Bully Your Muse

There are beautiful times in the life of a writer — deeply spiritual times when you experience out-of-body creativity. You are removed from the process and your brain is merely a lightning rod, not the storm itself. You are the vessel to channel this bizarre, otherworldly force onto the page.

Unfortunately, I am not having one of those times in my writing life right now. I force myself to write every day, but what comes out isn’t especially noteworthy.

Inspiration is a very strange thing indeed. It comes and goes without warning. It strikes at the most inconvenient time, forcing you awake in the middle of the night to scribble notes in the dark before the idea vanishes into the ether. It is at once concrete and ephemeral. Our muse is a drug — a stimulus that excites us and pushes us to create, but when it’s gone, we’re lost in gut-wrenching withdrawals.

Many writers blame a lack of inspiration when they lose the will to write. I don’t know if that’s true. Certainly, the best stories are the ones that seem to write themselves. The story calls to us from somewhere beyond space and time and pleads to be given the opportunity to tell itself. When the pull is strong enough, we write for unbroken stretches of hours or days without food or sleep, until either the story has revealed itself or we are too weak to continue. True inspiration is as much suffering as it is bliss. In this way, being a writer is almost like being a religious ascetic.

At the same time, we don’t have to be bound by the whims of our muse. Inspiration may be an untamed force, but it can be reasoned with; argued with; bullied. As Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, says in the Radiolab episode below (about 20 minutes in), inspiration can be negotiated with. We are in relationship with our muse and relationships require compromise. If you’re driving when inspiration strikes and don’t have time to pull over to take its dictation, you can tell it to come back later, as Gilbert says. If I live at the mercy of our inspiration, how would I ever finish anything? When I do let inspiration control my writing schedule, I experience gaps of several months between paragraphs. My writing is intermittent; disjointed. I don’t like writing like that. I want a schedule. I want a set time to sit down at the keyboard and tell stories with the same inspired touch every day. Is that too much to ask?

These days, I try not to blame a lack of inspiration for my inability to write. Sure, there are days (and sometimes weeks) when the words don’t come, but I no longer wait for the creative spark. These days, when I sit down to write, I look off into space and say, “Okay, muse, you’ve had all day to relax, now it’s time for us to get to work,” and I start typing. And so far, it seems to be working.



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