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Many artists – sculptors, poets, fantasists of all kinds – attribute inspiration for their work to what they call their Muse.

Moreau, Gustave - Hésiode et la Muse - 1891

“Hesiod and the Muse” – public domain image

In Greek mythology, the nine Muses were minor goddesses of the arts, sciences, and literature. They remain a beautifully romantic notion to artists of today (scientists seem to have dropped them from their inspiration fonts), spanning hundreds of generations and countless art forms. Even among writers who are not poets, the idea of a Muse inspiring them to create stories with their words pops up again and again. To that, I say, “Huh?”

Not to be cruel. Because, as artists, we’re all rather flighty individuals, with our minds dwelling at least a little bit in the clouds. That’s okay. Without dreamers, society would be pretty boring. Actually, it likely would have died away by now, without any high thinkers, who wrote some of the most important words of our civilization, from “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” to “We hold these truths to be self-evident….

But ascribing your talent to some sort of divine guidance is – oh, I’m just going to say it. It’s kooky. More than that, though (and I’m going to catch a lot of flak for this, I know), it’s lazy.

Now, before my ever-dwindling group of blogging and writing friends decides to pull out the lynch ropes, let me clarify.

I’m not talking about artists who decide they need to step back from their art and re-prioritize; those folks know they’re just putting a muzzle on their Muse for a bit. Nor am I talking about the artists who simply know themselves well enough to decide they’ll make their art when it suits them, all in good time.

I’m referring to the people out there who complain they have no inspiration to create…while they can still pick up a videogame controller for hours on end, or head out to the pub the whole weekend long. That has nothing to do with the attention of your Muse.

Now, I completely understand the charm of having some seraphic creature looking over your shoulder, telling you which way to move your pen. And I, myself, believe that – in the throes of a story – a character or characters can take over, using their voices to weave new and intricate tales I’d never even considered while I was in the plotting phase.

But, don’t be misled by the flowery notion of a Muse. Those character voices are your voices. Any new paths toward which they may pull you are functions of your own creative subconscious. It’s a wonderful experience, to guide a story in an unexpected direction, based on the whim of a single word or phrase. But you have created that word, those phrases, that heretofore unknown story arc that turns your hunter into the hero, or your princess into the warrior demon. It didn’t come from any outside force.

Carl Mücke Warten auf den Liebsten

What are you waiting for?

It’s not the idea of the Muse with which I take issue. I take issue with the idea of waiting on a Muse to move your pen (or hammer, brush, bow, or lens). That takes the power of creation away from the artist. Even worse, it takes away the responsibility for that creation. When an artist whines, “I’m waiting for my Muse,” that’s just an excuse for being lazy.

You cannot wait for some capricious, aetherial harlot to come knocking on your door, tapping at your shoulder, whispering into your ear that now is the time for you to make real all your hopes and dreams. No outside force is going to make your art for you. You are the only one capable of that. You. Or, I. Nobody else.

Blaming a Muse for lack of inspiration or failure to produce the story, the music, the picture you want is a cop-out. When you call – when you make the choice to apply yourself to your art, whatever it may be – your Muse will come. And, if she doesn’t, you go get her. You grab her by her flowing toga, and you drag her over to your workstation. Because you can’t afford to wait for her.

Because you are your own Muse.


Now, for those of you still with me after that little tirade, tell me: How do you motivate yourself?