Relating to the Muse – Thoughts

Hesiod and the Muse, by Moreau Gustave, 1891.

I was talking to a friend the other day about creativity.

I’m still not sure precisely how the conversation turned the way it did.  When I converse with people they can often be left a little confused as to how my mind jumps from place to place.  Often I have to stop and explain why I’ve started on an apparently random topic.

Really, though, my thought processes are pretty straightforward.  It’s just that people can’t see how others make connections from topic to topic.

Anyway, we were talking about creativity.

We’re both creative people in our own ways.  She’s an actress, a writer, a cosplayer, a gamer and many other things.  I’m fewer of those things but we still have a bit in common so our conversations often revolve around this project or that, the creative juices required to fuel said projects and what have you.

The precise topic at the time, I think, was my tendency away from self-promotion.  I’m not very good at it.  It feels a bit… I don’t know.  I’m too English in some ways, I guess (if you’re not clear on this point I’m actually Australian but I had a lot of English influence in my upbringing).  She was encouraging me to get used to it because, as I don’t have any kind of agent or publisher, self-promotion is pretty much all I have to go on.

That’s not what this post is about, though.  That’s just the train of thought our conversation was following.

In any case she mentioned that I had to find what worked for me.  She meant in terms of self-promotion but my mind immediately followed ‘find what works for you’ and related it back to the context I usually hear that statement (or read it; the friend in question is in New York) – inspiration.

‘Find what works for you.’  It’s a much easier thing to say than to do.

Of course she knows that better than a lot of people.  Inspiration (for whatever project) can be hard to find and a lot, lot harder to keep.  The muse slips away when she cares to; the artist’s opinion on the matter can sometimes mean very little.  This is why established creative people say it’s important not to wait for the muse to show up again; create through the boring, rough patches as well as the electrical, inspired moments.

They say it because it’s true.  I fail to do so because I don’t like creating something that I know sucks.

But something occurred to me in that moment, and it’s the moment that this post was intended to address.

What occurred to me is this: while it’s vital to find what works for you, in whatever context you care to name, it’s just as vital to be resolutely, determinedly unapologetic about it.

See?  It’s so crucial that I put it in bold.

This realisation is perhaps years late in coming to me and maybe lots of other creative people already know it instinctively.  Perhaps it seems obvious.  ‘Well yes,’ they might say, ‘self-evidently you need to make sure you don’t waste valuable energy apologising for and explaining why you need a Certain Thing to maintain inspiration.’  Seems pretty straight-forward, right?

Not really.  At least, not for me.

One of the things I find I tend to need is solitude.  I find it difficult to write if someone is in the same room as me; even if they’re not interacting with me in any way.  Their mere presence prompts enough social uncertainty that I feel awkward knowing damn well that I’m going to be blocking them and anything they might have to say out of my head while I write.  It feels rude of me.  I don’t like being rude.  Or, to be more honest and precise, I don’t like feeling as if I’m being rude (whether I am or not).

To put it another way if I’m writing I feel the need to tell people to go away and I don’t like doing that.  It’s rude and confrontational.  On the other hand not telling them to go away becomes too disruptive and frustrating.  As a result I tend to just not write – even when I am alone, as one never knows when that solitude is going to be broken.

I recently wrote Rime.  It was written in (for me) extremely short time – about two days from the time that I started.  Normally it can take weeks to finish something (and far more often it doesn’t get finished at all) but Rime just rolled off my mental tongue – not a nice image, really, but there you go.

What made it different?  I don’t really know.  I wish I did and, if I knew, I wish I could replicate that element.  But whatever it was worked.  And for the majority of the duration something I didn’t do was question my muse.  I just let it happen.  When I needed to be alone I made sure I was.  If I needed reference material I asked people with real-world knowledge of those things (and trawled the internet, including more than a few Japanese-only sites; thank you, Google Translate).  I let it happen when it wanted to and made it happen when I found a stumbling block.  I accepted what I needed and didn’t question it.

Maybe that is what made it different.  I did all the same things I usually do, but this time I didn’t analyse it to death.

The act of accepting whatever it is that ‘works for you’ is an important one because it defines your relationship with your muse – or, to be far more accurate, your muses.  Everyone has several and they rather cheekily swap duty now and then – so one day you’ll need to be alone, the next you’ll be okay with others being around but you won’t be able to write a scrap until you move where it is you write.  Other times it’ll be both, or something entirely different – a particular type of music, maybe, or complete silence.  But whatever the case if you don’t accept that muse and work with it then you’ll find yourself struggling against it instead.

How are you supposed to work with solitude if you’re constantly feeling terrible about needing that alone-time?  Even if you get the peace and quiet you’ll be using it to fret about how bad you feel about needing it and by the time you’ve realised what you’re doing life will be nipping at your heels and you have to go feed the cat or do something perfectly superfluous like eat or sleep.

The capacity to stop apologising for your muse is a difficult one, a process that I’m still struggling with, but at least it’s very simple in theory.

When you find yourself fretting over needing your muse that’s the time to remind yourself that Ernest Hemingway needed to sharpen dozens of pencils before he could start writing.  If Hemingway had his quirks then surely it’s okay for you to have them too.  And besides, chances are good that if you tried to explain it then any creative person will nod knowingly and go, ‘Yeah, I have this Thing I need to create properly, too.’

It isn’t just you so don’t feel as if there’s something wrong with you.  There’s really not.  It’s all part of the creative process.  It needs to be fostered in order to work.

And you won’t be able to shake that feeling of being damaged for needing your muse, either – not at first.  To begin with the brain knows you’re trying to trick it into giving you a break and your dilemma might actually get worse.  But persevere and you’ll find your stubborn ol’ brain eventually relaxes its death-grip.  Remember: even over-thinking can be minimised.

That’s what I’m told, anyway.

Relate to your muse.  As long as you’re not hurting anyone to get inspired you should be fine.  And if you are hurting others to get inspired, well, make sure they consent.  If they don’t, turn yourself in to the police.  No, seriously.