Writing Discussion

A-muse-ing Thoughts

Calliope's Book
Calliope's Book by takomabibelot

Tiyana’s recently wrote a post about her relationship with her muse, and it made me laugh, and also think.

To the ancient Greek’s the muses were goddess that inspired music and the creative arts (always female). Their number and talents were specific, for example, Calliope was considered the muse of epic poetry, and Thalia the muse of comedy.

Related, is the idea of ‘genius’. In the original roman context, genius was spirit meant to guide a person. The root of the verb came from the Latin word ‘to produce, to create’. So, every person was born with a ‘genius’. Genius was not something exclusive or accessible only to great minds, but everyone.

The writer Elizabeth Gilbert conducted a TED talk about genius and nurturing creativity, and speaks about how to tap into the genius we all have been granted. It’s very similar to the idea of a muse. She goes on to say that thinking of genius as an external, helpful, force, lessens the pressure we put on ourselves to produce, therefore freeing up the mind to be more creative. It’s a fun listen if you have the time.

Some writers personify/externalize their muses. In his book ‘On Writing’ Stephen King described his muse as a shady character, that spends all his time in the basement, drinking beer, and smoking cigars, not all that helpful to his creative process. Others do not personify, and don’t need to, which is also fine.

To me? I find it helpful to think of the muse as a person, the personification of my subconscious process, a mediator – go between – that helps me dig out ideas from the inner well, and bring awareness to them. It is also an exercise in attentiveness. If I pay attention, listen, and expect, ideas from outside of me, then usually inspiration does come: a sentence in a newspaper will set it off, or a blog post, or just a photo.

The more the muse and I work together, the easier it gets, but he hasn’t always been helpful. Up till now, the relationship’s been rocky and full of long absences. However, we hashed out a routine with the last novel that seems to be working for both of us. I show up to work, and he does too (most days). It makes things easier having faith that the ideas will come. In general, he’s also more enthusiastic about the writing process than I am. There are days I have to hold him back, and tell him I need a break because I can’t keep up. He’s got way too much energy. I suspect he drinks far too much coffee (he’s disgustingly chipper in the morning’s, whereas I am a sloth).

Do you personify your muse? If so, what’s she/he like? Helpful or not?

20 Comments

  1. As I mentioned on Tiyana’s blog, I am not a personifier. I entertain the notion that the font of my creativity is a place in my own head where things randomly collide and occassionally produce something that sticks, that has lasting value.

    I will admit, however, that as a religious person, when I have been confronted by a particularly vexing problem in my writing, with regard to plotting and whatnot, to actually praying for an answer. You know, the whole, “Dear God: I can’t figure out what’s supposed to happen next. Please send inspiration. Kthxbye. Love, Stephen.” I’m totally honest. (Except the flippant way I just worded the prayer.) I can’t recall a time this has ever not worked… but then again I do know that deep down inside, I already had the capacity to answer my own question, I just hadn’t put the pieces together in the right way, yet. That, and I’m a little skeptical that the Big Guy would actually care whether I solve a plot problem this way or that, when he’s got Bigger Fish to Fry…

    Anyway, I usually approach creativity and productivity – and problems with either – as a problem with myself, with my situation, or with my story. In other words, I internalize it. So far, if I put it in terms of something I have control over, and can change, that usually helps me find the right answer.

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      Hey Stephen, that makes complete sense. I spent a little time, a long long ways back, as a counselor, and one of the things we were taught to remember was that most people who come in with a problem usually know what they ‘should’ be doing, or ‘how to fix it’, but either don’t realize it yet, or are resisting the idea. As you say, they haven’t “put pieces together in the right way, yet”. Sometimes articulating the right question can set you on the right path (or at least that works for me hehe).

      1. You’re absolutely right about articulating the right question. When a bit of the story doesn’t seem to be working, I usually find that if I’m having trouble it’s because I’m not looking at it the right way. Stepping back and asking questions about it helps – finding the right question is key to getting the right perspective.

  2. Life is my muse…the world is so full and vibrant of inspiration. I don’t believe in writer’s block – when I reach a moment where I find I have nothing to write, I see it as a time of thinking. Not a time of muse-has-left-me.

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      I don’t believe in writer’s block either. For me, it’s a symptom of fatigue, or that something’s wrong in what I’ve written. There is an endless amount of inspiration out there 🙂

      1. Heh, I still believe in writer’s block (I can’t ignore it when it happens), but Stephen pretty much summed up my thoughts about it: when it does occur, it’s usually because I need to look at the problem from a different angle and ask more questions. Once I do this–with Mr. Muse’s help, of course ;)–it eventually clears away.

      2. T. S. Bazelli Author

        Maybe a better description is writer’s knots rather than blocks? I encounter big hairy messes in my writing ever so often. It does take time to step back and figure out how to fix it. It’s not lack of inspiration, just lack of proper perspective I think!

    1. I’ve wondered about something similar: if it’s usual to have different muses for different stories.

      I wouldn’t know; I’ve been working on the same one for several years! lol (More or less.)

  3. *squeal* Link love! I feel so…loved. ^_^

    That bit about genius reminded me of a quote from Albert Einstein: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” I was actually surprised to learn that he said this, lol, but maybe there’s something there!

    I mentioned before that my muse is a Taurus male. He is incredibly dedicated to helping me finish this novel, and I’ve probably let him down tons more often than he’s let me down–always working overtime to make sure the job gets done, though he does like to take his time sorting through things.

    Silly? Yes, probably, but I feel like the subconscious me is a very different person than the conscious me.

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      I like that quote!

      My subconscious me also works in a very different manner than my conscious me. I had to tell him to lay off on the overtime and let me sleep in! I do enjoy my sleep. LOL I think it’s good having a demanding muse though. At least he’s always ready to help you work 😉

  4. I’ve always liked that Gilbert talk. She explicitly talks about muses, demons and other external inspiration concepts, and putting the blame on them provided you do the work. I’ve got a great deal of respect for her fortitude, though I should still check out one of her books. I love the idea of doing the work consistently regardless of inspiration and keeping yourself accountable for what is in your power.

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      I’ve been putting that into practice. I’ll work through even if there is no inspiration, if my muse is absent, and more often than not he’ll show up eventually, if not late. 😉

      I really should check out her books. Not sure if Eat Pray Love is for me, but maybe something else…

  5. I’ve always thought of my muse as malleable. The muse takes on different personas depending on the creative kick in the pants that I need at the moment. Kind of gruff, no nonsense sort of personality for when I find myself a bit whiny and more warmth and gentleness when my day has been rough. And sometimes just laughing at me when I’ve done something really absurd in my writing. Like the Elizabeth Gilbert TED link, interesting.

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