be honest, I don’t know if I would be interested in this work if it was that simple.
Anyway, that’s my perception of the muse. What do you guys think?