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On Muses

  • Feb. 24th, 2010 at 11:22 AM
The fantastic Carrie Ryan asked about muses today on twitter. And I started to respond, but realized I am completely incapable of summarizing my thoughts on the matter in 140 characters. So I'll talk about it here!

Some authors credit a muse for their creativity-- not a flesh and blood person, but a sort of ethereal or spiritual entity that inspires them.

And to be very very short and sweet about it: I hate the idea of a muse.

And I don't say that to insult those who credit a muse-- but the entire concept really bugs me. I feel like saying there's a muse behind what goes on in your head means that there is always an outside source responsible for your creativity and inspiration. I think that can be very discouraging for some people-- if they aren't inspired, does that mean they don't have a muse? That they'll never be able to write even if they want to? That the lack of an external thinker/inspirer means they're incapable until they find their muse? That you can't write until the muse says you can, even if you want to? That you're not allowed to just scribble things down that might suck and see what happens?

I also don't like the idea that something beyond yourself is responsible for your writing. If an external force is responsible for your writing, what else is it responsible for? Can you blame your poor decisions on it? Can you blame a weak book on it? Can you blame darker things, like bigotry or immorality on this external force controlling your thoughts?

Plus, the truth is-- sometimes I'm not inspired, but still have to work on a book. Sometimes I want to take a bath and eat cookies but I have a deadline. Sometimes I have to remind myself that writing is what I love, and force myself to sit down and work. Sometimes writing is mostly perspiration, without a lot of inspiration. I feel like the idea of a muse gives people an excuse to sit around and WAIT for creativity/inspiration to strike them instead of tapping into their anger or love or passion or confusion or hurt or boredom and using THAT to jumpstart their writing.

I know some people with a muse feel like the muse is an extension of themselves-- kind of like they're just personifying one aspect of their personality/being. That doesn't bother me quite as much, but I suppose where I get annoyed is when the line is blurred between Muse-is-just-another-name-for-my-creative-self and Muse-implying-or-unspecifying-if-it-is-an-external-force.

What do you think about the muse concept?


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tessagratton wrote:
Feb. 24th, 2010 04:36 pm (UTC)
I fall on the another-name-for-my-creative-self side of the spectrum. My muse has a name and a characterization, and I think the reason I do it that way is because naming my creative process, and turning it into a metaphor, gives me the distance I sometimes need to figure out what my problem is.

ALSO I think anything that inspires me is part of my muse. Sunrise. A good book - it's a feeling of tapping into my own longing to create. Truth and Beauty, baby!
rachelbateman wrote:
Feb. 24th, 2010 04:41 pm (UTC)
I agree with you. I know there are people out there who just use the term muse and still put the consistent work in even when they are feeling uninspired. That is fine. What irks me is when I talk to writers who won't do anything unless the "muse is present". To me that just seems like an excuse to not put in the hard work.

And now I am pretty much just repeating what you said. Hmmm.
sbennettwealer wrote:
Feb. 24th, 2010 06:30 pm (UTC)
Yep, this. Too often all this "muse" talk is just an excuse to be lazy and watch TV rather than put in the hard work of writing.

If I do have a Muse (and most of the time I doubt it), she only visits me when I've put in at least equal work. If I don't have my butt in the chair, if I haven't done 90% of the legwork, she'd rather hang out with people who have their s*%&t together.
cathschaffstump wrote:
Feb. 24th, 2010 04:49 pm (UTC)
I think the objection to muse as scapegoat for procrastination or problems is reasonable. As a writer, we are ultimately responsible for the books that come from us.

I see the muse as another side of myself, the place where the ideas come from, and I give this side of myself another aspect. To be fair, I give the editing rational side of myself an identity too. Neither is me. I have to keep the two in balance.

I think that inspiration is useful, but it should never be used as a way to avoid the work.

Your conceptualization is very pragmatic.

ying_ko_4 wrote:
Feb. 24th, 2010 04:55 pm (UTC)
Muse = Want to

If you don't 'want to' then your muse is at fault...blame shifting....
elegantsnobbery wrote:
Feb. 24th, 2010 05:06 pm (UTC)
I only credit my muse when my writing or art work is seriously sucking. Then I grumble a lot and threaten to get a new muse unless she shapes up. Very often she takes the hint.

But when I'm on a roll and being brilliant... I give myself all the credit for it :D
mandyhubbard wrote:
Feb. 24th, 2010 07:10 pm (UTC)
Art work... is your icon your own original art?
(no subject) - elegantsnobbery - Feb. 24th, 2010 07:34 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - mandyhubbard - Feb. 24th, 2010 07:40 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - elegantsnobbery - Feb. 24th, 2010 07:45 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - ext_205346 - Feb. 26th, 2010 12:43 am (UTC)
(no subject) - elegantsnobbery - Feb. 26th, 2010 05:30 pm (UTC)
anywherebeyond wrote:
Feb. 24th, 2010 06:19 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I couldn't just leave a comment. I expounded instead! Whee!
mandyhubbard wrote:
Feb. 24th, 2010 07:05 pm (UTC)
I am SO WITH YOU. Seriously. Maybe I'm too methodical about writing but I like being prolific and that means writing when I need to, not when I want to. I dont have a muse.
sarah_prineas wrote:
Feb. 24th, 2010 07:20 pm (UTC)
I agree with you completely and totally.
robinellen wrote:
Feb. 24th, 2010 07:26 pm (UTC)
I've never believed in a muse for myself. I write when I want to and when I have to, and if inspiration doesn't come during that time, then I try to get at least something working and complete...usually, by the next time I have a chance to work, I can do something with what I wrote before.
(Anonymous) wrote:
Feb. 24th, 2010 07:47 pm (UTC)
Not sure how I really feel about it, but Elizabeth Gilbert gave a really entertaining, funny, and insightful talk about it. See here: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html

It's 20 minutes long--just a warning.
rj_anderson wrote:
Feb. 24th, 2010 08:53 pm (UTC)
Re: Muses
I second this recommendation. I've never been the type of person who believed in having a Muse, let alone giving him/her/it a name or blaming it for anything. Yet I did find a lot to think about after hearing Elizabeth Gilbert's talk.

Although I believe writing is primarily a matter of commitment and discipline, I also know that there are plenty of highly committed and self-disciplined people who will never write a book because they just don't feel that compelling need to do so. Which suggests to me that there's something a little bigger than just willpower at work here.

I've always believed that my desire to write is ultimately a gift from God, and that it's my responsibility to use that gift in good conscience. So while I'm naturally a pragmatic type, I do find myself appealing to an external Power for help when I'm struggling to write and being grateful to that same Power when my writing goes well. Even though I am also aware that nothing is going to happen unless I sit down and actually put the words down on paper -- they aren't just going to fall out of the sky on golden tablets for me to copy out at my leisure, or type themselves while I put my feet up and eat bonbons.

I also agree with Saundra's suggestion that there is something mystical about the process of creation, that there are moments of transport where the ideas seem to come spontaneously from some other realm -- admittedly that happens to me maybe 1% of the time and the other 99% is sheer bloodyminded drudgery, but still. It's pretty cool when it does happen.
martianmooncrab wrote:
Feb. 24th, 2010 08:35 pm (UTC)
the muse concept

it makes a better statement than "the little voices were telling me ..."
(Anonymous) wrote:
Feb. 24th, 2010 10:16 pm (UTC)
"On Muses"
I'm unsure if I'm one of the writers in the world that has a muse. I've named her, geekily enough, and I think of her NOT as an excuse for not writing, not getting inspired, etc. But I think of her as my unsung writing partner with her own personality and traits. Weird, but sitting behind a desk for hours on end...I sort of need someone (even if it IS in my mind) to talk to and maybe talk out some things if I'm unsure what to put on paper.
In conclusion, I think that my muse is more of a writing partner and someone (or something) to converse with if you're stuck.
mindiscott wrote:
Feb. 24th, 2010 10:38 pm (UTC)
Until a few ars ago, I'd never heard of this idea of artists/writers having an internal muse. I always thought of a muse as an inspiration outside of oneself.ye

Like, Quentin Tarantino once said that Uma Thurman is his muse. That made sense to me. I thought that the way she inspires him makes him want to write. And also, that what he writes is for her.

So that's the only way I've ever thought of a muse in relation to myself. My muse would be someone or something that makes me want to write. But not it would never be someone or something that has control of my writing in any way.

(I guess all of this really just shows my ignorance of mythology. I went to a Christian private school for nine years, so I missed most of that!)
mary_j_59 wrote:
Feb. 27th, 2010 07:16 pm (UTC)
I agree with you. I told my mother that she was my muse; the poems I was writing, I wrote to give to her.

And I'm also in agreement with Madeleine L'Engle that a good part of writing is listening, and letting the work flow through you, and with Tolkien that you have to allow yourself to be taught by your work. But-

That doesn't mean there's anyone but you doing it! I'm in total agreement with the original post there. )

I'm here from JonGibbs's blog, btw.
artemisgreyvale wrote:
Feb. 24th, 2010 11:10 pm (UTC)
I LOVE it! People are ALWAYS asking me what inspires me to write, or what my muse is, especially because I'm not agented yet and sometimes I'm half unhinged with the thought of never getting published. They seem to think that someTHING has to be pushing me to go through it all.

I inspire me. Stories live in my head and they want to be put down on paper. That's all there is to it. And I agree, sometimes I'm NOT inspired to write, and I write anyway, because there's an art form to the passion and you can work on the form even without the passion.
jongibbs wrote:
Feb. 24th, 2010 11:35 pm (UTC)
I think different folks call it different things, but when it comes to the crunch, you've either got a good idea or you haven't :)
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Oh, hi!

My name is Jackson Pearce-- I'm the author of retold fairytales (SISTERS RED, SWEETLY, FATHOMLESS, COLD SPELL), funny contemporary stories (PURITY), tales of wishes come true (AS YOU WISH), and middle grade adventures (THE DOUBLECROSS, coming July 2015, and PIP BARTLETT'S GUIDE TO MAGICAL CREATURES, coming May 2015).

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