How to Woo the Writer’s Muse

The Muses
The Muses

This Valentine’s Day, I find myself feeling lonely.  My wife and kids are in the next room, playing and having breakfast, while I sit at my computer, wishing that somebody was here with me who hasn’t been around for quite some time.

My muse has left me.  Again.

In the Mythic Scribes forums, I hear terrible things said about my muse.  She’s fickle.  She’s flaky.  She’s prone to flights of fancy, to leading men on, to ditching at a moment’s notice.  And all of these things are true.  She’ll have me smiling one moment, and then leave me cursing and confused and feeling trapped as she runs out the door.  And I never know what to think of the fun we had together.  Was it real?  Or should I forget about it?

My muse leads me to passionate moments of writing that don’t always make sense the next day.  Discipline.  Discipline is the better mistress – that’s what everyone says.  Steady.  Dependable.  Likeable.

But there’s no adrenaline rush.  She isn’t half as much fun.

I can’t count on my muse.  I don’t have any fun with discipline.  What am I to do?  I need a complete and fulfilling relationship with my writing.  I don’t want flaky.  I don’t want “dependable.”

Even as I write this, my wife is laughing with the kids in the next room.  It sounds like my oldest son has called forth a snowman dragon from the blue Yahtzee! cup he stole from the closet last week.  And when I think about my relationship with them, all of this muse and discipline stuff sounds like nonsense.

I want excitement that echoes and keeps me going through the tough times.  Not steady.  Not fickle.  But lasting.

Give Yourself a Lot to Be Excited About

There isn’t a lot to a writer’s relationship with Mistress Muse.  The inspiration comes, gets you excited, and then leaves.  You write until the writing starts to feel terrible.

But I don’t want my exciting writing moments to be spontaneous and random.  I want them to come through the work.  I want my favorite writing moments to be the ones that make the rest of my work shine, instead of the ones I have to cut and rewrite later on.

For me, I try to make sure there’s a lot in my story that I am personally excited about.  Every character.  Every event.  Every page.  If I don’t feel pumped about a character, then that character never gets a name and doesn’t make it out of OneNote.  I hunt down that excitement through the creative process before I write so that it will carry me through the tough slog of the follow through.

I want to find the fun first so that I have something to embrace, and to remember, and to look forward to, on those hours when the fun has left, and I just have to work at it.

Celebrate Your Progress

Those who woo Mistress Muse would have me trying to pump myself up hoping the great writing moment will strike.  Those who woo Lady Discipline would have me keep a database of every word I’ve ever written.  It’s the difference between an intrinsic and an extrinsic motivation, between enjoying the process and pushing to meet your goals.

In a lasting relationship, whenever good things happen, you don’t need to track them.  You need to celebrate them, to make a happy memory out of the milestones, to give yourself something grounded and emotional that stays with you without having to boot up excel every day.

I mark a small desktop calendar with an X for every day that I write.  That’s enough for me to see the progress, to feel that sense of accomplishment, and to know when to celebrate.  But I’d do better replacing the daily excel habit with a cheer and a brag and an exciting music moment.  I’d rather end my writing time on the fun.

Redefining Your Muse

It’s Valentine’s Day, and my wife is urging me to hurry and finish this article.  And I’m reminded in her voice that somewhere growing up I’ve heard a different definition for the muse.

My muse is my audience – embodied by that person in my mind that I’m speaking to with my written word.

By being a writer, I am an entertainer.  At heart, I feel like I have these fantastic ideas in my mind that I want to get out.

I just want to share the awesome.

There is nothing more inspiring for a writer than to have something which makes that mental muse laugh, cry, cheer or gasp.

When you have done the difficult by finding your voice and wooing that muse, then you can write for the “WOW!”  After all, making somebody else excited – that’s what Valentine’s Day and wooing and romance are all about.

For Further Thought

How do you woo your muse?  Share your strategies with us.

Has your muse ever left for a prolonged period?  If so, how did you woo her back?

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Paula Herrera
Paula Herrera
7 years ago

This is very inspiring Brian! As an aspiring writer, I too want my own story based on my own ideas that are deep-seated on mind. I don’t want to copy ideas of others then rewrite them because it won’t give me enough self-confidence and satisfaction as a writer.

We can find our writer’s muse almost anywhere but we should learn how to cope without them. The talent and creativity of a writer will bring him to places that no one knows and experiences that are beyond reality, yet the author keep himself involve.

Heather Smith
Heather Smith
7 years ago

Yes, for some writers/artists a muse is essential to the inspiration of their work, but I’ve never really functioned that way. I’m more of a “creative habit” writer. If you’ve never read the book The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp, I highly recommend it. Tharp talks about making creativity into a daily habit–I never used to think about writing that way until I read her book. But like you say, to each their own.

Andrea Robinson
7 years ago

I love the X’s on the calendar! That is more than I’m currently doing to celebrate the time I spend writing.

And I think I should do more celebrating, because the muse appreciates getting candy, flowers, X’s, or any other form of reinforcement.

Since I am the muse, the audience is the muse, and the work itself is the muse, why not celebrate writing every single time? At least you won’t feel lonely, because the muse always shows up to a party.

Until now, my reinforcement for writing is that I stop beating myself up for a little while. I now see that this has not been very enticing for the muse.

Thanks very much for the fun analogy of the muse, and for the interplay of inspiration and discipline.


Ron C. Nieto
7 years ago

I have a complicated relationship with my muse. In fact, his sole purpose (his? yeah, his–I’m a woman and I prefer to woo terribly good-looking men, thank you) is to jumpstart new stories.

He’s the one who comes up and says, “Hey, do you imagine what would happen if…?” Cue mental scene. That mental scene leaves me reeling, and wondering how the characters got there, where they’re going next, and who the blazes they are. It’s hook, line and sinker. I begin to analyze and plan and plot while the muse chuckles in amusement (and now that you mention it, that makes him look less like a muse and more like an imp).

Anyway, that’s the full extent of his role. Everything else is work, work, work: I’d say a Lady Discipline’s romance, but I’m a realist. I know it’s less to do with my willpower and more to do with the huge pot of glue I use every day.

Chair, meet my behind. Behind, meet the chair you’ll be glued to for the next, oh, say six to eight weeks.

I celebrate my breakthroughs and despair whenever I write myself into a corner, and I find my motivation to keep going in the stash of red liquorice I steal from whenever I meet my writing quota of the day.

The formula works for me. I guess my muse, my Imp, is not very fickle–rather, not very involved. I’m curious to know how it’s like for the other half of the writing world, those who do need the dastardly creature’s collaboration to keep going.

Is it truly impossible to push forward? How do you lure him (her) to go to work?

7 years ago

My muse is male. Why? Because I like it that way. I get a lot more out of my story when I’m talking it over with my muse. Now true, the writing is not always wonderful. My muse is inspiration…my right brain kind of works in conjunction with this individual. Then there’s the pedantic left brain that takes care of the practical stuff, makes sure it flows. I am always working out something personal no matter what I write. I’ve been alive long enough to have had a whole bunch of awful things happen to me, so its excellent fodder.

Writing is what I do and who I am. If I don’t write, something is missing. I am all of my protagonists. My muse is my lover…on paper. It’s a fun way to look at inspiration. So with that in mind I romance the muse. He likes wine, even if I can’t drink any for health reasons. That way I can take advantage of him, get him into compromising positions and see where that leads us, how we get ourselves out of it. Yes, it’s us – me and the muse.

E.L. Knox
7 years ago

I don’t let the Muse into the house. I don’t like the concept because it removes me from part of the process. I’m the writer. It’s on me. If writing isn’t happening, that’s on me as well.

I do like Brian’s redefinition, though. When I write, I write for myself. But when I edit, I’m editing for my audience. I have to tell the story to myself first because it has to make sense to me, first. But once I’ve worked through that basic draft, from there on out it’s all about the audience.

As for the Muse, she’s off somewhere hanging out with centaurs, Gorgons, and other Greek nonsense.

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