Saying that you believe in muses is kind of like saying you believe in fairies. I’m not talking about the ‘idea’ of muses as a metaphor for inspiration; most people are willing to acknowledge that. I mean really believing that there is a goddess or gremlin (sometimes one and the same) that sits by your side as you write and whispers things in your ear: the great book idea, the perfect word to end your poem, the solution for that hole in your plot.
This is not something we readily give credence to in our rationalist culture. I won’t say whether I believe in muses (or fairies) but at the same time, I have no better explanation for how creativity works. One moment I’m sitting staring at the blinking cursor, mind blank, totally at a loss for how I’m going to end my story. The next moment a great idea for how to knit it all together springs suddenly into my mind. Where did it come from? I’d been laboring on this chapter for weeks, so surely, if my mind was in control, it would have thought of a solution by now. But my mind alone couldn’t come up with it. Maybe a muse really did whisper in my ear?
It sounds quaint, having some kind of Creativity Fairy who helps you with your work. But if you really let it in, it can be a very uncomfortable proposition. Because if I accept that this is how creativity works, I have to accept that I am not completely in control of my creativity (and I like to be in control of EVERYTHING!)
Ultimately, we’re only as good as our muses grace us to be. For me, that is both profoundly liberating and profoundly terrifying. It stops me from going mad on days when the creativity is not flowing, when the muses are not talking. It also makes me realize, with much kicking and screaming, that my own will alone is not enough. Now, I’m not discounting hard work – you have to be at your writing desk for the muses to come visit you. Without effort, the muses have nothing to inspire. “Great Creator, I’ll take care of the quantity, you take care of the quality,” Julia Cameron wrote in The Artist’s Way. This is why I have a writing practice – five days a week, I show up at my desk, put fingers on keyboard and write something. At the same time, it is humbling to realize that all I can do is put in the effort. I cannot determine the result. I can sit dutifully at the spinning wheel and spin the flax, but it is up to the muses to turn it into gold.
I realized recently that, if I’m going to write professionally, I have to put the magical back into my writing process. At first I felt silly – wasn’t being a “professional” writer somehow the opposite of relying on magical creativity rituals? No, I realized. I needed muses more than ever.
I think when you significantly up your writing output, as you do when you start writing as a job and not just as a hobby, you have to be all the more careful about continuing to ‘restock’ your creative pond, to re-fill the creative well, so that it doesn’t get drained dry by long term projects. I realize that I still need artist’s dates (I’d been skimping on those, and now I’m feeling the effects). And, when the going gets rough, as it does at some point in any writing project, I need to pray – no, pray is not too strong a word – to the muses for help. I need their grace.
In earlier ages, writers almost always began their work with an invocation to the muse:
“Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns…”
Homer, The Odyssey, Book 1 (Fagles translation 1996)
“Then take this little book for your own: whatever
it is and is worth … Muse, patroness,
Let it last, for more lives than one.”
Catullus, Carmen 1 (Kline translation 2001)
“O Muses, O high genius, aid me now!”
“O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention…”
William Shakespeare, Act 1, Prologue, Henry V
I wrote an invocation of my own to the muses recently. I invite you to do the same. You don’t have to use the word “muse”. Call it whatever inspires you – Creativity, or God, or your SELF – whatever sings to you. Somehow, the image of a Creativity Fairy / Muse helps me from taking myself too seriously, so that’s what I go with:
O Muses, please whisper in my ear whatever stories you want to hear told.
Let us take delight together in spinning yarns from beginning to end.
I promise that, for my part, I will show up to write every weekday.
And I humbly pray that you will meet me there for our play-date.
Please be with me at every step of the writing process.
May we continue to play together for as long as I live.
Let the stories we create touch, move, inspire and spread joy.
And most of all, dear muses, please enjoy yourselves through my writing.
Would love to hear your own invocations to Creativity – please share in the “Comments” section 🙂