Imagine for a moment that someone offers you the job that you’ve always dreamed of. But there’s a catch – you’ll have to work closely with someone else in the role. In fact, you’ll be job-sharing with this person.
You start asking around about this other person, and discover that she doesn’t show up for meetings, but pops in when everyone else is heading home. If someone criticizes her work, she breaks into tears or leaves the room altogether. And when everyone is working toward a common goal, she heads off onto tangents of her own.
In general, people would rather hide from her than work with her:
Would you take the job?
The Muse: Imperfect, Yet Essential
Every writer faces a similar situation, but the difficult coworker is part of us. We may be hard working, diligent and professional, but we have to collaborate with the creative parts of ourselves.
The Muse is a label for the mental processes involved in associative, non-linear thinking and creative output. As a writer, you need to learn to call on this type of thought to make your work fresh and interesting.
But the Muse can be a tetchy coworker. Speaking of my own particular Muse, I know that:
- My Muse is easily distracted (Battling Distraction When Writing)
- It works on its own schedule (Managing the Muse)
- It craves variety (Where Do You Go For Inspiration?)
- It disappears when criticized (What Inspires Your Writing?)
I need my Muse to do my best work. More difficult still, I need to trust that it will deliver.
It’s difficult to have faith in something so unpredictable and flighty. Here are a couple of approaches that may help over time.
Own Your Muse
People like to believe that inspiration comes from the mysterious beyond, or that the Muse is a disembodied spirit. As long as this works for you, keep on with it.
But there’s strength in understanding that the Muse is within you, always present.
When you take ownership of your own Muse, you can figure out how to summon those mental processes as needed, and set them to work on the right task.
- Turn off the inner critic in the early phases of a project to create a safe environment. Try inviting the Muse through freewriting.
- Leave time for incubation – don’t plan to sit down and write without first giving the your inner Muse a chance to work.
- Go to the Muse’s favorite workplace. Talk a walk or get out of the office to invite non-linear, associative thought patterns.
The More You Trust, the More It Delivers
Once you start welcoming the Muse to the process of writing (or other parts of your life), it starts showing up more consistently. To put it differently, training your brain to access associative thought patterns pays off.
Inspiration may not strike at the most convenient times. You may wake up with a great idea at 5am. Inconvenient timing, but hey, never complain about a great idea. Or you might be on vacation when the ideas you’ve been mulling over suddenly coalesce into a concept for a book.
The insight from the Muse isn’t always packaged and perfect. The other day I woke up with a fragment of Brahms’ Requiem in my head. I started singing it, then realized that if I translated the text from German, the words in that fragment were particularly relevant to something I was writing.
The Muse was chipping in a musical contribution.
Faith Isn’t Blind
Have faith in your Muse, but don’t run with everything it gives you. I’m not advocating blind faith.
Blind faith is moving forward without regard for the danger signs. Florence Foster Jenkins had blind (or deaf) faith in her singing.
For writers, blind faith is putting your first draft out into the world, without evaluation or revision. Blind faith does a disservice to the Muse and your readers.
Let the Muse run loose in freewriting. Fine-tune its contributions in a first draft, and then dig deeper to edit, filter, and finalize. This protects the Muse from the kind of criticism that will send it running from future projects.
Have faith in your Muse, but trust the larger, overall process.
For more on working with the Muse and the Scribe, read the book The Writer’s Process.
Gif via GIPHY