I grew up in my mother’s ballet school, so, of course, I’m familiar with the image of the flowy, beautiful Terpsichore, the Greek muse of dance. I believe in the mythology of the muses, and I can easily play along with the notion when it comes to creativity, but if I sat around and waited on ideas to be gifted to me by some ethereal being, I wouldn’t have published as much or as long as I have.
From my love for studying history and literature, I have learned that the Greeks sought ways to explain their world and themselves. True, this ancient culture contributed a great deal to philosophy, government, education, and so on, but anything they couldn’t exactly touch, eat, or screw didn’t qualify to their norms of rationality and were obviously gifts from the gods who ruled their lives.
We’ve progressed a little farther from that perspective, but the image of the muse bestowing genius and inspiration upon a poet, writer, and others is still with us. For example, in between his writing advice to “work your ass off” and read, author Steven King claims that, “There is a muse*, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer station. He lives in the ground.” (144-145)
As I see it, the problem with depending on a mythical character to do the grunt work is irrational and risky. And since my Scorpio roots ground me to at least listening to my intuition, I’m in between a rock and a hard place that are both falling in on me unless I take a pragmatic approach to things so I can get $h!t done. Because if I don’t, I don’t get paid, and I doubt if I need to explain the avalanche of problems that results from that precarious place. I actually have worked for food writing and posting social media for a local restaurant, so I know what it feels like to sell my ideas in exchange for a sandwich because that’s how they paid me—in calories.
The point is that inspiration most often comes from motivation. Even King explains that he wanted out of a distasteful, go-nowhere teaching job and that compelled him to write and submit until the strike hit the mark for him. He was motivated by survival despite his tongue-in-cheek nod to his muse which he describes as a “basement guy” who smokes cigars while admiring his bowling trophies but has wings and a bag of magic. The muse may have the magic, but the writer must have the motivation. Besides needing to pay bills, where do motivation and ideas come from?
The idea for my online workshop “50 Ways to Leave Your Muse: Creativity Hacks” was originally motivated by an assignment in graduate school. I was motivated by getting a grade and inspired by the work of college English teacher and author Wendy Bishop. Her book Released Into Language: Options for Teaching Creative Writing has a delicious chapter on how she teaches her students to always be inspired to write and not dependent on the muse. She calls it “getting in motion” to write. I like that imagery, not only because of my dance background but because I really do feel like whizzing, whirring, buzzing, clunking, clanking, cranking writing machine when I’m in the flow.
Bishop has students write to and about their personal muses. Those examples in Bishop’s book inspired me to make a list of all the things that can, do, and have contributed to my life as a writer. A writer who is constantly on the run from writer’s block because it doesn’t have a place at my writing table. There’s a place for my lovely muse who eats daintily and quietly with a constant twinkle in her eyes no matter what I’m serving. She’s polite and inspiring, but like King, I always do the dishes, which is the hard work of procuring, pounding out, and proofreading the sentences. We have a lovely relationship, my muse and I, because I stay open to EVERYTHING. That’s what the workshop “50 Ways to Leave Your Muse: Creativity Hacks” is about: staying open to the world so you never miss the whisper of the muse. And fun.
The next online workshop of “50 Ways to Leave Your Muse: Creativity Hacks for Writers” is a self-paced course hosted by Hearts Through History Romance Writers of America. It runs June 1-25, 2021. You can register here:
Be well, write well!
Bishop, Wendy. Released Into Language, 2nd ed. Portland, ME: Calendar Islands Publishers, 1998.
King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Scribner, 2000.