Saturday, August 21, 2010

Courting Your Muse


Sometimes it flows like water, pouring words over me as I desperately type, trying to keep up with the torrent. But sometimes, it's more like a faint breeze in the distance, something I can hear rustling in the trees but can't feel.

Recently, I've been wondering where my muse went. I haven't taken her absence too seriously, because I know that my motivation happens in cycles. At work, for example, I'll sometimes hit down cycles when I can't seem to get any work done for weeks at a time. I've learned that if I am just patient with myself, get lots of extra rest and don't panic about it, my motivation returns, usually with a vengeance, and I'm soon all caught up again.

But then yesterday, as I was crying my eyes out over a difficult change that just took place, I started feeling inspired to write again, and that's when it hit me: my muse is not interested in the mundane feelings of peace and calm. She likes drama and turbulent emotions. She isn't interested in being around me when things are "fine." Rather, she always seems to show up when things are wildly exciting or horribly stressful. And I realized that since I started my new job almost six months ago, where I've been really happy, that's about the time my muse started not showing up for work.

I stopped crying long enough to think this through. Several years ago when I was in a really bad situation at work, that's when I started writing poetry. A few years after that, when I went through another bad time at work, I suddenly started writing screenplays. And at my last job, she made a grand appearance right after there was a big round of layoffs. This time, she dumped the plot of all five books in the Soterians series into my head over the course of a half an hour, and for the last two years, I have been her dutiful scribe.

But this lead me to a fascinating realization: that although in the back of my head I've dreamed of being able to write fiction full-time, it would never work for me. Because the truth is, my muse doesn't want to be my wife--she wants to be my mistress. She wants to be the one I escape to when things are crazy. She wants to take me away from it all and immerse me in another world where I can fly. She is not interested in being the breadwinner or standing by while I do my taxes.

And in this realization, I have found the ultimate freedom, because there's no longer any illusion that to be successful, your art should make money. The idea that you're "selling out" by doing something other than your art is a total fallacy. What could show higher devotion to your muse than working a day job so you can afford canvas or guitar strings or ink? What better fodder for stoking the fire of inspiration than living in the world, working hard, and facing challenges every day that you don't necessarily want to face? How can your muse make you fall in love with her all over again by taking you away from it all if you are spending your life sipping drinks on the beach?

Don't get me wrong: there's absolutely nothing wrong with making money off your art. If that's the outcome of your work, that's fantastic, and there are many artists who do their art full-time and make a living at it. But the difference is in my intention. My focus has to be writing stories that make my heart beat faster and transport me to another world. If people want to give me money in exchange for those stories, that's a completely secondary process. But if I write with the intention of making money, I've essentially turned into a pimp. And that's no way to court your muse.

So as I dried my eyes, I promised my muse that although I love my job, it's not a threat to her. There's plenty of drama in other areas of my life that she can take me away from. In response, she just smiled coyly and whispered an idea for...a reality TV show.

Which just goes to show that you can court her all you like, but you simply can't force inspiration.