Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Coaxing the Muse

I once read (I forget where), that if you keep showing up at the writing desk, ideas will follow. The word no in my creative life, is quite often the wrong answer. Try, maybe and see it through, are much more satisfactory responses.
Take a minute to think about your friend, the one you don’t see much of these days. This is the person who no matter what you suggest, always finds a reason to throw cold water over ideas.  Eventually, you get really tired of negativity and stop suggesting anything. You gradually realise that being around them doesn't make you feel very happy, and you ease off the accelerator of your friendship, until it peters out completely.
So it is with the muse. Every day, ideas of all kinds are swarming into the brain. Good, bad, boring, fun, ideas precious ideas. You are constantly making choices about what to act upon and when to act upon it. I’ve had lots of brilliant ideas over time that have fallen to the wayside because I didn’t have the time, was too tired, not disciplined enough, ‘but it’s too much work!’ or whatever other excuse I could come up with not to write. Just like that friend, the muse got tired of not being heard. She may have thought, ‘What’s the point of churning out all these suggestions if they never materialize into anything?’
Gradually, the muse feels neglected, withdraws imperceptibly, and buries itself so deep that you eventually forget that you have it. This happened to me. If you are lucky enough not to forget, you sit at your desk, whenever the mood strikes you to write, and you struggle to conjure something up. At this point, it doesn’t take much to convince you to give up. This process feeds on itself and continues until you wise up.
Having thrown her away, you need to coax your muse back gently and listen attentively, when she tells you something. You need to gradually increase her confidence by reassuring her that whatever happens, you will give her some space in which she can speak and be heard.
Everyone likes to be heard. When you listen and make that connection with someone, including yourself, that person feels valued and appreciated, which makes them feel confident, positive and expansive. This encourages them to talk more. Something amazing then happens. You too begin to feel good as the listener, as you feed off the positive energy that you both create.
It is the same with the muse. It might not always happen, just like it does not always happen when you converse with another person. But there is a much higher chance of deepening that connection when you listen, than when you don’t.
It is important to have a creative space that you feel is sacred and you must protect it with all your might, because your muse will not come out unless she feels safe. She has to know that she will not be shot down or booed by you or anyone else. When you listen, she will happily keep producing ideas, like a loquacious friend who has a sympathetic ear.
Writing will then become easier and you will start to feel very good about yourself. This is not to say that you will not have to toil to make the work sparkle. Production is a delicate thing. It needs nurturing and discipline.
At Writebulb meetings, we try our best to create that space. It is a place for members to bring their writing dreams and trust that they will not be shot down and told what a (insert choice of degrading adjective here) idea that is. Instead, they are nurtured and encouraged to take those tentative steps towards their writing journeys. When they falter or fall, they find a firm but gentle hand that will help them up again, and spur them on.
Initially, it is hard to tap into that place, what Julia Cameron called ‘the Vein of Gold.’ It takes discipline, resilience, courage even, to show up at the page and trust that you can produce. It may even require a lot of waffling to begin with. But if you stick with it, the vein will be flowing so close to the surface, that all you will need do is turn the tap on for it to gush, a process that is very much aided by habit and regularity. That is, showing up at the same time every day so that your muse knows it is now safe to come out.
This for me is partly what artistic autonomy is about, the discipline to see your ideas through to their conclusion, no matter what.
‘Yes but...’  I hear you say.
Yes but stop making your excuses and become true to your creative self. Start today. Do it now.


  1. OK, OK, I'm writing, I'm writing!

    Seriously though, I do feel that if I made the effort to turn up to my desk then so should my muse. I often reming him of that when the ideas aren't coming.

    Even if I'm not actually writing I'm at least thinking about creating something - like my book trailer or the one I made for Kate.

    Light on, write on!

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  3. Well put, Brigid. My muse went missing for a couple of months; as life's events took over she just gradually slipped away. I'm pleased to report that after some gentle coaxing she's back and we are once again a happy couple :-)