I found my muse – hiding behind the shed out back, dragging on a cigarette.
“When did you start smoking?” I asked.
“A while ago,” she growled in a clearly exasperated tone. She tossed the spent cigarette to the ground, crushed it with her heel, and lit up another. “It’s the stress. It’s you.”
Her remarks were distressing – I thought Muses were supposed to be a bit more encouraging. But I had to admit she looked bad. The stress was taking a toll, even on her looks, which was rather remarkable because she was, well, a Muse.
My Muse. The source of creativity and inspiration that all writers search for so desperately. I’d found her a few years back, and oh, what a vision she was! Airy and beautiful, lulling me with dulcet tones. I was enthralled.
No more writer’s block, no more floundering for inspiration and ideas. She was the answer to my literary prayers.
Now, I wasn’t exactly certain how this worked. Did I summon her with a spell or a mantra? She simply smiled, pressed a slender finger to my tremulous lips, and told me that when I needed her, she would know.
I needed her plenty, as it turned out. The blank screen would stare at me mockingly: what should I write about? Which words should I choose? And what form would my writing take?
My Muse was true to her word the first few times. She’d appear in all her splendor and come bearing gifts. An inspirational quote, a collection of helpful blog posts, story ideas… sometimes she’d beckon me to glimpse outside my window at the stirring hues of sunrise, and I’d be awash in the glory of all things.
Except, no. Most times I sat down to write I was awash in no such thing. I was often grouchy, and besides, I don’t like writing cheery—my characters end up cheery, and usually insufferable. The blank screen still stared and mocked at me, and I summoned my beleaguered Muse more and more often until we arrived at this impasse out by the shed.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “but this is untenable. Can’t you do any of this yourself?”
I asked my Muse if she was resigning, but she said she’d rather be fired (for unemployment purposes and such). I was concerned that termination would reflect poorly on her resume, but she allayed my fears, reminding me that she was, after all, a Muse.
So I fired her.
She was relieved, and I’d finally had my epiphany. “How to find your muse” advice has become all the rage. Get beyond the quixotic vernacular and this all refers to, in essence, advice on how to find inspiration, or creativity, or ideas.
The “answers” bestowed upon us are a seemingly endless litany of how-tos and lists. Authoritative, instructive and motivational shibboleths abound, and while some are of terrific utility… danger lurks beneath this apparent literary oasis.
Stop being overwhelmed and inundated with “how-to” advice.
I’m not suggesting we eschew all the how-to advice – far from it, because there’s some really good stuff out there. But be judicious. Determine your writing goals, and create a targeted strategy which explores resources, and learn how to properly vet lists for valuable, credible, reliable information.
Align your efforts with the info you need and the reasons you need it. Then eliminate the rest, and stop searching for all that you don’t need. There’ll be a lot of it, guaranteed.
Learn to forego the pedestal.
Note the style and tone of the blogs and articles you read. Many are freighted full of definitive authority. The advice may indeed be prescient and the piece well-written, but every writer is well-served by a healthy dose of skepticism.
What are the author’s credentials? Are there other points of views or facts that haven’t been presented? Why is this advice so definitive and final? Is something being presented as absolute fact when it’s just opinion?
Stop looking at quick-fix, one-size-fits-all advice.
This is tough to get around. Most articles and how-tos are sound-bytes oriented and designed to offer quick and immediate guidance. That makes sense: I’ve not yet had a writer or editor request a lengthy, meandering, scholarly tome. Fair enough, but therein lies the danger.
While there at least a few worthwhile nuggets to be mined from any piece, remember that little in life is ever so simple and easy – nothing worthwhile or enduring, anyway. Every writer and moment of the journey is unique, and so too must be the guidance we embrace.
Apply the advice in a way that conforms to and supports your work, rather than the other way around.
Beware of prescriptive advice that suppresses your own drive and creativity.
5 Easy Ways to Build a Character. 10 Quick Steps to Writing Your Novel. How to Find Your Muse. Someone else is telling you the things you should do. And some of them, you probably should.
But seek a balance wherein you are in charge and can apply your own creativity. Don’t be reliant on someone always handing you the steps. The advice columns and how-tos and Muses should only be playing a supporting role.
Believe in and develop your own expertise. Build your own cadre of creativity and ideas. You possess this ability – accept and celebrate it (and enjoy the rewards of sharing it with others).
The “for dummies” approach subconsciously demeans your own ability and knowledge.
The how-to, quick-fix-inundated world we live in renders us vulnerable to excessive deference. We search for our Muse using the advice we read, and once we’ve found her, we come to rely upon her for all inspiration or ideas.
Balderdash, I say. I’m not diminishing the many heartfelt and poignant sources of inspiration to which writers return again and again. Quite the contrary, this supports my point all the more:
It’s your source, your inspiration. And even if that source comes from something beyond or external, it’s still up to you to take note, pay attention and choose i whether to accept it.
What I’m saying is, don’t rely on a Muse. Don’t look to something other than yourself to stoke your creative embers. At the end of the day, inspiration comes from within, even if many days will be a grind.
You won’t always be cheery every time you sit down in front of that vaunted blank screen, and some days you’ll feel as stressed and harried as the Muse smoking out by the shed. This is perfectly fine. Accept it. Embrace it.
You’re a writer. And you’ll find that there’s a fair bit of magic in that grind. You’ll research, draft, write and edit. And you’ll enjoy the more enduring and sustainable results you discover within the process.
So fire your Muse. (Or let her tender resignation. I’ll leave that to the two of you). Thank her for the occasional assistance, and bid her adieu. You don’t need her.