Do you have a muse?

“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.”

Stephen King, On Writing.

The Ancient Greeks believed there were goddesses or muses who were the sources of knowledge and inspiration for the creative arts. From Calliope and Errato in poetry to Melpomene (tragedy) and Thalia (comedy), they personified the force of creative inspiration. Even today, many people describe creativity as a capricious power to be harnessed – some even speak of it as a kind of ethereal being, who (when the mood is right) flutters down to bestow inspiration (and possibly genius) on the lucky artist or writer. I don’t hold a great deal of stock in the ides of muses, simply because as a writer I don’t have the luxury of waiting for the muse to appear. For me, inspiration comes with the active practice of writing – a ‘bum in your seat’ kind of inspiration rather than a sprinkling of fairy-dust. Although this week I found, in the midst of some dreadful first draft writing, there was a moment of inspiration – generating a single line that opened up a character and a relationship in a way I hadn’t expected. In that moment, it truly was as if I had a muse on my shoulder but she certainly wouldn’t have been able to visit had I not been typing away in the first place.

As Stephen King describes it, the muse is ‘a basement kind of guy’ and my fellow blogger, James Scott Bell often likes to refer to the ‘basement guys’ when he describes his writing process. I like the analogy, particularly because, as King says, writers still have to do the grunt work regardless – because only in burning the midnight oil can you find the bag of magic in the end. Although sometimes, especially when stuck in the middle of a chapter, I really wish there was some other-worldly goddess who could visit and endow me with talent and inspiration:)

Apart from the concept of the muse as an ethereal visitor, there’s also the real life people  that many called their muses. From Dante’s childhood sweetheart Beatrice to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife – these so-called muses inspired and motivated the creation of great works of art. Often times, these muses were lovers, mistresses or wives – I couldn’t find any great example of a husband muse but maybe I didn’t search widely enough! I like Anais Nin’s perspective when she wrote: “For too many centuries women have been being muses to artists. I wanted to be the muse, I wanted to be the wife of the artist, but I was really trying to avoid the final issue — that I had to do the job myself.”

I guess my only real muse is my collie Hamish – he’s my constant companion, lying on the floor by my chair while I’m writing. He’s always willing to listen as I complain or tear my hair out in frustration, and is always happy to misinterpret my triumphs (a completed chapter!) as a request to play tug with a chew toy. He willingly goes for multiple walks a day when I need to clear my head and is always content to lie next to the couch when I resort to watching Masterpiece Theatre as ‘research’.  In honor of him (and my previous collies) I always try to include at least one collie in each novel I write:) As you can see from this photo, he really is the perfect writer’s muse.


As much as I would love to embrace the whole concept of the muse, I think my attitude can be best summed up by a quote from a fellow Australian writer, Kerry Greenwood (of Phryne Fisher fame), when she said. “If I ever saw my muse she would be an old woman with a tight bun and spectacles poking me in the middle of the back and growling, ‘Wake up and write the book!'”.

So TKZers do you have a muse? If so, in what form does your muse visit (real or imagined)? Do you ever feel like you could use one to sprinkle some fairy-dust of inspiration?

24 thoughts on “Do you have a muse?

  1. My muse wields a toilet-cleaning brush and threatens that I will have to use it unless I get my butt in the chair and fingers on the keyboard. In a way, I like my muse.

  2. King had another quote about the muse that I like to use, relevant to the “bum in seat” school of writing: The is a muse, and you do your best when when he strikes. He’s also more likely to visit when he kinows where and when to find you.

  3. I’m not into the muse, but I read a lot on creativity in general. More & more people seem to be examining what makes people creative and how to pull that creativity out. Practice is one way of course. But also giving yourself a chance to chill out–i.e. not nose to the grindstone constantly (which is a battle for most people given their daily schedule).

    I guess I don’t think of a muse as an entity but a mindset. There are 2 definitive things that pull out my muse: doing research, and long walks (not every time, but a lot). Other methods are hit or miss. I don’t doubt that the subconcious is brewing away, but I can’t say that I personally have awakened in the morning with a fantastic “AHA!” revelation.

    But at least I know the two things that are muse-worthy and can focus on them.

    • Great points! I do think creativity needs to be nurtured by doing things other than just writing, including things which feed the soul as well as those that allow the brain to switch off for a time.

  4. My muse, I believe, is from the realm of the mythic, spiritual, acoustic/other senses right brain hemisphere. It often springs unbidden from my unconscious in the form of dreams I remember and solutions to problems in my writing that I wasn’t fully conscious of until the new, creative idea appeared from that realm. As I pay attention to them, I’m hoping they arrive in increasing frequency. My writing can use all the help it can get.

    • I do think there’s some weird subconscious force at work sometimes – often my most inspired/creative ideas feel like they’ve been swirling around in some part of my unconscious until they are ready to surface.

  5. My muse wears a fedora and pounds away on an Underwood manual typewriter, and occasionally takes the cigar out of his mouth to shout, “Get to work” at me.

    If I’m stuck, he grumbles, leaves his typewriter and comes and looks over my shoulder, then says, “Try this” and gives me a plot twist, then goes back to his chair.

  6. No, I don’t have a muse. The closest I get is the what-happened-there game I play with whoever is available. It goes like this:
    We’re coming home from a road trip at 2 a.m. and pass a house with all its lights on.
    Dear Husband: I wonder why that house is all lit up.
    Me: Too many bumps in the night. The owners got scared and wanted to investigate.
    DH: It’s haunted, of course, so they won’t find any “rational” explanations for the noise.
    And then we make up a gruesome story as to why it’s haunted.

  7. I believe I have two muses.

    One has silky long black hair and a smile that sparkles brighter than the morning star. She whispers in my ear. Her breath on my flesh sends shivers of pleasure through my entire body. She holds my hand and sings quietly, sometimes murmuring sounds of love and tenderness that words cannot easily express. We walk together, smiling and she points to things of beauty that I otherwise may not have noticed. She has inner strength that encourages her to dive through the clouds, only opening her parachute at the last minute. She runs with wolves as if they were her family, swims with sharks without showing fear. I don’t know how she does it, I think she has them all hypnotised.

    Her rival is quite the opposite. A rather gabby individual, seldom soft or quiet. Her hair, also black and shiny but tied back in a tight ponytail that bounces in time to her step and snaps like a whip when she moves her head. She doesn’t sparkle, she pops. Sitting still for a photo might catch her in what seems like a moment of motionlessness, but only if the shutter speed is set to very fast. She vibrates with energy, constantly talking and jabbering and tossing ideas into my brain pot at such a rate that I can barely digest one before the next comes barreling in. Perky is a word that might describe her…. or caffeinated. If you want a wild night…or an exhausting weekend … of creating, travelling, touching and tasting the forest, seeing the music, grasping the stars, exploding with sensory overload, all the pain, all the pleasure of an orgasm, of life fully lived …she’s the one to go with. But don’t expect to be many steps beyond the grave at the end of the weekend. Only the brave and strong need apply.

    Those two are my muses. Equal in beauty, power, and strength but mostly not compatible.

    Mercifully the two seldom appear at the same time.

    They are, as it happens, rather abrasive toward one another when they are together.

    The poetess starts making vulgar rhymes and the perky one ends up slapping her.

    But they are both very hot.

    They are sultry and sexy and drive me crazy.

    And I quite enjoy both of their company.

    So here I am. Living dangerously in psychological polygamy.

  8. Hamish is the perfect muse, Clare! Adorable, too. The only time I “feel” my muse is when I’ve beat her half to death … when she’s limping, with one broken leg, busted shoulder, and in dire need of a shower or a good stiff belt. Other than that, I’m on my own. 🙂

  9. How’s this for insecurity? I actively avoid thinking too much about the creative process because I realize that I don’t understand it, and as such have no business enjoying the success I’ve had. I worry that if I think too hard about these things, the flow might stop. It’s the same reason I avoid “seeking help” for dealing with some eff’d up childhood stuff. I worry that if I find real peace–whatever that means–my creative juices will dry up.

    So, I write. If there’s a muse, she’s a very quiet one. And shy.

    • That makes perfect sense to me in many ways – I wonder if creativity often comes from dark, unexplored places of the psyche and if we were all at peace we’d have no need for it.

  10. I absolutely have a muse. I have nine novels out, two more in the can, and all of them were “written” by my muse. That is to say, they were really already written and all I did was put them on paper, or on the screen. I am utterly incapable of making up stories, and am therefore totally reliant on being fed the stories (and the prose) from this mysterious source.

    I remember my first novel. It poured out of me because it was rapidly sluicing toward me from my muse. Sentence after sentence, chapter after chapter, all without hesitation. At one point, I completed a sentence and waited for the next one. And waited. None came. I was afraid I’d lost my mojo or whatever was keeping me going. And then I realized: There is no more. This is the end!

    It’s my inability to make up stories that prevents me from outlining. I can’t sit back and say, “What if …” because I would have no answer. So yes, I have a muse, for which I am profoundly grateful. And may it be with me always.

  11. I don’t have what feels like a muse; what I have, instead, are times where the characters write the story for me, and all I have to do is edit–and sometimes not very much at all. Those magical times are what keep me writing, although I enjoy the whole process, even the picky editing and proofreading at the end.

    I get ideas in the strangest places and times, but I don’t feel the magic at those times–to me, it’s just the creative process doing its thing.

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