You Can’t Trust A Muse

As a writer, I often run up against this romantic notion of the ‘muse’. Perhaps due to its prevalence in Ancient Greek cultures or because we, as artists, are desperate for a little beauty in a job that can be mind-bogglingly lonely and boring some days, the muse is often portrayed as beautiful, tragic and elusive. In its usually female form, it drapes itself forlornly across a stack of books, or plays siren to the writer’s weak soul, dangling artistic genius just a little too far from reach. This idea of the muse, of some catch-all messenger of creativity is delightful and fantastical. It’s also completely made up.

As I’ve written about in the past, there are a vast number of differences between writing for passion and fulfillment and writing for business. Of course, there are similarities too, but when a manuscript is due to an editor or a series synopsis is required to sign, the romantic, elusive muse feels more like a weight around your ankle than the deity of the arts. 

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Instead of waiting for lightning strikes of inspiration, we must find them ourselves, and we must understand how we found them, so we know exactly what to do the next time around. We must become our own muse, must look at the world around us and learn to rely on our own creativity and skill, rather than the ever amorphous muse. This is not a judgement on those who await inspiration. When I focused my writing efforts in a business direction, I sacrificed some of the romance that accompanies writing, the muse being one of them. And if she does strike, offering a bountiful wealth of creativity inspiration, then great. I’ve simply learned she cannot be relied upon.

So if not from an artistic bounty from the sky, from where do the stories come? Well, that’s the best part. They come from everywhere. 

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With the rise of the Internet, we have unlimited access to information. If I’m interested in the history of the Greek muses, I can find all I want to know in seconds. If I’m looking for settings for a Montana ranch series, I can literally find a real estate website with videos of ranches for sale in Montana. One study leads to another leads to another.

And it go beyond that, it goes to listening to conversations in cafes–I will never apologize for people watching–(some call it eavesdropping). It goes to looking at houses in your hundred year old community and wondering who lived there. It goes to taking day trips to Renaissance fairs, book festivals and zoos, adventures full of inspiration and potential.

And it goes to reading whatever you can get your hands. I have interviewed dozens of authors, and when I ask what advice they would pass along to new writers, they say two things: Read and write. Reading is a fundamental element of writing, whether or not you’re reading the genre you write. Characters, writing style, specific lines, dialogue and setting can all be developed from reading a book you particularly enjoy, or, inversely, one you cannot stand, but that drives you to prove yourself better.

So what does all this say, since I’ve provided very few specifics on inspiration? It says we all find our inspiration from different places, from our worlds and the worlds we explore, whether in person or in our media and in our minds. It says, fundamentally, to be open to when inspiration strikes.

As Albert Einstein once said, “I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.” If you are passionately curious, you’ve just taken step one to being a writer. ♥

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