I have, in the past, been a bit wistful when I read other writers talking about their “muse”. I don’t have a muse. I have ideas and inspirations, yes, but I don’t have a personified muse. I suppose it doesn’t matter really, what matters is that I act upon my inspirations. But I do wonder if the lack of a “muse” leads new writers to feel fraudulent or lacking in some divinely-inspired way.
First off, a muse can be defined a:
- a spirit or source that inspires an artist.
- in ancient Greek and Roman stories, one of the nine goddesses who were believed to give encouragement in different areas of literature, art and music
There are many variations of this theme in different dictionaries.
One reason I resist externalising and personifying my inspiration is that it denies my agency, my ability to control my creativity. Creativity arising from a muse is seen as capricious and wont to abandon the artist for a myriad of reasons. There are specific gender and possibly class tensions around the idea of a muse. First off traditionally a muse is a female inspiration for a male artist. My feminist sensibilities reject the ease in which a male artist can blame his lack of creative inspiration upon female fickleness. Further the idea of fickle femininity is a tired stereotype and aren’t we writers encouraged to avoid clichés? Secondly, as a mother I am subject to the whims of my children as a priority, the whims of my creativity come below that. The idea of sitting down to a blank page and cursing an absent muse bewilders me. I spend my days doing things for other people, thinking about writing. When I sit down to the page there is no shortage of ideas waiting to spill out. It seems that the luxury of being able to show up to a blank page without any prior thought going into what you are going to write, is, well, a privilege. To just sit and stare at a page, time ticking away–precious, valuable time. Most mothers I know don’t have that luxury. We need to be able to sit down whenever and write. I snatch time where I can so I need to control my creativity. I can’t outsource it to something that might not show up.
Muses aren’t always female. I know some writers have male muses, but I just can’t go there. My art (whether it be writing, art or music) has always been essentially personal, inspired by external and internal events, but not whispered to me by some male or female spirit. Perhaps the Jungian enthusiasts would liken the muse to the anima or animus. I don’t segregate myself into “male” bits and “female” bits. I am not keen on the gender essentialism that says the male force is active and the female force is passive. Or all the other lovely polarities attributed to gender. I’m me, complete. A person. My creative inspiration is not male, nor is it only female (although I do write about specifically female experiences a fair bit!). It just is the creative force of a human being.
To put it bluntly, I think the muse can be a cop out. It’s a cop out if you are blaming it for your writer’s block, lack of inspiration, or choosing to prioritise other areas of your life over writing. Own your shit. Own your successes too. Life can get in the way of writing at times, and that’s ok. I am coming to understand the cyclic nature of my creative expressions. Right now I am first and foremost a writer, but I can’t say it will always be my main passion (even though it feels like it always will be). If writing isn’t for you at this point in time, move on, and come back to it when you’re ready. Don’t curse your muse and force yourself to do something you aren’t feeling.
So, if I dont have a muse, and if you are a writer who doesn’t have a muse and feels like a fake, what do you do?
I get my inspiration from a variety of sources. Life experiences, images (real and imagined), an idle thought, a quirky person. My current WIP was inspired by an abandoned petrol station, a flash of image in my mind that showed me a character, and a question put to a group of people by my partner. Some stories have only one source of inspiration, some have many. Some are inspired merely by a single thought which pops into my head that I then have to uncover and tease out like a mystery. There is no muse, there is only what is outside me, what is inside me, and what my mind does with those things. To attribute that to a muse seems to be giving away something that is mine. What other profession does that? Athletes work hard to hone their skills. So do doctors, carpenters, even salespeople.
Don’t misunderstand me, I am not against writers having muses. If you have one, all power to you and I hope your muse treats you well. I understand sometimes writers are speaking metaphorically when they refer to a muse, not necessarily literally. It’s useful to deconstruct the idea of externalising our creativity, in any case. I am just going to stop feeling like I’m not a “real” writer because I don’t have a muse. I am my own muse.
p.s. I am aware there might be some irony in the category this is filed under ;).