She’s A Real

“But the fact is, she [the muse] won’t be summoned. She alights when it damn well pleases her. She falls in love with one artist, then deserts him for another. She’s a real bitch!” Erica Jong

Have you seen the movie ‘The Muse’ directed by Albert Brooks, and starring Albert Brooks and Sharon Stone? It is a 1999 comedy about a neurotic screenwriter suffering from writer’s block, and his modern-day muse.

I used to believe that muse, i.e. inspiration, comes to us writers like a bolt of lightning, and at once with a feverish excitement and a twinkle in our eyes we begin to write. Well I never experienced anything like that. As a beginning writer I struggle with self doubt for days on end. That painstaking urge to believe that everything I have ever written or will ever write is a total mess haunts me like a ghost. Peter Elbow writes:

“First the demons (doubts) try to stop you from writing at all. If they fail, then they stop you from making some passages strong. If they fail again, then as a last ditch effort, they try to trick you into thinking what you have is garbage. They try to trick you into either throwing it away in disgust or into taking the whole thing apart again and thereby luring you back into the swamp where you will finally give up exhaustion.”

Many professional writers and successful authors speak of the muse with affection and awe in their interviews. They all agree though that it is discipline, not muse, that makes a writer productive and eventually successful. If you write only when she beckons, it’s as if you are not writing at all. As Helen Hanson said:

“Inspiration is the windfall from hard work and focus. Muses are too unreliable to keep on the payroll.” 

When you write according to a set timetable your inspiration or your muse won’t be able to stay away from your discipline for long. Nothing attracts her more than a writer at work. And when you are determined to write on a daily basis she will be the first to jump on your wagon and that’s when you become your own muse. In the words of Steven Passfield,

“This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.” 

Over the years I have put together my own devices of dealing with doubt. When the writing demons knock on my door I turn to a collection of quotes by my favorite writers, that nourish my desire and make me want to write. I keep a few of their books on my desk and whenever my confidence sags I scan through the pages. I read interviews with other writers, especially Paris Review Interviews, and copy quotes that make me want to write. I re-read whichever book or writer’s biography that inspires me most. To quote Rob Brezsny:

“All of us need to be in touch with a mysterious, tantalizing source of inspiration that teases our sense of wonder and goads us on to life’s next adventure.”

At the end of the day when all is said and done I would like to imagine that 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!”” Kerry Greenwood


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3 Responses to She’s A Real

  1. Hahaha! I love that final quote! Yes, I have found my muse is my friend, but only when I consistently seek her out. When I’m writing every day, she’s right by my side. When I skip a few days of writing and then come back to it, she’s off on vacation! 🙂

  2. Pingback: My muse is a tease | Kim Koning

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