I have a confession to make.
I have tried to start this post many, many times. I have been thinking about it for weeks, but the topic is too big, too scattered, too intimate to adequately capture.
But here’s the thing: the Muse is here, sharing office and headspace with me, and all I want to do is follow her down the rabbit hole.
I want to share this experience with others–with my readers, yes, but also with other writers and creators. I want this to be an encouragement and perhaps a warning, but also an explanation for those who love us, and honestly?
How can one really convey this whole philosophy?
I’m going to try, though, because this is what she’s telling me right now.
An Image of My Muse
I did not always believe in the Muse. I don’t know if I do even now, to be candid. It’s a little weird to posit that there’s basically a goddess of writing sitting on my shoulder and whispering stories into my ear.
It’s especially weird for me, a fairly theologically and doctrinally conservative Christian, to posit that.
But also, it’s a little weird to not posit that.
My Muse does not have a name, but she definitely has a personality. She’s the extroverted friend who shows up with alcohol at the most inconvenient time and insists that you go on a road trip. She’s the boss for whom everything is an emergency, but who you can’t really please, because by the time you finish one thing, she’s forgotten and moved on to the next emergency. She’s the White Rabbit who leads you on adventures but doesn’t really stop to explain anything.
And yes, she is separate from me. I have come to believe that only by keeping her separate can I remain sane. I need her to be on the outside a little–or a lot–in order to stay grounded in reality.
Because if the Muse takes over, pets and family will starve, the house will fall into disrepair, bills will go into arrears, and no one will hear from me again.
Finding the Right Balance
I have been a victim of the Muse before. In 2009, she grabbed me by the hair and pulled me down the rabbit hole into the world of Taura and did not let go for months.
This was, for many reasons, not ideal. With four children ten and under, I was in no position to spend all my time on the computer spewing out words.
And yet I did, and I regretted it, and I turned my back on the Muse for a long time.
This annoyed the Muse very much, and when I gingerly asked her to return, she was very reluctant. It took a long time to convince her that I would not abuse her, but it also took a long time to convince her that we had to come to an understanding. I had certain obligations in the real world, and whatever her obligations in the other worlds that she wanted to send through my fingers, they would have to wait sometimes. Unlike my flighty goddess companion, I am subject to the constraints of time and space, and I only have so much bandwidth for frolicking in imaginary worlds.
But the problem is, the Muse doesn’t understand or care about my constraints. She wants what she wants when she wants it.
And when she comes calling, what she wants is attention. She wants me to sit at the keyboard and compose stories as she dictates them. She has information, and she needs to share it.
When the Muse comes calling, it doesn’t matter if the dogs or children need their dinner or the floors are sticky or there’s client work in the queue.
The Muse is no respecter of persons. Or animals, for that matter. I’m not even sure the Muse would wait if the zombie apocalypse started in the middle of a sentence–she would insist that I finish the paragraph, page, maybe even the entire book.
Rules of Engagement
So here I am, sitting with a very needy Muse, trying to think how to encourage my fellow creatives, and realizing that this is where the intimate nature of the Muse comes in.
It may sound very strange to suggest that there’s some kind of intimacy with this imaginary goddess of writing, but I think it’s intimate because she is, in fact, not entirely separate from me. The places where the Muse and I overlap? That’s the intimate part–that’s the part that’s raw and real and hard to share.
This is also the part that gets weird.
I have come to believe that everyone’s Muse is different, but I can share what has helped me to find a balance–how I’m currently managing to balance the needs of the Muse with the needs of… well, everything else. So here are the Rules for Engaging my Muse:
- Do not ignore the Muse. I ignore the Muse at my own peril. When she is ignored, she gets pouty and disappears. If I ignore her too long, it’s really, really hard to convince her to come back. So if she shows up at an awkward time, I have to acknowledge her and tell her that I’ll be with her just as soon as I can–even if that means simply ruminating on the story in my head for a while instead of writing it down. She has learned to tolerate postponement.
- Do not allow the Muse to take over. After everything I experienced in 2009 and 2010, I have come to understand that if I allow it, my Muse will completely take over my schedule and my life, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about it all. I have learned to indulge her when possible, but then to tell her I have other obligations.
- Leave the Muse hanging occasionally. My Muse gets very excited about her stories, and I have learned that if I cut her off in the middle of something, she remains primed to come back to the story. It’s sort of like harnessing her tenacity and letting her hold the story while I run the rest of my life.
- Acknowledge her benevolence. It’s easy to have a love/hate relationship with the Muse, but as part of learning to love both the process and the product of writing, I am learning to thank the Muse for her benevolence–for sharing these stories with me when she could share them with any number of other writers.
- Give her good nourishment. I wrote a few weeks ago about my current relationship with social media and how when I stepped back from it, the Muse started to wake up. It should not be surprising to anyone that social media (and, really, most of the Internet) does not encourage her to share stories. What does nourish my Muse? Reading, knitting, crocheting, exercising, eating good food, growing in my Christian faith–in short, things that nourish me (imagine that!).
I have not gone so far as to pray to my Muse in the tradition of Homer or Hesiod, but I do talk to her. I am becoming more comfortable with the idea that there is a part of me that isn’t weighed down by responsibility and obligation–a part that remains unencumbered by reality, that exists simply to connect with whatever universal forces are responsible for the stories we know and love. In a way, my “self” was more split when I shut her away or allowed her full control, because I hadn’t fully integrated her into my sense of self. In neither existence was I whole.
I don’t know if this will all hold for the long-term. As I’ve mentioned many times, the Muse is fickle, and my journey as a writer has been anything but linear.
But for the moment, the Muse and I have reached an agreement.
And anytime that happens, it’s a good thing.
Not sure what’s on tap for the next few weeks… The schedule is kind of weird for a few weeks. But I will be here with something… Until then, I hope you all survive the crazy summer heat.