The Muse and Me, Part Two


I wouldn’t blame anyone who read last week’s post if they thought, “Man, that’s a bit airy-fairy, ain’t it?”

Lemme answer by getting even more airy-fairy.

Philip Roth

Philip Roth

Consider this artist’s body of work:


Goodbye, Columbus

Portnoy’s Complaint

My Life as a Man

The Professor of Desire

The Ghost Writer

Zuckerman Unbound

The Counterlife

Sabbath’s Theater

American Pastoral

The Human Stain

The Plot Against America


The Humbling


Clearly there’s a theme here. Without doubt Philip Roth is dealing with a unified, ongoing issue. He’s examining this theme from every angle, playing games with it, turning it inside-out and upside-down.

How about this artist?


Born to Run

Darkness on the Edge of Town

The River


Born in the U.S.A.

Tunnel of Love

Human Touch

Lucky Town

The Ghost of Tom Joad

Working on a Dream

Wrecking Ball

High Hopes


The Muse’s fingerprints, to me, are all over both bodies of work.

But why?

What’s her purpose? Why is she doing this? We can agree, can’t we, that the world is a better place because Philip Roth wrote the books he wrote and Bruce Springsteen recorded the songs he recorded?

So something positive is going on.

Why did American Pastoral come after Zuckerman Unbound? Why did The River follow Darkness on the Edge of Town?

The artists are evolving, aren’t they?

Or, looked at another way, why didn’t Philip Roth write Beloved or The Color Purple? Why didn’t the Boss record Blood on the Tracks?

Each of these souls is on a journey specific to him. Just like I am and just like you are. If we’re artists, the works we produce are the material articulations of that journey.

The journey itself is interior.

The journey takes place within the soul.

The Muse gives us works to bring into being in the same way and for the same purpose that the Unconscious sends us dreams.

Each work is a message in a bottle from the higher level—our soul, our Self, our being-in-potential—to our stumbling, struggling incarnations here on the material plane.

Can we say that Philip Roth and Bruce Springsteen as artists have led fulfilled lives? Maybe we can’t bet the ranch on it, since we’re not all-knowing beings. But it sure looks like they’ve done pretty well, doesn’t it?

For sure we have to give it to them that they’ve followed their stars. They’ve clearly been true over long careers to their most profound interior callings.

In other words, if you ask me, the Muse is not just giving us as artists the works we produce.

She’s guiding our soul’s journey.

She’s our mentor and our navigator.

[Remember, this post is Why I Write, Part 7.]

Have we entered this life as the most recent in an extended succession of incarnations?

Will we re-appear at some later time in another life?

Will the theme of our current and prior lives carry over?

Will Philip Roth and Bruce Springsteen, in some transfigured forms, continue to “work on” the issues that have possessed each of them in this lifetime?

I told ya this was gonna get even more airy-fairy.

Remember the first post in this Why I Write series? It asked the question, “What if a person produced an original, authentic body of work over a lifetime but never saw it recognized by the wider world? Would that artist’s working life have been in vain?”

We’ll consider this a little more deeply next week.


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. Mary Doyle on November 2, 2016 at 5:50 am

    “Each work is a message in a bottle from the higher level.” Love this, Steve – please keep the airy-fairy coming. As always, thanks for the mid-week inspiration!

  2. Mark Mayerson on November 2, 2016 at 6:17 am

    There is scientific evidence that our brains make decisions before we are conscious of them. The brain precedes the mind. What you refer to as the Muse may be our brains talking to our minds, making decisions and choosing directions and then informing us of what they are.

    We’ve all had the experience of struggling with a problem and then the solution pops into our heads when we’re not expecting it. Clearly, something is going on in our heads that we’re not conscious of. For me, that’s the Muse. Our brains are a couple of steps ahead of our minds, and our minds are receiving what our brains have decided.

  3. Susan on November 2, 2016 at 6:24 am

    Not airy-fairy at all. I think we gravitate to certain artists because they have the endurance and passion to go deeper and deeper to a personal place which is, in the end, universal. Listening to the Muse is a practice. Call It inspiration or brain function, I don’t care, as long as it continues to inspire our crazy world!!

  4. Mia Sherwood Landau on November 2, 2016 at 6:41 am

    More soulish than fairyish, IMO. Discovering we have a soul, realizing it’s the only enduring aspect of us and finally coming to know it well, that’s our job here. I like it when you call it the Neshama, one level of soul. Artists give themselves permission to explore soul expressions, even if it’s happening unconsciously or rebelliously. We can’t not do it. Your series on Why I Write is a deeper dive into The War of Art, the one we fight everyday when we have to earn a living and mow our lawns, etc. Our souls cry out like children who are last on our list because we can’t play until with them all our work is done. You are helping us come to know our souls, Steve, a high purpose indeed.

  5. Greg Taber on November 2, 2016 at 7:53 am

    The War of Art.

    Turning Pro.

    A new book? Following the Muse?

    Just a thought…

    • helen on November 2, 2016 at 2:09 pm

      probably would be along the lines of The Reluctant Messiah…

  6. Erika Viktor on November 2, 2016 at 8:14 am

    When I start writing a new book/article/short story, I learned that if I don’t make the main character’s arc similar to whatever I am learning at this moment, the story will eventually get muddled and mixed up because I will always write the scene toward my own journey, incorporating themes that are on my mind right now.

    When you write a book over a matter of years, this can become a real problem. The first part of the book will be about your journey three years ago. The next part will be about your journey two years ago, and so on.

    This all goes back to theme. I now try to pick a theme that is close to my heart, and stick to that theme and write the book faster. Is that the muse?

    Speaking of music, I think one of the reasons Elton John stayed electric for so many decades is because his music followed, almost nomadically, the themes of the culture of each decade.

    The sixties Elton was psychedellic and progressive. His musical themes of the seventies echoed the cultural fascination with bucolic, pastorial lifestyles (farm, country, rural living) and moved to the materialistic themes in the eighties. In the nineties he grew political, writing songs about Belfast and Aids and racism. One of his newer songs is called “The Bridge” and it’s an amazing metaphor for “keeping going or fading away” which I think ties into the concept of resistance.

    The point is, his themes changed and echoed the dreamlike state of those living at the time. I think he was listening to that dream

    • Monicka Clio Sakki on November 3, 2016 at 12:17 am

      Erika, Thanks for bringing up the Elton John Example. Very interesting.
      I don’t see that as changing theme… maybe more like, his theme is to follow the dream, as you put it? A theme of listening, absorbing like a sponge? Connecting and echoing?

    • Regina on November 3, 2016 at 6:41 pm


      Your observation about writing based on what you are learning at the current time is an awesome one! Is the muse challenging you to counter act it? You did write it here…Dare you!


  7. David Y.B. Kaufmann on November 2, 2016 at 8:24 am

    I never cared that much for Roth, and my time with rock ended pretty much before Springsteen came along. But I appreciate what you’re saying. I saw such a pattern in the works of Thomas Hardy many years ago. Sometimes the titles themselves reveal the pattern or theme, sometimes it has to be unwoven from it.

    Craft is the skill to produce a competent work. Art is craft in the service of the uniqueness of the individual soul. Craft, having utility, precedes art, and is useful broadly. Art requires an access and sensitivity on the part of the audience. And even then…

    Airy Fairy works for me. Only piano piece I could ever play.

  8. C. Longoria Gonzalez on November 2, 2016 at 8:56 am

    Thank you, Steven!

  9. gwen abitz on November 2, 2016 at 9:29 am

    Because it hits close to home, meaning Self; I am Following what is happening in North Dakota and The Standing Rock Reservation. I guess some would feel or think that Native Americans are a bit Airy Fairy with how they feel about their Sacred Land. LIKE this quote and want to share:
    “When people don’t know where their belly buttons are, they don’t know where they belong. So they keep digging all their lives.” ~Faith Spotted Eagle~

  10. Adam Abramowitz on November 2, 2016 at 9:45 am

    A friend just sent me this article.

    It’s an absolute MUST READ.

    Especially for people like us.

    NBA Player Ray Allen writes a letter to his 13-year old self:

  11. Valerie Sauve on November 2, 2016 at 10:33 am

    What a fun game!

    This one I like:
    Gather Yourselves Together
    Dr Futurity
    Solar lottery
    Eye in the sky
    Confessions of a Crap Artist
    The Man in the High Castle
    We Can Build You
    The Penultimate Truth
    Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said
    A Scanner Darkly
    A Scanner Darkly
    The Transmigration of Timothy Archer

    …this one too:
    The Blind Leading the Blind
    Maisons Fragiles
    Arch of Hysteria
    Pink Days and Blue Days
    Femme Maison
    Spider Woman
    The Destruction of the Father
    I do, I undo, I redo
    The Damned, The Possessed and The Beloved
    (Louise Bourgeois)

    • Sean Crawford on November 2, 2016 at 4:41 pm

      The first list is by Philip K. Dick, the writer’s writer, so called because he is so hard to imitate.

      Something I respect about him is that, according to a movie trade magazine (I forget which one) he took a lower price for his book being turned into Bladerunner. He would have received more had he agreed to have his novel surpassed, and replaced by someone else writing a movie novelization.

    • Regina on November 3, 2016 at 7:01 pm

      Yep, fun game. Louis Bourgeois is second one. 😉

  12. Maxima Kahn on November 2, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    Yes, another great post. Thank you for these deep musings and the courage to share them.

  13. Madeleine D'Este on November 2, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    I also think of the different periods in a visual artist’s career, like Picasso, exploring different themes.

    Me? Well, I’m flip-flopping around different genres trying to find the right home for my stories but the overarching theme is always the same – finding the courage to be yourself.

  14. Dave Newton on November 2, 2016 at 7:49 pm

    Let’s hear it for your muse, Steven. This series of posts is inspiring…and totally in harmony with your body of work.

  15. Conor Neill on November 3, 2016 at 12:04 am

    Keep up the “airy fairy” stuff! I love these insights into your personal process 😉

  16. Monicka Clio Sakki on November 3, 2016 at 12:26 am

    Thank you again, so much for this. It is just where I am, dealing with what i am dealing, and having you express it in words for me, it’s just a gift.

    There is this whole thing “find your purpose”. I looked into it for a while 😉

    I believe that our purpose IS to follow our muse. When i look at my life, I think it’s way more interesting, to show it by my body of work rather than what “happened” to me, my story in facts. It’s how we are active, and not just responding to life’s circumstances, good or bad.

    I may have gone traveling, met people saw amazing things. Did I create something out of that? Did I add to my body of work?
    If not, then it remains an experience. A very good one, but only that. If I made something with it, well, then I followed my muse and created something.

    I am in full appreciation to you, for confirming that for me, again.
    When you follow your muse, or create what is in you, then you create yourself.

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