Unleashing the Muse

Do you have a muse?  Does your muse have a solid form: arms, legs, hair, clothes?  Or it is an ethereal creature, more of a spirit moving quietly within your mind?  Writers throughout time have held close this image of a muse and many have fervently believed their muse to be the wellspring of their ideas.  The ancient Greeks believed in nine muses, the daughters of Zeus, who inspired writers, poets, artists and musicians.  Perhaps the idea of a muse is to ease the pressure on ourselves.  When the words won’t come, it’s not our fault – it’s because the muse has temporarily abandoned us.

 My ideas originate from deep inside of me, swirling up out of a jumble of every sight, sound, taste, smell and thought I’ve ever had, from every image I’ve seen, every conversation I’ve overheard, every book I’ve read, every movie I’ve watched.  Somehow, out of all of this confusion of experiences, comes an idea.  Perhaps a single image or character, sometimes a place or time that begs me to explore.  And gradually, as that idea lingers in my mind, it somehow weaves itself into a story, with other characters, a landscape, a mythology, a purpose.  And that’s the magic of being a writer, isn’t it?  Taking that single image or idea and turning it into something that’s beautiful or horrifying or wonderful, or maybe all three at once.

 But what do you do when the muse refuses to talk?  When you sit down at the computer, put your fingers to the keyboard, and the words won’t come?  Some writers use a variety of exercises to get the creativity flowing: free writing, character backgrounds, writing a scene using nothing but dialogue.  Some leave that project to work on another for a time, maybe a short story.  Others subscribe to the good old theory of BICHOK: Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard.

I waiver between trying hard to adhere to the butt in chair philosophy and merely waiting: waiting for inspiration to return.  The latter is never efficient and rarely effective, yet we writers are somehow able to justify to ourselves time spent doing absolutely nothing while waiting for the muse to return.  What other profession could do this?

 So how do you intend to cope when the muse next abandons you?  Make a plan and you’re that much closer to surviving the absence of the fickle force we call creativity.  What will it be: butt in chair, creativity exercises, reading quotes of inspiration?  Share your plan and perhaps you’ll spread a little inspiration amongst us all.

12 responses on “Unleashing the Muse

  1. Evan Braun

    My muse seems to have abandoned me as well. 2010 was a year of pure inspiration; the muse was with me day and night, every waking moment — it even nestled beside me in sleep. Indeed, the muse was like a spouse. 🙂

    Which makes 2011 the year of the big break-up. Irreconcilable differences. Muse wanted to keep writing; I insisted that I had to stop and edit, perfect, mould.

    Well, I’m ready to reconcile. I’ve been waiting. 🙂

  2. Colette Vernon

    I tell Muse to take a hike.

    I like the way Stephen King talks about his Muse, like he’s some guy hidden in a basement who only shows up when he feels like it. I think that perfectly describes my experience. (I may be paraphrasing and not remembering correctly, but you get the idea.)

    If I have to wait for lousy, irresponsible, unreliable Muse to sit beside me before I write, I’ll never get in a chapter. So I take every moment I can and write as much crap as I can put down on paper. Every once in a while, Muse sits beside me, and the inspiration flows. But I’m not waiting around for her. I’m going to be a writer whether she deigns to help me or not.

    So, for me: BICFOK (Butt In Chair Fingers On Keyboard)

    *Can we find another acronym? That sounds like a made-up, serious swear word. Don’t know what it means, but it can’t be nice.

  3. Ann

    Musing on the muse – how amusing! (sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

    Before embarking on a project, I find I need to give my muse permission to amuse me with her guile and inspiration as she constantly entertains me with her wildest interpretations. And then, I trap the unwitting muse, forcing her to do my bidding – tempting her with those ‘what-if’ brainstorming sessions to create new worlds, better traps for my characters and plot twists to challenge us all.

    Now, secure in my trap, the muse stays with me, teasing me, twisting my thoughts until I must shut her off for not to do so allows the story to become as ethereal as the muse – losing shape and never being coherently told. And that is when the infamous BICFOK takes over, giving the muse her final form!

  4. KylieQ Post author

    Evan, it seems like it has been an unproductive year for many of us. Bring on the productivity!

    Colette, BICFOK does sound rude – I was using BICHOK as it doesn’t sound quite so bad!

    Ann, I want to know exactly how you manage to trap your muse. I think a few of us here could do with some tips from you.

  5. frank


    Great stuff here. Funny, I’ve been thinking of a similar topic, which I’m planning on posting next week if you don’t mind a second topic covering similar territory.

    For me, I need to give myself focused time to concentrate and sometimes forcibly yank the muse from its hiding place and get the creative juices flowing. The biggest problem for me in the past couple of months has been finding the time to do that.


  6. John Wiswell

    Lucky me, my muse has never stopped talking. I went to pains over the course of three years to unchain all sources and mechanisms of inspiration. Now my problems are an excess of bad ideas, rather than an absence of any. If some day I honestly run out of things to write,

  7. KylieQ Post author

    Frank, please do. I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts.

    John, I’m envious that your Muse isn’t as temperamental as mine. Perhaps you could share with us how you managed to unchain your ideas?

  8. John Wiswell

    I’d be happy to. I actually wrote a post about my process for a website a long time ago. I would dig it up or do a fresh take if Fictorians would like. The process took some time, and meant looking at the things I wished were in media, and evaluating what actually entertained me rather than what I thought others would approve of. That frees you to perpetuate thoughts rather than squelch them.

  9. KylieQ Post author

    That sounds interesting, John. Why don’t you put together a short summary of the process and send it through to me? Perhaps we could use it as a guest post.

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