• Kaecey McCormick

Getting Creative with Your Muse


The concept of the Muses comes to us from Ancient Greco-Roman mythology. According to the most popular tale, Zeus, in his usual fashion, had a love affair with Mnemosyne (“memory”). From their union, nine daughters were born — the Muses. (Note: Some versions of the story list only three muses.)


The Muses become the goddesses of “poetic inspiration,” with each of the nine having her own “attribute.” For example, Erato was the Muse of love poetry, while Calliope inspired epic poetry and Thalia oversaw comedies.


These deities of song, dance, and memory, became the goddesses artists and thinkers turned to for insight, wisdom, and creativity. The nine goddesses have long been the subject of art, their likenesses construed in painting, sculptures, and poems and turned to for inspiration or to divine inspiration.


If you spend time around writers and other creatives, you’ll inevitably hear creators lauding their muse, giving credit for the ideas and execution to this otherworldly being, or lamenting the creature, blaming a lack of progress on the absence of their muse.


Some writers deny the existence of a “muse” in the traditional sense. Some deny it at all.


Everyone comes up with their own beliefs around muses (and Muses), and if you haven’t already, you will. I’d read accounts (and rejections) of muses, but the first time I heard writers discussing the concept directly was at a small writing conference in a tiny town on the Atlantic. A group of four women and one man were chatting near the refreshments table.

Introvert that I am, I was hanging around the edges of a group, “doctoring” my black coffee for the umpteenth time as I worked up the nerve to introduce myself and (hopefully) join their conversation. Suddenly, the conservation took a turn in the most interesting direction.


The man asked one woman how her project was going. “Oh that project,” she said, grabbing her hair by the roots. “The muse has abandoned me, she’s on vacation somewhere — probably drinking vodka martinis and throwing back truffles, the little wench. I’m waiting for her to get back from her holiday so I can get to work.” Everyone laughed, but she laughed the loudest.


Their conversation continued, but I stayed in place, holding a cooling cup of coffee as the scene the woman described came to life in my head: A sunglass-wearing beauty hanging out in hotel bars on the beach, flirting with the servers, and watching the waves.


I ditched my coffee and grabbed a seat away from the crowd to write the images of the muse on vacation. I also wanted to think about the concept of a muse. The author had seemed like she was half-joking, but it triggered some questions I also jotted down.


Here are a few questions from my notebook:

  • The woman was joking about having a muse — or was she?

  • Do I have a muse? Is Mainie (my creative madwoman from the writing process paradigm) my muse?

  • How might imagining a muse be helpful to my writing? Detrimental?

  • There were 9 Muses — how does that relate today?

  • How do I discover my muse? Do I want to?

I then wrote a quite horrific poem about the Muses (the stuff I like to keep locked away in my practice notebooks!) and returned to the conference.


But on the long drive home, this concept of a muse stuck with me. As I was alone and had nothing else to do, I turned off the audiobook I was listening to and imagined a muse in the passenger seat next to me.

Then the drive ended, I wrote about it in my journal, and that was that. Months after the conference, however, I kept thinking about muses. And the more I thought about them, the more they seemed to pop up serendipitously in conversations, books, articles, artwork, and so on.


I read everything I could on writing, art, and muses. I tried everything I could to see if I could invoke a muse. And after doing these things for a while, hearing so many people talk about their muse, reading about the different ways people invoked their muse (or chased after it), and how some people ignored the concept altogether, I decided on a few things:


  1. Muses are a part of each person — they are real in the sense that they are part of our brain, as any other thought we have is a real thought; we can have more than one muse.

  2. Your muse operates in your unconscious mind, the part of your brain you’re not aware of, but that is always running in the background, constantly scanning and retaining information to help you get through life.

  3. Your muse is your curiosity, the input from the world around you, the connections between things made in your unconscious mind, memories, dreams — you must seek opportunities to “absorb” if you want your muse to work.

  4. Since your muse is part of you, it never truly leaves (though it can feel like it sometimes) — it can be “called” at any time, but not every method of calling results in the muse you “want” or are looking for.

  5. Imagining your muse as a separate being, getting to know it, finding out what makes it happy and nurturing those things, finding out what turns it off and avoiding those things, can help keep the muse happy and working for you and your craft.

  6. It’s possible to “find” a missing muse by changing your thinking, by accepting what the muse gives instead of ignoring it until it suits your needs.

Thinking about my muse in these ways was freeing. As a kid, I’d had imaginary friends. When I was very little, my first imaginary friend, Genie, would play with me, sit at the table, have her own space on the couch. But that quickly gave way to what I thought of as “characters” instead of friends.

These characters entertained me with stories I could “watch” unfold in my head, like scenes from movies. Sometimes the same character showed up over and over. Sometimes a character appeared for moments and was gone forever. Sometimes a character would ask me endless questions until I thought up answers.


I realized these characters were gifts from my muses. It didn’t matter if muses were “real” or in my head (which is still “real” as far as my brain is concerned). I got ideas and inspiration from these crazy thoughts and connections my brain made, so if thinking of a muse helped those form faster, why not?


I also realized that my muse likes to hang out with Mainie, my crazy creative artist who writes first drafts of everything under the sun, from poems to prompt response, to creative lists, to complete stories. They are BFFs, soulmates — two messy, happy people too caught up in creating to care about making things neat and clean. They love finger painting with words and leave the tidying to me.


I thought about what my muse likes and doesn’t like.


She likes me to give her my full attention. She doesn't like to be interrupted or ignored. If I don't write down the ideas she gave me, she stops giving them. I don't have to write a full piece for each idea, but I need to write them down.


She likes me to write in strange places I don't particularly like — my walk-in closet, the basement storage area, the garage, a deserted table at the library shoved between a wall and a partition. She doesn't like for me to write in beautiful locations with lots of scenery to gaze out at.


She insists I draft poetry by hand and not type until the first draft is done. She prefers my stories start in my notebook, but seems okay with typing as long as I keep going.

She likes whispering to me while I'm busy doing “mindless” things — tasks that keep my hands busy but not my mind, like housecleaning. She doesn't like to share ideas with me when I argue back.


She's most active when I engage in health-promoting activities — regular exercise, eating right, getting enough water, practicing healthy stress management. She disappears when I'm under too much stress or not paying enough attention to those things.


She loves it when I practice visual art — she quietly observes alongside my art muse, then throws tons of ideas at me later on. When I skip visual art for too long, she grows silent.


She likes for me to interact with people and make observations, even simple people watching. She grows quiet when I avoid people for too long.


She likes for me to do things that match the inspiration she’s given me — if I am writing classical-style poetry, play classical music; if I am writing a scene set in the 1980s, she wants 80s music, and so on.


An interesting thing happened the more I treated my muse like a real being and honored her likes and dislikes — she responded in kind. The more I appreciated the inspiration, the more inspiration I received, and the easier it was to keep writing.

GET TO KNOW YOUR MUSE

I encourage you to take a few days, set aside your current beliefs about muses, and give the exercises below a try. See who comes to the party and whether you can do anything to keep them coming and bringing those creativity boosters when you need them.


At the end of the week, you’ll have drawn out your muse (don’t worry — we’ll use words) using an approach some fiction writers use with characters. You’ll also reflect on how you think your muse has appeared in the past and how being more open to your muse in the future may help your writing.


It’s important to note that your muse isn’t like a genie in a bottle which you can summon by rubbing in the right place, or like a trained dog who responds to your call, running over and dropping ideas at your feet.


For me, at least, my muse and I work together. I ask her to show up, and she expects me to be there, writing, at around the same time every day. If I’m not there one day or I show up a little early or late, no problem. But if I fail to show up for weeks at a time, then holler at her like Stanley calling for Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire, she’s likely to turn up her nose and disappear.


DAY ONE: MEET YOUR MUSE

Use your imagination to visualize your muse — take some time to close your eyes, sink into your breathing, then invite your muse to enter your imagination

  • Spend some time visualizing as much as you can and encourage your imagination to conjure a creative, supportive, helpful muse

Write down your description of the muse:

  • What is your muse? (e.g., person, animal, spirit)

  • Provide a physical description of your muse — here are some factors to consider: > age, hair color, eye color, weight, physique, skin tone > facial features and any distinguishing features or marks > clothing or style or something they always wear (e.g., glasses, a pointy hat, floral patterns, certain jewelry) > sound of their voice and any distinguishing mannerism > fragrance or scent (e.g., baby powder, Chanel No.5, pine) > describe your muse’s smile

DAY TWO: A CONVERSATION WITH YOUR MUSE - PART 1

Today you’ll use your imagination to have a conversation with your muse!

  • First, pull up the image of the muse from yesterday.

  • Once you have a strong picture in your head, ask your muse the following questions, and write down their answers as they come — don’t edit! Write whatever comes to mind. > In what locations or under what conditions do you get your most creative ideas? > What is your favorite creative idea or inspiration so far? > What are some things I do that make it harder for you to share ideas with me? > What are some things I do that make it easier for you to share ideas with me? > What are some of your favorite things about my writing? > What are some of your favorite foods? > Who are some people you’d like to avoid? Why? > Who are some people you’d like to spend more time around? Why?

DAY THREE: A CONVERSATION WITH YOUR MUSE - PART 2

Take a few moments to conjure up a detailed image of your muse, then ask your muse the following questions, writing down the answers as they come to you without any editing:

  • Are you right- or left-handed (if your muse doesn’t have hands, skip this question)

  • Do you have a motto? What is it?

  • Which words or phrases do you love to use?

  • What do you think is your (our) greatest achievement so far?

  • Are you pessimistic or optimistic?

  • What is your favorite color(s)?

  • What makes you happy?

  • What makes you angry?

  • What are your favorite books? Films? TV shows? Art pieces?

  • What are your pet peeves?

DAY FOUR: A CONVERSATION WITH YOUR MUSE - PART 3

Take a few moments to conjure up a detailed image of your muse, then ask your muse the following questions, writing the answers as they come to you without any editing:

  • Are you generally organized or messy? Which do you prefer and why?

  • What three words best describe you?

  • What three words would other people use to describe you?

  • Which do you like more: listening or talking?

  • What is your greatest talent? Would you trade it for a different talent, and if so which one?

  • If you could have three wishes granted, what would they be?

  • What is your biggest vice?

  • What happens when you feel stressed or scared?

  • What do you like to do the most for entertainment?

DAY FIVE: A CONVERSATION WITH YOUR MUSE - PART 4

Take a few moments to conjure up a detailed image of your muse, then ask your muse the following questions, writing the answers as they come to you without any editing:

  • What is the most important thing you want me to know about you and our relationship?

  • Describe your perfect day creating with me.

  • Where do you see me in five years? Ten years?

  • How can I change my writing routine to work better for you?

Now write a letter to your muse expressing gratitude for the times they've helped you, including details about those times (e.g., Where were you when the help came to you? How did you use the idea? If you didn’t use it, why not?).

  • End your letter with a paragraph or two addressing the two biggest revelations from your conversation over the past few days and what you think you can do to help your muse reach you more often

DAY SIX: REFLECTING ON YOUR MUSE

Reflect on your experience with the muse exercises this week using the following questions as a guide:

  • What is the most surprising thing about your experience with this week’s muse exercises? Did you find them easy? Hard? Annoying? Fun?

  • What was the happiest/best thing you learned about your muse and your relationship with them this week?

  • What do you think about the concept of muses? What are your personal thoughts on how using an image of a muse might help you? hinder you?

  • Are there any changes you will make to your writing practice because of revelations from your muse?

  • How will you deal with the idea of muse going forward?

Did you discover something share-worthy about your muse? Tell me about it in the free (and private!) Creativity Unlimited Facebook Group!


Happy creating!


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© 2020 by Kaecey McCormick, LLC