The Muse: One Lie, Four Truths, and the Necessity of Trust

Posted by on Sep 28, 2015 in Uncategorized | 0 comments


Why do babies like peek-a-boo?

Infants don’t know something exists unless they can see it for themselves— hide behind your hands and suddenly you’re whole face has actually disappeared. In psychology, this is called object permanence, and it has everything to do with trust.

There is a beautifully false myth about writerly folk that suggests that what inspires our work is, most often, a semi-divine insistence or gift from a muse/fairy/magical-creature-of-your-choosing.  Once upon a while, written arts can be created, but only when this being shoots its lightning bolt of creative ability down upon the chosen bard humans, and then a story or poem may be born onto earth.

However lovely that fairytale may be, it is a lie that allows those of us who feel compelled to write to a) become lazy about our craft and b) become scared and insecure with the work, which blocks our access to it. 

Issue A is simple to overcome— refuse the fantasy, return to the roots of one’s desire to write, and the sloth of not writing due to waiting (for Godot?) becomes unbearable.

Issue B is more complex, and therefore harder to dispel. When we fall into the all-too-easy trap of waiting for the muse to descend, we start to lose faith in our own ability because we are depending on someone/something else for that talent. Our trust in the being gradually fades until we are left feeling betrayed by the one who once brought such correct, perfect lines to our now blank pages. Stiff with the fear that we no longer possess the ability to do what we have done before, we freeze up, and we bar our access to the parts of our brains that let the writing happen.

So how do we regain trust in our process, our craft, our identities as writers? The following is a list I have made of what works for me.

1. The Muse is real. She extends the smallest parts of herself to you in very rare moments, and you are blessed to have felt like any poem you have ever written had a touch of perfection— a touch of being exactly as it should be.

2. The Muse is really one part serendipity and two parts belief. After we have made the decisions we have to make, and the rest of our circumstances are left up to fate, I believe that, to some degree, the things that are supposed to happen to us will happen to us. We are products of our environments, and if we believe that there is art in everything we experience, then I am carrying poems that I have not written yet.

3. The Muse, as a kind of perfect correctness in writing, cannot come without practice. Remember the basics of writing, and why you fell in love anyway. Notice everything, show instead of just telling, don’t let poetry slip by you, writing down anything creative is a gateway into your best poem.

4. The Muse will not come unless the craft is such that you are actually doing the work you need to do to progress. Re-evaluate your process— expand upon what works and stop doing what doesn’t. Refine your methods, refine yourself, refine the art.

It’s that last one that I have the most trouble with, though. And, if I get stuck on it, I usually end up back at the top, just wishing she would pay me a visit instead of recognizing her duality; she exists as a personification of a feeling, and not as an entity I can place trust in because personifications can’t make effective emotional receptacles.

Recognizing one’s process must change is frightening, particularly if one realizes part of the foundation of one’s work over a series of years is no longer productive. Actually changing the process is sad and grief-stricken— the old way of doing things must die for a new way to mold into oneself. However, after the shock and the melancholy comes the one thing we all must have to keep writing: trust.

When we were very small, we did not know that anything existed outside of our immediate sensory perception, and yet we were only capable of dreaming of other people, and never ourselves. Now we must trust that talent we have exhibited before will not disappear if temporarily hidden, and we must trust that continuing to grow up is the only way to put ourselves in the context of our own work.

P.S. I really like what Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, has to say about creative genius in her TED talk which can be found here.

plane photoFaith Padgett was born and raised in the suburbs of Texas and is currently a Creative Writing/Spanish double major at Oberlin College in northern Ohio. Her poems have appeared in Hanging Loose and several anthologies including the Poetry Society of Texas’ student anthologies and the YoungArts anthology for 2014. She has won several Scholastic regional silver and gold keys, and was a semi-finalist in the Presidential Scholars program in 2014. When not working for Spry or writing, Faith can be found sipping tea with a book of poetry or walking through the prairie with one of her four adopted mutts. 

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