The Myth of the Muse
I often write posts here on HelloGiggles about my favorite TV Shows, books I’m loving or what is happening at The Heatley Cliff – my pretend Manor house where a bunch of super famous people serve as my staff. If you ever listen to the podcast I do with my best friend Sheryl, you’ll know that much of what goes on at The Heatley Cliff is, let’s face it, one step down maybe from LARPing, but is also meant to be silly and fun.
I also talk about my family, my children and husband and my love of Portland, where I am lucky enough to live. I don’t usually talk about my work even though I love my job. I have a really great job. What’s not to love? I write songs, for a living and I write books on the side. I am living the dream. I don’t however, write that much about the nuances of my work because I think on some level, to deconstruct it too much takes away from some of the magic. I am a world builder, but if I let you know exactly how I am building that world, I worry that it will be less immersive.
That being said, I know that people are curious about what it’s like to be a writer for a living. I get asked about it all the time, when I share even the most casual reference to my work. So, in the spirit of sharing, and without giving everything away, I thought it might be interesting to talk a bit about my philosophy of writing. Please keep in mind that this is my perspective, and I realize not everyone shares it. However, most of the truly successful writers I have discussed this topic with have much the same attitude. It seems like only frustrated, tortured or unpublished writers place themselves in the ether, where they think that they are working on a level far higher than mere mortals (non-artists) seem to operate.
Here is the main thing I want to impart to you possibly would-be writers: ritual and routine are not the same as inspiration. I have certain rituals that let my brain know it’s time to focus on the task at hand. I light a candle. I put my phone away. I play my favorite orchestral movie soundtracks. I personally can’t handle listening to regular songs with words; it’s too much competition in my brain. In terms of routine, I work around the same time every day, for around the same period of time.
I will admit that I had to completely redo my office a couple of months ago because it was too bright and happy. I’m a night owl and that doesn’t jibe so well with motherhood. To accommodate the fact I have to get up early, I went ahead and repainted and re-wallpapered my workspace so that I could make it look like nighttime in the middle of the day. I admit that this is indulgent, but I also feel that I’ve worked hard enough and achieved enough to feel okay about creating this ideal little womb of a writing hub.
That being said, however, wanting a creative environment that is conducive to feeling productive and safe is not the same as absolutely needing it. I don’t need my space to be this way but I prefer it. I have certainly worked under all manner of circumstances which include smelly tour buses, auditoriums, smoke-filled recording studios, my bed, noisy writing rooms in publishing houses in Nashville where the walls were thumping with other people’s songs, in the dark, by my daughter’s bed when she was sleeping, coffee houses, the toilet and cramped hotel rooms. The point is, when it’s time to work, regardless of where I am, I simply get to it… I write.
I don’t have the luxury of waiting on divine inspiration. This is especially true when I am writing songs with artists or other songwriters. I can’t be like, “No No, wait now, I have to feel the vibrations of creativity stir in my soul.” I have good days and bad days. I have productive days and crap days. But I never have days where I wait for my “muse” to come a callin’.
I don’t have a muse. I can’t rely on some external force or my even my own creative wellspring to be running at full throttle before I can start work. I could be waiting for weeks or months if I worked under that criteria. I sit down and I write. I write through my hesitation. I write through my doubt. I write through a great idea and see if it is indeed that great of an idea. I write even when it’s the last friggin’ thing I feel like doing. I write when I’m sad, happy, depressed or pissed off. I have to. At the end of the day, my job is cool, but it is still a job.
I cannot elevate the status of my work above anyone else’s. A nurse doesn’t have to feel inspired to change an IV bag. A teacher doesn’t have to feel the muse of teaching in order to explain fractions. A taxi driver doesn’t have to feel a divine motivation to drive someone home after a party. If I ever, for one moment, felt like what I did required some special alchemy in order to achieve it, I would alienate the very people I am trying to reach with my work; the people who get up every day and just do their jobs without the notion of a “muse”. Only Greek Gods had muses and even then, it didn’t always work out so well.
So you want to be a writer, an actor, a sculptor, a dancer? Great. If you want to succeed and do so with the respect of your peers and fans then you have to take your art seriously but you cannot take yourself seriously as an Artist. Those who do are annoying and pretentious and frankly are often only capable of creating work that only others in their field can connect with. I don’t want that. I want my words to resonant with everyone, not just a select few that have had the training to understand it. I don’t even think that qualifies as genius. I think true genius is an expression of self that other people, regardless of their position in society, recognize as familiar and real and are thereby moved. It’s often those simple, ordinary words in a song, arranged in just the right way, that are the most heartbreaking.
So, don’t wait for your muse. Don’t wait for the lightening bolt of inspiration. Create your own electrical storm by being brave enough to do work that may not be perfect the first time. In fact, don’t be surprised if it takes a hundred attempts before you find the magic you are seeking. Wild abandon and surrender to the chaos of the universe are not the keys to true artistry. That distinction belongs to patience and discipline. There is no perfect alignment of stars for optimum creativity. There is only you and the work. So don’t wait another minute. Your life as an artist could start right now.
Featured image via shutterstock