How to Find Your Muse – and Fire Her

How to Find Your Muse - and Fire Her

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.


Post by Daryl Rothman

Daryl Rothman is a father, author, registered trainer and licensed clinical social worker. His website features his blog, serial fiction, short stories, guest interviews, and news about his novels, and from his earliest years he harbored three aspirations: to be a father, a writer, and to play for his hometown Cardinals. He has gratefully accomplished the first, happily continues pursuit of the second, and shall neither confirm nor deny holding out hope for the third.

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  1. Very entertaining post. And extremely well written. I would say you’re already there on the second.

  2. Thanks Kelli, very kind. I’ve found it can be an elusive balance–finding–but not relying upon–your Muse…wanted to convey that point but hopefully in an entertaining way, so thanks. 🙂 Best wishes to you on your journey!

  3. I loved how you ‘drove your muse to smoking’ that’s was a very entertaining break from work.

    Thank you.

  4. Hi Daryl,

    This was an excellent and creative article, indeed!

    As you quite rightly said, there is a lot of advice available. However, one needs to ultimately make up his/her own mind as to whether a certain piece of advice will work for them, or not as may be the case. Thank you.

  5. Thanks, Hiten, glad you enjoyed.

    And yes, that’s really my main point–take what you can from all the advice out there–but don’t get lost in or beholden to it–take charge of your destiny and develop and trust your own good judgment and expertise.

    Best wishes!

  6. Thank you, Yoav. I had fun writing that…I’d been thinking about things carried to their extreme, and that scene played out in my mind. I wanted it to be light, but also to convey some points, so I hope it hit that balance. Glad you enjoyed and I wish you well!

  7. People always vaguely tell you that the key to a fulfilling life is to do what you love.

  8. Hi Daryl,
    Great post. I confess I tend to lap up advice about writing.

    Your tips about prescriptive advice and the “for dummies” approach is spot on – it helped me realize that the only good advice is that which I can apply right away. The rest is information overload.

  9. Thanks Rohi. I think the For Dummies approach is well-intended and certainly may be of some utility but I don’t think most of us are dummies and need such hand-holding and I also worry we may even subconsciously start believing we are dummies and become beholden to the saving grace of the “experts.” Glean whatever may be of use to you, but trust in your own talent and expertise as well. Good luck!

  10. I doubt anyone can be a good, let alone a brilliant, writer if he/she has not read a lot of (good …) literature him or herself. Unfortunately the average readers now read at an eighth, often even a lower level. This means they CAN’T get access to the literature that eventually shapes one’s own good writing style and gives one a backdrop of ideas and concepts on which to draw upon, albeit subconsciously. Which is why more and more people buy content. But if ever more people need to buy good content from people who can write (and, if need be, write intelligibly at that eighth grade level to countenance client as well as their readers) I see a growing demand meeting an overstretched and thinning resource pool?

  11. Jessica West says:

    Great post, Daryl! I always share what I learn, oftentimes in an article offering advice and personal recommendations. But I do try to always remind people that I’m a writer on my own journey, and encourage them to take what works for them and leave the rest. And I agree with you, you don’t need the muse. Just so happens, mine’s fun! 😉


    ~ Jess

    • Thanks Jess! I hear you…I think our Muses can be wonderful in fact–this was just a bit of a gentle exhortation to folks to not get paralyzed waiting endlessly or over-relying on her–when the magic–and the Muse–are within us all. 🙂 I think you have it nailed, and I try to do the same: offering and receiving good advice but in the end taking it for what it’s worth and finding what works for us and staying true to ourselves. Thanks as always for your support!


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