What the Muse Wants

The issue that comes up more than any other among aspiring artists and entrepreneurs is this: “How can we chase our dream when we’ve got kids, a job, demands and deadlines? How do we find the time, the self-discipline and the energy when we’re dealing with all this real stuff in the real world?”

The Muse can be a tough taskmistress. But she does have one soft spot, if we know where to look.

Here’s what the goddess wants:

“Commit to the pain”

The Muse wants commitment. She demands a long-term contract. She wants us to sign in blood and hang in from now to the finish line. The Muse hates one-and-done. She will not tolerate weekend warriors or drop-ins. If we’re in, we’re in for the duration.

The Muse likes to see momentum. She favors those supplicants who start the pea rolling and don’t let it stop. When the goddess checks in on Thursday, she’s not happy if the ball is on the same yard-line as it was on Tuesday. That makes her grumpy.

Go deep and go long

The Muse demands depth. Shallow does not work for her. If we’re seeking her help, we can’t stay in the kiddie end. When we work, we have to go hard and go deep.

The goddess wants focus. Concentration. When she sees mental “scatter,” that is a major turn-off. She wants us to unplug the phone. Deadbolt the door. Banish all distraction.

The Muse is a jealous goddess. She demands our full attention. No competition. No other suitors. And we can’t cheat her. She sees right through us.

The sin of pride

Lastly, the Muse demands humility. Remember, to the Olympian gods, the most heinous felony was not murder or rape or even treason. It was pride.

These are hardcore demands. But why shouldn’t they be? The Muse’s contribution is ideas, inspiration; she’s the one who links us to our truest selves and brings out the gold that is ours and ours alone to contribute. Without her, we’ve got nothing. So she rolls hard. She plays for keeps and she demands that we play the same way.

The Muse’s soft spot

But there is one area where the Muse cuts us a break, and this is it:

She doesn’t demand massive amounts of time.

When Steven Soderbergh picked up his Oscar as Best Director, he lifted the statuette and said, “This is for everybody who puts in even one hour a day pursuing their dreams.”

One hour. The goddess can live with that. If we can give her sixty minutes of undistracted, unscattered, deep, focused attention, she’ll accept that. Maybe not forever, but for now. For a start.

And those hours add up. Sixty minutes a day, five days a week, fifty weeks a year equals 250 hours. My own typical workday (even at the top of my game) is only four hours. 250 hours equates to more than sixty workdays a year. Twelve weeks. That’s not nothing. That’s something. That’s really something.

Frederic Raphael, the screenwriter of Eyes Wide Shut, has a great definition of work: “Work,” he says, “is when you have pages at the end of the day that you didn’t have at the beginning.” That works for all of us—actors, entrepreneurs, everyone.

And it works for the Muse too. She likes to see that pea rolling—even if we can only roll it for an hour a day.

[Thanks to Coyoteguy for this week’s quote, “Remember, the Muse favors working stiffs.  She hates prima donnas.”  A signed WOA will be on the way.  Please keep the quotes coming.  Next week’s prize will be a signed copy of Patricia Ryan Madson’s excellent book, “Improv Wisdom.”  A winner!]


Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

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A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.



Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.



Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"



  1. TimBirch on September 16, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    The Muse is a Bitch!
    That is just how it is. The first move is ours. So here I sit at my computer. Putting a few keystrokes down for the World to see.

    You inspire me. Just invest a hour. The Infantry always demanded ‘just one more…’

    Play the Pain Game because nothing hurts more than doing nothing.(Regret)
    The saddest words known to tongue or pen “It might have been”

    Get busy, stay busy

  2. Kath Thompson on September 17, 2009 at 5:13 am

    You inspire me so much. I love your book (the War of Art) and this post. Will be sending this link to every wannabe creative I know. You speak the truth and it really resonates with me. Thank you very much. I needed this today.

  3. Gene on September 17, 2009 at 5:24 am

    And therein lies the heart of the matter in its simplicity: one has to have the passion to do it and the discipline to see it through to the end.

  4. Rick Dale on September 17, 2009 at 9:59 am

    Without question, this is one of the Muse’s soft spots. Thanks for the reminder about the cumulative effect of persistence.

  5. Kevin Ward on September 17, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    War of Art quote: “[The professional] eliminates chaos from his world in order to banish it from his mind. He wants the carpet vacuumed and the threshold swept, so the Muse may enter and not soil her gown.” -pg. 77

  6. George LaCas on September 25, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    Amen. When all is said and done, we writers MUST put in the hours. Fortune favors the brave.

  7. Susan Brassfield Cogan on November 20, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    “There’s tremendous power is putting your ass where your heart wants to be.” I’m having it tattooed somewhere on my body. Possibly my ass.

  8. […] What the Muse Wants: The issue that comes up more than any other among aspiring artists and entrepreneurs is this: “How can we chase our dream when we’ve got kids, a job, demands and deadlines? How do we find the time, the self-discipline and the energy when we’re dealing with all this real stuff in the real world?” The Muse can be a tough taskmistress. But she does have one soft spot, if we know where to look . . . […]

  9. Gregory Anne Cox on December 9, 2009 at 9:45 am

    Reading your writing guilts me into staying with the projects. As does all good writing. “Twelve weeks. That’s not nothing. That’s something. That’s really something.” And so it is, it’s something big and I’m damned if I’m going to miss the chance to enjoy that feeling of creating something.
    Thanks for the inspiration.

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  11. 20,000. « this is not a midlife crisis. on December 14, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    […] related news, I read some good advice on writing this weekend. It has to do with momentum and […]

  12. […] see his post “What the Muse Wants” (September 16, 2009), in which he describes the muse as a harsh taskmistress who demands […]

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