Friday, August 20, 2010

Meeting Your Muse

Hesiod and the Muse, by Gustave Moreau

"Sing to me of the man, Muse,
the man of twists and turns,
driven time and again off course,
once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy."
- Homer, The Odyssey

Homer’s plea to his Muse could be mine. I meet my Muse and wait for her to whisper the story of Nathan Rivers, a man of twists and turns, a man driven from his course time and again.

In Homer’s day the Nine Muses -- sister-goddesses and the daughters of Zeus -- were believed to inspire artists, musicians, writers, and scientists. To be blessed with the attentions of a Muse was to be inspired to create. They held the keys to inspiration and knowledge.
Dante pleads, “O Muses, O high genius, aid me now!”

Shakespeare wrote, “O for a Muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention…”
This could be the plea of every writer, everywhere, although nowadays most of us believe the Muse comes from within ourselves rather than from a Greek goddess in a flowing toga. Still, it’s reassuring to know that even the great Masters of storytelling cried out for inspiration.

Is it any wonder that we all cry out for inspiration, for that ethereal, fragile-as-smoke essence that moves us to write? Where does it come from? The Greeks had their answer. If I had an answer today I could market it and retire wealthy.

In reality, the answer is probably different for every one of us - as it should be. What a boring world this would be if we were all inspired by the same things! So what’s a writer to do to nurture her Muse?

My answer is boringly simple: meet your Muse at an appointed hour. Make an appointment with her. And keep it.

Will she show up? Muses, as you might already know, are fickle. Yours may not show up right away, or she may show up with an attitude. Can you blame her? You’ve summoned her expecting great things from her, but you’ve barely given her the time of day. You’ve stood her up, been a no-show, pushed her aside for something else.

After a groveling apology to your Muse, agree on a time to meet and stick to it. Eventually she’ll begin to talk to you. (Maybe she’s been talking all along, you’ve just not been around to hear it.) If you show up at your writing spot on a regular schedule, your Muse will too.

The most successfully prolific writers will tell you that writing is a commitment. It’s an act of will, something they do whether or not they feel like writing that day. Most agree that having a schedule, a closed door, and a word-count or page-count goal is the driving force behind their success.

What does this have to do with Muses, you muse? Just this: your Muse will love you for your commitment, your closed door, your page-count goals. She’ll arrive at the appointed time ready to work. Don’t disappoint her.

The Muses, by Eustache Le Sueur


  1. Susan, this is so true.

    My muse is the ultimate tease, loves playing hard-to-get, and only when I "prove" my commitment by sitting down to write day in day out, regardless of whether she deigns to show up or not, does she eventually arrive ... but I don't really mind. She's worth the wait. :-)

  2. I'd add one thing... it's not enough to show up to your date with the Muse but - having just rediscovered this - you've got to make sure you're not forcing a square peg into a round hole. There I was trying to write all sorts of other stuff, when I should have stuck to the genre I started with, romance

  3. Deniz, I'm sure your Muse is dancing on air. You've just made her job a lot easier!

  4. Rachel,

    Our Muses must know each other!

  5. Susan -- OH man, this is a timely post for me. Trying to get back into FI, I'm finding it SO difficult to believe I can actually write anymore. I keep waiting for some big revelation or epiphany... some moment of crazed...IMUSTWRITEIMUSTWRITEIMUSTWRITE to hit. It hasn't, and I'm finding myself unable to sit down and MAKE myself do it. But you're absolutely right... you have to do it whether or not your muse is there awaiting you with open arms. It's what I did before (when I pounded out the original draft) and it always worked.

    Note to self -- JUST DO IT.