Be your own Muse

Many artists – sculptors, poets, fantasists of all kinds – attribute inspiration for their work to what they call their Muse.

Moreau, Gustave - Hésiode et la Muse - 1891

“Hesiod and the Muse” – public domain image

In Greek mythology, the nine Muses were minor goddesses of the arts, sciences, and literature. They remain a beautifully romantic notion to artists of today (scientists seem to have dropped them from their inspiration fonts), spanning hundreds of generations and countless art forms. Even among writers who are not poets, the idea of a Muse inspiring them to create stories with their words pops up again and again. To that, I say, “Huh?”

Not to be cruel. Because, as artists, we’re all rather flighty individuals, with our minds dwelling at least a little bit in the clouds. That’s okay. Without dreamers, society would be pretty boring. Actually, it likely would have died away by now, without any high thinkers, who wrote some of the most important words of our civilization, from “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” to “We hold these truths to be self-evident….

But ascribing your talent to some sort of divine guidance is – oh, I’m just going to say it. It’s kooky. More than that, though (and I’m going to catch a lot of flak for this, I know), it’s lazy.

Now, before my ever-dwindling group of blogging and writing friends decides to pull out the lynch ropes, let me clarify.

I’m not talking about artists who decide they need to step back from their art and re-prioritize; those folks know they’re just putting a muzzle on their Muse for a bit. Nor am I talking about the artists who simply know themselves well enough to decide they’ll make their art when it suits them, all in good time.

I’m referring to the people out there who complain they have no inspiration to create…while they can still pick up a videogame controller for hours on end, or head out to the pub the whole weekend long. That has nothing to do with the attention of your Muse.

Now, I completely understand the charm of having some seraphic creature looking over your shoulder, telling you which way to move your pen. And I, myself, believe that – in the throes of a story – a character or characters can take over, using their voices to weave new and intricate tales I’d never even considered while I was in the plotting phase.

But, don’t be misled by the flowery notion of a Muse. Those character voices are your voices. Any new paths toward which they may pull you are functions of your own creative subconscious. It’s a wonderful experience, to guide a story in an unexpected direction, based on the whim of a single word or phrase. But you have created that word, those phrases, that heretofore unknown story arc that turns your hunter into the hero, or your princess into the warrior demon. It didn’t come from any outside force.

Carl Mücke Warten auf den Liebsten

What are you waiting for?

It’s not the idea of the Muse with which I take issue. I take issue with the idea of waiting on a Muse to move your pen (or hammer, brush, bow, or lens). That takes the power of creation away from the artist. Even worse, it takes away the responsibility for that creation. When an artist whines, “I’m waiting for my Muse,” that’s just an excuse for being lazy.

You cannot wait for some capricious, aetherial harlot to come knocking on your door, tapping at your shoulder, whispering into your ear that now is the time for you to make real all your hopes and dreams. No outside force is going to make your art for you. You are the only one capable of that. You. Or, I. Nobody else.

Blaming a Muse for lack of inspiration or failure to produce the story, the music, the picture you want is a cop-out. When you call – when you make the choice to apply yourself to your art, whatever it may be – your Muse will come. And, if she doesn’t, you go get her. You grab her by her flowing toga, and you drag her over to your workstation. Because you can’t afford to wait for her.

Because you are your own Muse.

Now, for those of you still with me after that little tirade, tell me: How do you motivate yourself?

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16 thoughts on “Be your own Muse

    • Thanks, Beth!

      I had to sit on this one for many weeks, because it was just too ranting, at first. But, it really bothers me when my students (or friends) make that complaint!

      I’m a believer in the self-imposed deadline, as well. Nothing like giving yourself a kick in the behind, eh? 🙂

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  1. Great post! For me, without even consciously thinking about what to write, I end up actually thinking about it, if that makes sense. I end up flitting between the different stories in my head, seeing if things work in one or the other, and just sort of marinade in the idea for awhile. If nothing comes, then I just pick up a video game and let my mind wander in Storyland while I grind shadows.

    Loved the Scorpion video at the end, by the way.

    Earlier when I was trying to write something semi-new, I found that, while I did want to write, my problem was that all the possible ideas in my head were jumbled up and fighting for my attention to put them on paper. I think my muse keeps overloading me on purpose.

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    • Thanks, spooney.

      I know what you mean about that mind-jumble issue. Sometimes, it takes plenty of work simply to single out one voice or story at a time!

      And, I couldn’t resist a bit of old school MK! 😉

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  2. I’m in the school of believing that the inspiration can come from outside, and I talk frequently about my Muse (who enjoys sitting on tropical beaches with a cocktail or two). But she’s not some ethereal entity showering me with ideas and drive. She finds a way to kick me in the behind if I’m slacking off on the work of writing. For me, she’s the conduit between the characters of the potential books and my brain. But I also know she and the characters can’t (and won’t) write the books. I’m the one who has to sit down at the computer and type. There are no free rides if one is serious about being a writer. 🙂

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    • Good point, JM. I do agree that the inspiration can come from anything around us, it’s not always or even usually internal. We are often affected by people and the world, as good artists should be.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. This is a great post Mayumi, worthy of being a published article in any magazine or book about writing. I’m really personally glad you wrote it too because I’ve never felt like I have a muse, not in the way that other people talk about having one, and I figured that meant I wasn’t a real writer, so thank you for making me realise that I don’t have to feel the presence of an external muse to be a real writer!

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    • What a lovely comment to wake up to, this morning, Vanessa! 🙂

      You’re definitely not alone about hearing (or not hearing) that stereotypical muse. God helps those who help themselves, as they say. I think artists have to make their own art from within, and not wait around for inspiration that may or may not come.

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  4. Thanks, this is thought-provoking for me. I personally see creativity as a process of opening myself up to ideas (in my case, music that I randomly hear in my head), and I don’t really experience myself as responsible for those ideas. But being open to them, I suppose, is a process that I do need to take charge of, by being willing to sit quietly and not indulge in distraction.

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    • Thanks for commenting, Chris.

      I believe the fact that *you* open *yourself* to ideas is an integral part of taking charge of your own inspiration. Sure, we’re inspired by the outside world – if we only looked to what’s inside our heads, our words and images would go stale rather quickly. But, I believe I’m responsible for my creations, whatever they may be; I’m not possessed or controlled by the whims of another entity.

      I don’t want to use this space to get religious, but I do believe in a higher power. That higher power has blessed me with a gift to tell stories and draw pictures and make films. I’m not great at all of those, but, given the responsibility of those gifts, I have to hone them myself. I can’t depend on a muse to do it for me. Athletes are given their physical prowess, but they still have to take responsibility to train themselves. That’s how I see my art, too.

      Thanks again for giving me a read. Good luck with your art!

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  5. Great post, Mayumi. I often refer to my center of creativity as my muse, and I probably have been known to say my writing is suffering because my Muse isn’t ‘around’. But I take responsibility for her presence. In other words, if I’m not writing regularly, then my muse disappears for a while. I know that I’m the one who drives and directs my muse (creativity).

    I’m of the belief that spirit/mind/body all have to work together (be balanced) for the most effective output. When one element is down, the other two suffer. My muse is just a part of that, but I am the one who is ultimately in control. If I am not taking care of myself physically, then I am drained and my creativity/muse suffers, and vice versa.

    I find ideas both internally and externally. This is why I carry a notebook around with me everywhere. Sometimes an external factor will trigger my muse/creativity, and then the idea blossoms internally. But there are times when an idea will just pop up with no trigger or reason whatsoever. Those, for me, are the most stimulating and inspiring. I think when that happens I’m reminded that I’m a creative person even when I’m not trying to be.

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    • Thanks for commenting, Kate. I completely support the idea of keeping pen and paper or some recording device with you at all times, for when inspiration may strike unexpectedly (because it certainly does!). It’s a great habit to keep. 🙂

      I think I may have rubbed a few folks the wrong way with this post. I work around a lot of young artists (writers and painters, mostly) here at university, and I am so tired of hearing them make excuses for why they don’t create. And these are not valid excuses, like, “I had to go to work,” or, “My kids are sick.” These are, “Well, I wanted to play Call of Duty,” or, “I just didn’t feel like it.” If you don’t feel like writing or drawing, fine. But don’t complain to me that you haven’t done anything in ages, because your “Muse” is neglecting you. Seriously, students have said that!

      It’s a discipline thing, really. Everyone has a story in them (I believe, any way), but these kids (and they are kids) come with such a sense of entitlement – and such a short span of attention – that they expect their Muse to do everything for them. And the really frustrating part about it is that some of these artists are truly talented. I just hate seeing that skill go to waste in anyone. So, I tell them to get off their behinds. Sometimes, I need that, too.

      Thanks again for taking the time to read through my rant, and for offering some good feedback, too. 🙂 Hope you are well.

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  6. While we might have been jotting down our thoughts for hours, our genuine muse often comes at unprecedented moments. I also have self-imposed deadlines to get things done, but more often than not I find most of my moment of inspirations when I take shower. This then reminds me of Agatha Christie who said something like, “The best time to plan your novel is while washing your dishes” I guess she was right. 🙂

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    • Oh, yes, I agree! Showering – and washing dishes – are great times when I let my mind wander…and usually discover great conversations for my stories!

      Thanks for stopping by, Subhan!

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  7. While I’ve never really credited my inspiration for anything I’ve written to divine intervention, I cannot hide that I am guilty of not being a disciplined writer. And sure, I could always credit that to the stresses of life, but everyone has those, and some more than others. So really, anything I would come up with is unoriginal at best.
    And it is quite annoying when in my mind I have painted an entire new world, yet my hand can’t pick up the brush. Maybe just need to learn how to paint with my teeth…
    I keep my little notebook with me most anywhere I go, and the current one is brimming with a few ideas that I continue to visit and smooth out. And there is something to be said for that jolt of creativity at 2 a.m. when you have to get up in a few hours for work, but can’t be bothered by sleep, for there is writing to be done! 😀
    So all in all, a muse is like an opportunity. When it knocks, you invite it in for tea, cause it isn’t staying long.

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    • The notebook is a handy tool, one I personally use, too. Really, anything that lets you cut loose with your ideas spur-of-the-moment.

      And, you’re right – the “Muse” is opportunity. Keep your door open for it! 😀

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