The muse is a figure from Greek Mythology. The muse(s) are the goddesses of the inspiration of literature, science and the arts. They were considered as the source of all knowledge which was communicated for centuries in poems and myths. But what does all of this mean to us?
Inspiration is a miraculous phenomenon. Way back in ancient Greece they dealt with anything that they couldn’t understand by giving it a God. That’s just the way they rolled. As the muses look after poets and works of art, the writers and artists throughout the ages have waxed lyrically about their input. The idea of the muse is still held in reverence because arty types know how powerful inspiration is. Ares was the god of war but you don’t often hear of that guy because soldiers tend to be grounded more in the hear and now.
So if we call it the muse, or inspiration, it doesn’t really matter. The point is, how can we use it best?
Stephen Pressfield in his book, ‘The War of Art’, claims that writers should say a prayer every morning to the muse, thus summoning her to our side. I know that Joanna Penn who has a great blog for writers, The Creative Penn, also keeps this prayer stuck up on a wall near her computer.
Stephen King in his book ‘On Writing’ talks about his muse being a man in a basement grinding out ideas but being grumpy at the same time. He makes the point to aspiring writers that we should have a visualisation of someone that we think of as our muse. He says that it doesn’t really matter what they look like, but to have a clear idea of who holds the power to your inspiration will help you to summon it.
The popular advice from those authors that have been there and done it well, is to turn up every day in your story, know your characters inside and out, and allow them to lead you through it. I listen to the Radio 2 Arts Show each week (mainly because I would marry Claudia Winkleman in a heartbeat) and she always asks authors if they have the idea for the story fully mapped out before they start. I have never heard one author say that they do. Each of them says that they’re lucky if they know 3 pages ahead of where they are. Some admit to knowing where it’s going to end up but apart from that they allow the ideas to flow.
The authors always sound amazed when they talk about this process. They all seem to know how fragile and delicate the thread is that holds their talent. You hear them mentioning the gratitude they have for the ideas that have come that day, and pray that the ideas will show up again the next day.
I like this idea. I know from the little amount of writing that I’ve done already that all of this makes sense. This blog, for instance, is created nearly everyday from inspiration that comes whilst my fingers are on the keyboard. I have no idea what I’m going to write about when I’m dropping the kids off at school each morning but I come home, make myself a coffee, sit down and then an idea comes to me.
It’s the same with the books that I’m writing. 1st drafts, 2nd drafts, whatever drafts, the ideas only come to me when I’m kicking around in the world I’ve created. When I’ve deliberately tried to plan something out, it becomes so hard and demoralising that I often give up, or the plan gets overruled when I start the writing again because a better idea naturally comes to me.
I don’t have a picture of my muse and maybe I should, but I guess it’ll just come to me when we get to know each other a bit more. What do you think about this whole notion of a muse? How do you treat yours?