You, as the Muse Sees You
What follows is my own personal metaphysical model for how writing (and all art) works. You may think I’m crazy. I may indeed be crazy.
“The Muse,” as I imagine her, is the collective identity of the nine goddesses, sisters, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (Memory), whose charge it is to inspire artists. Other names for this mysterious force might be the Unconscious, the Self, the Quantum Soup. Whatever it is, it represents the unseen dimension of Potentiality that is either within us or beyond us. It’s where ideas come from.
That scene that you wrote yesterday between Prince Mordrapal and the Avatar of the Elves: that came from the Muse. So did your idea for your next post-crypto-punk rap album and your next Mongolian Bar-B-Q restaurant.
Here’s how the Muse works.
Each day she makes her rounds (I like to imagine her traversing the globe in a small, open-top space vehicle, kind of a cross between the Jetsons and the old Flash Gordon serials), carrying her bag full of ideas. She’s a bit like St. Nick, only instead of giving gifts to children she gives ideas to artists. To Beethoven she gives da-da-da-dum, to Stephen King she offers Carrie.
When the Muse gets to your place, she looks down from her little rocket ship. Are you in the studio? Before the easel? At the keyboard?
You’re not? Okay. The goddess cuts you some slack for this truant day. She’ll check back tomorrow.
What? You’re not on the job then either?
Or the day after that?
The Muse’s brow begins furrowing. You are disappointing her. She’s starting to get a little pissed off.
Could it be that you don’t really want her help?
Your name has now become entered on the goddess’ Bad Boy List.
How will she punish you? She’ll do nothing wanton or vicious. She’s a lady.
She will simply withhold her favors.
That problem you’re wrestling with in Act Two? You’re on your own, buster. Solve it yourself.
But let’s turn to the flip side, the happy side.
Instead let’s imagine the Muse cruising past your place on Monday. There you are, hard at work. Same thing Tuesday. Wednesday too.
Ah, now you have made the goddess smile! She likes your style, she digs the way you roll. (By the way, the Muse doesn’t hold it against you if you can only spare her an hour a day, or even if you miss days because you have to work to feed your family. The goddess can read your mind. She recognizes your honorable intentions. As long as you are showing her the proper respect, you remain on her Good Boy List.)
How does she reward you?
She gives you the breakthrough for Act Two. The idea pops into your head while you’re in the shower, or on the subway, or walking your Doberman.
You think it’s your idea. It’s not.
She gave it to you.
Is this magic? A miracle? No, it’s common as dirt. It’s how creativity works.
We show up. We do our best. Good things happen.
This is the intersection of Hard Work and Inspiration.
When we say “Put your ass where your heart wants to be,” this is what we mean.
This is what being a pro is all about. It’s why we practice self-discipline, self-validation, self-reinforcement. This is why we train ourselves to overcome Resistance. It’s what “swinging our Authentic Swing” is about.
We master all of those disciplines for one reason: so that we can be sitting there in the sweet spot when the Muse’s rocket ship passes by. That’s how the two sides work together. Hard work and inspiration.
Diligence produces inspiration because it shows respect to the goddess. Genius and brilliance do not earn her favor. She prefers sweat.
Get your butt in to the studio. Sit down at the piano. Boot up your iMac.
See yourself as the Muse sees you. You’ll know what to do.
Whether or not you’re crazy is of no concern to me – about this you’re absolutely right – the Muse will never abandon the artist who sweats. Thanks for the Jetson’s/Flash Gordon image by the way (since I’m old enough to remember both). I am getting ready to sit down to work and I think I can hear her flying overhead now.
Yes, Mary, I was wondering if I would be the only one who remembered …
So true! So inspiring. I remember the Jetsons too! And I also believe in the Muse. Mine sits on my shoulder and whispers in my ear, telling me what to write down. Thanks for sharing your concepts.
Ohhhh thank you for this! I love the analogy. Very beautiful… the imagery that pops up in my mind that you painted is great. Have a great rest of the week. I look forward to next Wednesday. Thanks Catherine 🙂
It’s like a handshake– two sides taking hold. Well said.
Great article and very insightful. I go back and forth on the idea of mystical Greek Babes in togas dropping ideas on me but there’s something to it.
When the muse flew overhead today at 4:30 AM I was writing, but I had to take a break to drive to the grocery store and buy a new battery for the smoke detector. The muse didn’t like the constant beeping sound.
You are not crazy Steve. You just know where to sit.
Pamela, I just read in the paper about new high-tech smoke detectors from “Nest,” a bunch of former Apple geniuses. It sounded very cool — and it didn’t chirp. Check it out. I will!
one of your best yet, and that’s saying a ton! thnx, steve!
Good to see I’m not alone in the Crazy (Gang) Club.
Nothing personal, Oprah, but it’s great to get back to real live, honest to God Writing Wednesdays. Definitely worth the wait. Thanks, dude.
I love this and cannot agree with it more. Genius is but a habit of hard work + good muse timing.
One correction, Steven. you wrote: “…the unseen dimension of Potentiality that is either within us or beyond us.” The conjunction should be “both…and” – “…the unseen dimension of Potentiality that is both within us and beyond us.”
It’s the old Edison quote, genius is 90% perspiration, 10% inspiration. Students today often think it’s the reverse. Why is that?
I suspect two reasons. One, most of us don’t see the hard work that goes into producing the product – work of art – performance that amazes and inspires us. In some cases, we don’t need to. When Pinchas Zukerman plays the violin or Drew Brees escapes a blitz and throws a TD pass, we know we can’t do that and we know that it took lots and lots of practice as well as oodles of talent to perform. We make the practice+talent+focus=performance equation rather viscerally. (You can substitute “determination” for “focus,” or add it to the equation.)
But when it comes to our art, and to writing in particular, we don’t see it. Student writers – whether in freshman comp or comping the next great fantasy – blither on the page. (An aside thought: Do folk realize how much hard work goes into acting? That showing up and getting into character thing?)
I suspect the notion that writing is almost only inspired comes, ironically, from the Romantic poets, who were all about inspiration, spontaneity, communing with nature, the immediacy of experience as expression of the divine, etc. And they were serious revisionists – of their works. (Maybe not “Kubla Khan.”) One need only look at Keats’s manuscripts to see that the paradigm of “truth is beauty” re-wrote and showed up for work, as you put it, tuberculosis and all.
That’s one reason why works such as “The War of Art,” “Turning Pro” and now “The Authentic Swing” (which I’m enjoying very much) are so important: they not only show the path, they share it.
Thanks, as always.
Oh, and on the crazy part: I once worked in an office, doing office chores – making coffee, changing coffee filters, running errands, changing paper in the copy machine, changing the drum of the copy machine, using the copy machine for a drum – the usual college days part-time work. One day I was singing (which should have sent everyone within earshot into paroxysms of laughter, but only one person was in earshot) and doing one of those semi-frolics youth tend to exuberate in. My boss said, “David, you’re crazy,” to which I immediately replied, “It’s because they call me crazy they can call you sane.” He never did figure it out.
Let us, then, be crazy in our saneness, and sane in our craziness. Or artists.
You inspire inspiration! Are you sure you are not on the rocket ship too? Thanks for all you do.
I love when I get inspired. My writing is filled with desire, ideas, color and the words, well them do seem to drop out of the sky.
Great post, but I take issue with one part: “She’ll do nothing wanton or vicious. She’s a lady.” We obviously have had experiences of very different types of “ladies”, I think.
I find the muse to be capricious and cruel – often times throwing new ideas at me or inspirations for stories and novels that I know are good – but which are beyond me either in technique or in amount of time required. Kind of like a minor league player being given a tour of the stadium. “Yeah, it’s pretty awesome here,” she says, smiling. “You’d like it. Work on that swing. Hopefully you’ll get to see for yourself.”
Thanks, as usual, for the inspiration.
Well, I guess that via our work we have to reach in our minds our own mountain Helikon and ask the favor of the Muse.
Some days this seems to be easier, other days it’s almost impossible to climb a single piece of rock!
I’d like to believe -and feel- that in this second case the Muse is more generous with us, because she can see that we carry a huge weight of problems on our shoulders, but we still try to reach out for her.
Thank you for sending this. When you haven’t been in the chair in a long time (months? a year?), you get to a point where you think there is no way those breakthroughs are ever going to happen again, and any that happened before were just pure luck, so why bother? The fear (or the R) becomes crippling. It’s easy to forget — not easy to TRUST — that the solution is to sit down in front of a blank page. For some reason, I get so pessimistic and think that the answer can’t be that easy.
No more procrastination.
Brilliant post. Yes. I showed up today and the muse is here with me having a cup of tea (waiting for the paint to dry so I can continue what I started this morning) She is telling me to thank you. I do too!
BTW-I have a slightly different take on the muse/s. I call them my spirit-within-me. This is my connection to the all. I usually get in touch with this part when I paint, in my studio and after a meditation session. I like that the spirit is within me. It reminds me that I have the power to do what I love and that if I didn’t do it, who then?
When I am in touch with the spirit-within-me, I do not have to worry about what to say, what to paint…what to do. The direction is clear. My spirit-within-me is honored to have read this entry.
Your phrase “intersection of hard work and inspiration” really resonated with me. And for the record, I love your kind of crazy.
She surely must have swung by your place Steve! This is nothing but the truth. Thank you so much!
wow. This was your first book since War of Art I almost didn’t buy. Assumed it was a book focused for writers – silly me.
My theme for my coaching business is now “You, me and a whiteboard”.
Love the visualization of the Muse and it feels so right! Thank you for such a wonderful post!
Thank you so much for this, Steven. I read ‘The War of Art’ in the spring and recommended it to everyone I know. Then I found your blog here, and was thrilled. The quote “put your ass where your heart wants to be,” really stuck with me, and is on my ‘cover’ photo for my Facebook fan page. It’s a mural I painted this summer, when my ass was exactly where my heart wanted to be… and where it remains.
BTW the Muse left the idea of Carrie in a hygiene pad dispenser where King worked as a janitor.
Great stuff! Didn’t Stephen King say in “On Writing” that his wife retrieved the manuscript from the trash where he had thrown it? Whew.
Love this: “Put your ass where your heart wants to be”!
Succinct! 🙂 Clear. Actionable.
In the romance writing world we call it BIC: Butt In Chair.
After lunch, will do!
LOVE this! Thanks so much for sharing.
So enjoyed reading your article. I was reading an article about creativity yesterday that asked what other ways we encouraged creativity. I responded that showing up everyday whether I felt like it or not was once way I encouraged creativity, and trusted that something would come to me, and that at least I kept my muse awake. So reading your article today put a smile on my face. Love the quote: “put your ass where your heart wants to be”. Thank you!
Yes! The muse is real! Thank God for that! Thank you Stephen for reminding us that we have a responsibility to create, and that means feeding our talent and making ourselves available to the muse.
Sounds an awful lot like butt-in-chair syndrome – if you don’t get your butt into your chair every day for at least a sentence a day, you’re not a writer – you’re only someone who daydreams of being a writer.
The world is full of opportunity and inspiration
The reason most people miss it is because it is dressed in overalls and looks like hard work!
Glad to be back with writing Wednesdays!!
This article about The life and routing of artists, made me think of your books.
it’s 08.00 am and I’m ready for writing another song,
Wow, this was great. I love it!
Mine drives a chariot pulled by dragons, a green one on the left and a red one on the right, probably to comply with FAA regulations. Wearing jeans and a sweat shirt, because she’s on her way to the hardware store.
What amazes me, after too many absences from my desk, is how willing she is to return when she sees my ass in the chair. She doesn’t punish, hold a grudge or cop an attitude.
She doesn’t just show up when I sit down, true enough. It might take a day or two, while my mind reattaches to the work, while she watches to see if my invitation is pure. But if she determines I’m willing, she always seems to be. A perfect partner.
Inspiring and sort of eerie – I wrote about this very subject on the very same day!
I’ve resisted reading your book (despite the strong recommendation of a dear friend) because I don’t like the idea of “war.” But after struggling day upon day to get something going, I’m beginning to see the reality of the situation.
Looking forward to reading what you have to say.
TODAY, I turned Pro. It scared the bejeezus out of me. I shall also be a pro tomorrow. I thought you should know. 🙂
Nice to get a different visual than the one I’ve been moulding daily from my own invocation of the Muse. But I still think she rides a badass space bike though 😉
And speaking of Steven King, was it him who said something along these lines: “Wanna be a writer? All you have to do is sit at the typewriter and bleed.” Whoever, it’s a doozie… and obviously they too know sweat prevails.
Stay crazy. Makes us feel at home.
Simply awesome… everything from the mythology to the real life motivation I’ve got as a result.
Waiting anxiously for the next visit of the Muse! 😉
I have fallen in love with the metaphor of the Goddess for The Muse of the creative soul. Thank you for such a relatable dialogue.