Your Muse Is Dead!

Someone had to say it, so I did. You’re Muse is dead, and so is mine. All of the anger and denial in the world cannot change that fact. You may feel as if the grieving process is setting in, but for those who are in mourning, my advice is to get over it, and as quickly as possible. This may be a terrible thing to say to one in sorrow for the loss of a love done, but the truth is not so much that you’re Muse is dead. More to the point, she never really existed.

The Trouble With Muses

We are all familiar with the Classical Muses. They were nine spirit-being sisters that belonged to the Greek Pantheon. It was their responsibility to provide direct and immediate divine inspiration for all artists. Ancient writers, such as Homer and Virgil, as well as ones closer to our times, like Milton and Joyce, appealed to the Muse to help them compose.

The Muse has become a symbol today for whatever inspires a writer. This could be something as broad as observing some interaction between folks that gives the writer an idea for a story. Or it could be a conversation overheard that the author feels may be reworked and put into the next novel.

There is another use for the figure of the Muse and that is to have her stand for motivation, and that is just sad. Many writers, including yours truly, have used a lack of inspiration as an excuse not to write. “I can’t write today. I’m just not inspired.” Does that sound familiar?

This excuse does not work in any other professional field, so writers should not be so especially privileged to avail themselves to it. Never has a lawyer failed to appear in court because he did not feel like practicing law that day. You’ll never hear of construction workers sitting about waiting to be inspired. And there has never been a teacher who missed class because of teacher’s block.

Writer’s block is another example of people blaming the absence of a Muse for their lack of productivity. When you get down to it, writer’s block is nothing more than attempting to write a perfect first draft. There’s no such thing as a perfect one-hundredth draft, so a perfect first draft is an ontological impossibility.

It was this drive for a perfect first draft that made me edit fiercely as I wrote. It took me almost four years to finish the initial draft, and then another four years to rewrite it properly, even though I’m sure it could still use some work. I would spend days on a paragraph and weeks on a page, all to make it flawless before I move on.

This mindset carried over into my second novel. I suffered from writer’s block for five months. It wasn’t because I didn’t know what came in the next scene. I was compelled to get it perfect the first time, and my Muse didn’t rescue me! There’s a surefire way to conquer writer’s block, and that is to get over your self and write. We need to give ourselves permission to write badly, as long as we commit ourselves to editing enormously.

Dedication Over Inspiration

Instead of waiting for the words to mystically come to you from above the bright blue, maybe writers should just hunker down and write. You are not going to feel Inspired to write every day outside of a self-governing motivation that is arises from your commitment to being a writer.

If you only sat down to compose when you felt this bit of Inspiration, then not only would you not write every day, but it’ll be at different times and different days. That also means you would have to write while in the shower or while driving or even while you are sleeping, because Inspiration may come at any time and under any circumstance.

If taking over the world is your measure for success, then it is time we went to the garage and pulled out a certain tool needed to accomplish this: the Ladder of Success. Notice that it is not the Elevator or the Escalator of Success. It’s also not Star Trek’s Transporter of Success, nor is it Doctor Who’s Tardis of Success. It’s a Ladder.

A Ladder only works because you climb it slowly one wrung at a time. You climb it by pulling yourself upward. That is how success is accomplished – slowly, one step at a time, and by our hard effort. No one pulls you up, and no one pushes you up. You are on your own. You may receive some help now and then, but basically, no one will make you successful but you.

Climbing the Ladder of Success means setting goals. Some people climb the Ladder of Success only to find out too late they set it against the wrong wall. You need to know what you are trying to accomplish. You need a clearly defined meaning of Success.

Setting goals means you must establish priorities. These are the means by which you accomplish your goal. The college student who strives for a 4.0 GPA will not be out every night with friends, but with his textbooks. He won’t be hanging out eating pizza, but hanging tough digesting the course material. He will be out of his dorm room, but not out on the town, but studying in the library.

The creative writer has his definition of success, and knows there must be effort put into platform building, online social media networking, and marketing designs. But all of this is unpulled taffy if the writer is not committed to the craft of writing to the point of writing every day.

So your Muse is dead. Big deal, she never existed anyway. Or maybe this can be said another way. Maybe your Muse is not dead, but alive. Maybe she exists in you because she is a living part of you. Best said, she is you. Creative writers who are committed to success realize that they are their own Muse.

Where do you get your Inspiration to write. what do you do when you need to write but you don’t feel Inspired? I would love to know. Let me know in the Comment section below. I would also like to encourage you to Share or Tweet this if you liked this. Maybe your friends will enjoy it, too.

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “Your Muse Is Dead!

  1. I disagree.

    Yes, you have to show up every day. You have to dedicate yourself to the work, as a farmer dedicates himself to the fields.

    But it’s a partnership. The farmer didn’t create the seed, didn’t make the DNA. Once the seed is in the ground, he can’t crack it open and make green stuff shoot up. That’s the work of the gods, or the Muse, or God, or whatever you want to call it.

    Creativity is childbirth. The seed goes into the womb and then something magical happens. From a few tiny and raw ingredients, new life is made. Isn’t it remarkable? Can I do that, even with all my hard work? Can I bring forth new life?

    Then the pain comes, and the pain, in childbirth and creativity, belongs exclusively to the human. To create new life, you have to earn your place in the partnership. You have to do the work. You have to endure the pain.

    Who gets the credit though? Me? Sure, a little. But I just carried the idea to term, I didn’t create life.

    • Joe,

      I appriciate your reading and your comment. I think we may agree more than not, at least overall. First of all, I agree with everything you said. Here is the main point I was trying top make, and I hope we’re on the same page. Writers should not wait until they feel inspired to write. Further, I admit that there is some apptitude for creativity that is God given. It’s a mystery and I can’t explain it, so I’ll leave it at that. This may be the Muse, the deep down, that place where great creativity comes when it is drawn out by hard work. I know this: if there were no God, I couldn’t write, I’d have nothing to write about, and I wouldn’t even be here to write or not write.

  2. I may not agree with your diagnosis, but your treatment (which is far more important) is essentially right. The Muses are out there, but, like Paul Simon’s Cecilia (aka: Euterpe), they’re notoriously unreliable and prone to infidelity. Your suggestion is spot on (with this modification): When your Muse is around, you should write. When she’s not, you should still write.

    After all, there are so many mundane aspects to writing (spelling, punctuation, depth of vocabulary, paragraph transitions, grammar, purposeful variation of sentence structure, typo correction, etc.) that there are plenty of things to do that don’t require inspiration. Constant practice will make these things so automatic that when your Muse does arrive, you can slice through those tasks like butter.

    • Richard, it’s always great to hear from you and read your Comments. Long time since Jamestown Drive back in Garland, right? I appriciate your thoughts. They are always well thought out. Maybe I should try the band Muse for my Muse. What do you think about that?

  3. Hey, don’t kill my Muse. She’s alive I assure you.

    Jokes aside, we should do the work, but nobody can deny those moments when magic happens. If we commit to showing up day in and day out, we’ll all be better off. Inspiration is necessary; hard work as well. Together they make an extraordinary mix.

    • Hey Sophie, thanks for reading. I’m saying that there is no such thing as Inspiration, but it truly comes from deep down and not from way out there. And we are Inspired the most when we work the hardest. And you are right, together they make an extraordinary mix.

  4. I hear ya. I like that a lot. Inspiration exists, but it’s not just some magical thing “out there”. Magic happens, sure. But it’s interesting how magic tends to “happen” when we’re sitting down and writing (or working on whatever it is we’re doing) instead of just sitting around waiting and wishing for “inspiration”.

  5. As a metaphor for life – showing up is spot on!
    On a more mundane level, I’ve found that the years I spent in journalism supporting my children, ingrained in me the knowledge that once you start writing, however uninmspired, the words start to come. In journalism,like teaching or any other occupation, it’s amazing how once you start, the rest follows
    On the other hand now,to be able to sit down now, and Choose the words and subjects for myself is a huge privilege.
    Your posts are GREAT

  6. Great blog! I’ve discovered that if you show up for work, there’s a better than average chance your muse will show up, too. But I’ve also discovered there are times when the field needs to lay fallow, when you need to NOT write until you just can’t NOT write anymore. The trick lies in judging when to push through the resistance and keep writing and when to go for a walk or watch a great movie or strip the wallpaper off the dining room walls. I don’t think there’s any One Size Fits All solution for every writer or every situation. If your subconscious is screaming for a break and you don’t listen, there’s a good chance it’ll take its creative toys and go home, leaving you standing all alone on the playground.

    • As with all things, writers need to rest. While they may exist, I do not know of a writer who writers seven days a week. I try for five, but I’m satisfied with four if one of those days is a day with nothing but writing, which I recommend. But I thank you for your comment, and thanks for reading.

  7. “There’s a surefire way to conquer writer’s block, and that is to get over your self and write. We need to give ourselves permission to write badly, as long as we commit ourselves to editing enormously.”

    Love this line – it is said often but hard to give ourselves permission to write badly! The old school teachers/ maybe still some school teachers taught us to write well from the begininning (ha) but the reality of writing is to just write good or bad and then edit/polish for quality later. Thanks for the post!

  8. Pingback: Top Ten Best Blog Posts For 2012 | A WORD FITLY SPOKEN

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