7 Reasons to Abandon The Myth of the Muse

I’m calling it now.

I’m calling shenanigans on the whole Muse thing.

The anthropomorphic representation of the creative inspiration is a romantic notion, used as a mythologising factor of and for the creative life. The Ancient Greeks had 9 anthropomorphised Muses (Epic poetry, History, Lyric poetry, Elegiac poetry, Hymns, Tragedy, Comedy, Astronomy and Dance) so you can appeal to any number of them. Heaven help you if you want to write YA or Gothic romance.

There have been a fair number of creative people over the years, be they writers, artists, painters, who sprouted the notion they cannot create with the inspiration of their Muse (who was probably a prostitute or mistress or as a result of drug and/or alcohol abuse, or all of the above).

And yes, they have produced some brilliant works of art in literature, painting, music or film. But if we didn’t tacitly approve of their illegal and/or immoral mores, would we look on their work any different? Or do we say they were screwed in the head and needed a good paddling? Perhaps they could have produced the same work of genius WITHOUT the chemical alterations?

All that aside *sweeps table clean*

I think the concept of a Muse is a load of rubbishy bollocks.

 I believe we can all be creative to some degree. It can be as simple as taking a photo a day on your phone and whacking it on Instagram (Note: food and selfies are long gone; try combining the two for something different) or writing a piece of bad poetry to fit on twitter or doodling in the margins of the newspaper on the way to work.

IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT YOU DO, AS LONG AS YOU ARE DOING SOMETHING CREATIVE.

Make a cake, sew a quilt, tend a garden, write a story, learn an instrument, paint a picture.

FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY, CREATE SOMETHING. AND CREATE REGULARLY.

Then we can get to this finnicky point about having a Muse. You do not require the assistance of an anthropmorphised idea to create, or to inspire you to create, or to keep you creating.

Here are 7 reasons why I don’t believe in the Muse an an anthropomorphised notion to inspire, or be the main reason for, your creativity.

1. I don’t believe in the Muse as inspiration because it’s an excuse

“I didn’t feel the presence of the Muse today.”

“I’m waiting for the Muse to inspire me.”

“My Muse hasn’t shown up today.”

“My Muse abandoned me in the middle of my writing session.”

No, no, no and just to be different, NO.

There are many, many different reasons why you are not creating but if it is not due to the presence or absence of a Muse, it’s an EXCUSE.

When you’re procrastinating from creating, know WHY. Are you being lazy? Too easily distracted? Emotionally unbalanced by something unrelated? Life happens and disrupts your creative flow: work stress, family stress, tired from being so busy. And the list could go on.

No more excuses!

2. I don’t believe in the Muse as inspiration because it undermines a positive work ethic.

If you are continually waiting for the (non-existent) Muse to arrive, you will NEVER get anything done. You wouldn’t show up to a professional level sport match and expect to play without the prerequisite years of training and discipline.

Neither should you turn up to your creative life without having done the background work.

If you’re a creative person you turn up each time prepared to work. You invest time and energy into what you do; you sacrifice time with friends, family, leisure to pursue what you are passionate about.

You don’t write a best selling novel on your very first attempt. Before you have ever set down the first word you have spent time preparing yourself for it. I have heard many authors speak of “practice novels” sitting in the bottom drawer of their desk or filed away on their computer. They put in the hours of work to write it but learned along the way of what worked and what did not.

Don’t wait. Do the work.

3. I don’t believe in the Muse as inspiration because instantaneous rewards does not bring long term benefit

Instant success can be a curse as it artificially inflates your sense of achievement. It is of greater benefit to spend time slogging it out in obscurity, honing your craft, developing the skills you need to master your choice of creative pursuit.

I have spent four years serving a writing apprenticeship so I can have the basic skills required to produce good art. And I still have a long way to go. I am nowhere near the end of my writing apprenticeship, but I have learned enough to feel confident to write a novel.

I spent a couple of years writing flash fiction and short pieces to understand story craft and structure. I read blogs, articles, received feedback on my own stories to learn more.

I will always be a learner of the craft.

Commit to the long term.

4. I don’t believe in the Muse as inspiration because it negates personal responsibility

As a teacher I see students who have not learned what it means to put in the time and effort on a piece of work. They would rather do nothing and fail, than to try and put some effort and possibly fail. And their parents often bail them out of trouble when their student is challenged on his/her lack of performance.

The percentage of people who say they want to write a novel is significant (somewhere around the 80% mark) but how many of them will actually start (not many), and how many of them will actually finish (even fewer)?

If you want to be creative, you have to do the work. No ‘ifs.’ No ‘buts.’ No excuses.

Take responsibility. If you want to create, CREATE. You cannot wait for someone else to get you to do it.

5. I don’t believe in the Muse as inspiration because it romanticises a short cut process, not a long term commitment

As a creative person, you’re in this for the long haul, not as a short fad or craze (think how fast the Harlem Shake or twerking or MC Hammer pants died out).

You create through all the cycles of life because it gives you meaning. You create when you’re happy. You create when you’re sad. When you’re curious, adventurous, melancholic, introspective, cautious, rebellious. Not because you’re at the whim of a capricious Muse who doles out ideas like rewards if you’ve been extra special today.

6. I don’t believe in the Muse as inspiration because creativity will not be handed to you without some work

The more you create, the more you look for ideas and inspiration, the more you find them. The Muse is not hoarding a treasure trove of delicious and vision-inspiring ideas, waiting for the most opportune (or inopportune) time to leave them like a trail of bread crumbs in the forest.

There are times when ideas are rare; you’re looking for canned unicorn and all you get is Spam. But to reinforce a previous note above, ask what’s going on in your life that make be cutting into your creativity? Tiredness, laziness, stress from work or family, bereavement, financial worries, commitments to family and friends.

Do the work. It will happen. Write ideas down and let them sit in the back of your mind (I call it composting – you can call it gestating, stewing over, masticating, growing flowers in the attic). Inertia and apathy are the greatest killers to your creativity.

Do the work. Read books. Watch films. Visit art galleries. Walk outside. Exercise. Talk to other creative people and brainstorm.

Feed your mind so you have ideas to draw on.

7. I don’t believe in the Muse as inspiration because you need to understand your own creative cycles

When do you work best? Is it in the early hours of the morning before everyone else wakes up? During the afternoon? In the evening? In the later hours of night after everyone else has gone to bed?

How often do you want or need to be creative? Once a week? Every third day? Every day?

You need to know how you work best to achieve maximum achievement from your effort.

Also know when you are creatively dry and in need of refilling your creative well. To quote a breakfast cereal commercial, “You only get out what you put in.”

When you know how you work, and when it is best to work, you are not at the beck and call of the Muse to create. I know someone who works best in focused, manic cycles of creativity, producing a fair amount of work in a short period of time, be it weeks or months. Conversely, there is an almost equivalent down time when work is not being produced.

Other people prefer to work in small, consistent pieces of time and produce work on a regular basis.

Is your creative locus internal or external? Where do you find your best ideas? From working alone or working with other people?

Give yourself permission to stop if you need to because life is chaotic and you need some rest but give yourself a specific date when you will return to it.

Know your creative cycle.

Final Thoughts.

I believe inspiration and creativity are two different aspects. Inspiration feeds into the creative process, but you cannot wait for inspiration. Creativity is a continual thought process. Inspiration taps into areas of thinking in order to create.

Sacrifice the idea of the Muse as archaic and unhelpful. Call shenanigans on it and do the work. Turn up when you’ve said you’ll turn up. Put your bum in the chair and create.

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6 responses to “7 Reasons to Abandon The Myth of the Muse

    • Very possibly. As long as I get to wear Ancient Greek dress and a crown of olive branches 🙂
      Interalising the process is an important part of developing creativity as a part of our lives.

  1. “Maybe you could have done the same or better without that thing you consider very important” has never been an interesting or respectable position to me. If you don’t like it, don’t use it. I don’t use it. But for authors like Elizabeth Gilbert it keeps them striving. Good art is too difficult to produce to demand everyone conform, especially not when you’re yelling at them in all-caps to go produce something.

    • Conformity doesn’t make for good art, and neither does excuses. For someone starting out in their chosen creative field, the concept of a Muse may or may not be of benefit. It’s when it dominates the thinking and prohibits creativity that it becomes a problem.
      For someone like Gilbert, it sounds like she uses it as an external locus of control, something that enables her to keep producing good art.

  2. Nice. I have always thought the muse was just a conceit, anyway. What you say about understanding your own creative cycles here is important, I think. Lots of useful stuff in this post for creative types.

    • The conceit of the Muse can have some relevance in understanding your own process of creativity. The main point of my post was to avoid using it as an excuse. It is about understanding your creative cycles and habits; everyone is different. I wish I could write huge word counts each day, but I can’t. Yes, I can build to that, but I am not there yet.
      However, it’s also about being creative as an important part of your life. You don’t have to be a ‘creative’ person i.e. art, music or literature to be creative. It can be in business, technology, human resources, working with people and service industries. It’s about enriching your own life first. If it finds an audience, or it inspires someone else to create, fantastic.

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