We’ve all heard of them, maybe you think you have one. But what exactly is the function of the writer’s muse? And is she actually good for your writing?
Perhaps the most famous writer’s muse is Calliope, the muse of epic poetry in Greek mythology, who whispered fantastic tales to the poets of old. A more modern example might be the muse mentioned by Steven Pressfield in his book, The War of Art, who is described as a conglomerate of higher powers that gives celestial inspiration to writers. Whatever incarnation the muse takes, the basic idea behind her is that she is an otherworldly being that bestows inspiration onto the writer.
Do modern writers actually believe in the muse as a physical, yet intangible, being? Maybe. For some, the muse might represent a divine source of creativity, like an angelical intermediary for creativity from a god or gods. If that is the case for you, please note that I am not trying to challenge your faith. If you believe a god or gods gives you the inspiration and will to create, by all means, go about your business.
However, if you are like most modern writers, the muse is more of a metaphor. A symbol, perhaps, of that spark every human feels when an idea pops into the brain or the creative juices seem to make the whole body tremble with energy. These writers do not believe that the muse is an actual entity, but they still refer to her as a way to make the creative process more understandable, or even more likely, more romantic.
Personally, I do not believe that I have a muse hovering over my shoulder, and I do not refer to one when a bout of inspiration strikes. I purposefully scorn “the muse” for these two reasons:
1. The muse becomes a scapegoat.
When writers feel uninspired or un-creative, they may blame the muse. (They may also blame writer’s block, which is a whole other animal.) By saying that they “are waiting on the muse,” writers are giving themselves the perfect excuse to avoid writing. After all, it’s not their fault they don’t want to work on their project, their muse just is not inspired/properly fed/present today.
While it is entirely fine to admit that one simply is not feeling creative or does not want to write, it is not fine to attribute these feelings to a muse. Unless you truly believe that there is a divine being whispering your stories in your ear, the only person lacking inspiration and the only person preventing you from writing is you.
2. The muse gets all the credit.
When writers are bursting with inspiration and filling the page with words, they attribute that to the muse. They may say that their muse is well-fed or inspired or fully-present. She has brought them the gift of eloquence, and they are acting as her conduit and bringing her story to the world.
But what about you, dear writers? What about all the hours you have spent at the keyboard, the way you brainstormed how to fix that plot hole when you couldn’t sleep, the dozens of websites and books you scoured to research your setting? Should the muse, a symbol for your creativity, receive all the praise? No. You worked hard. You felt inspired. You brought your story to life.
Even if you do believe in a higher power, I implore you to take some credit for your own creativity. Sure, as your creator, the higher power may deserve some credit. After all, don’t we all owe our ability to live to our parents? However, if you are in the spiritual majority, you also believe in free will. Yes, your deity may have breathed life into you, thus allowing you to be creative, but according to the tenants of free will, you also chose to be creative and to be a writer. At the very least, give yourself a pat on the back for making use of your talents, no matter where you think they came from.
In the end, I realize that most writers will not take the idea of the muse so literally. In fact, most of the writers who read this will probably be asking, “Kate, it’s just a symbol. Why does it matter?” Well, I’ll tell you why.
The reading public, writers included, view writers as these suffering artists, these moody geniuses who bleed all over their typewriters (because they’re also hipsters). And you know what? That is simply not reality. There are plenty of writers who enjoy writing, who treat writing as a business, and who are not starving. By continuing the tradition of the muse, by blaming her and giving her credit, we perpetuate these writer stereotypes and continue to frame ourselves more as dramatic artists than professionals.
I don’t know about you all, but I don’t fit these stereotypes, and I don’t want to be associated with them anymore.
If you feel the same way, then please, heed my words. When you don’t feel inspired, just admit it. (It’s okay, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed as a writer.) When you write something fantastic, give yourself your due credit. (It’s okay, it doesn’t make you a jerk.)
Take ownership of your creative life and stop waiting around on the muse.
Trust me, she’s not coming.