Don’t Wait for the Muse- Advice from Stephen King
A frequently asked question of authors: where do ideas come from? A good question but if we peel back the onion, it makes a lot of assumptions.
An assumption that inspiration, motivation, and ideas, come from what some call, The Muse. Mousa, was the daughter of Zeus, a goddess assigned to oversee the arts, and inspire artists to create. A sky ferry of sorts visiting the struggling writer with inspiration and ideas.
We wait while our next great idea is born and Mousa, comes to nudge it along. But until the ideas falls, we sit idle.
A second assumption is that professional writers have fully baked ideas when they come to the page. Not true. Their best ideas came when they showed up. When they applied butt in a chair. Our best ideas have no chance of seeing the light of day until we add words to the page.
The myth of the muse has damaged many a writer. Held too many writers back. Stephen King in his famous book on the craft of writing, On Writing, said this about the muse:
“Don’t wait for the muse. As I’ve said, he’s a hardheaded guy who’s not susceptible to a lot of creative fluttering. This isn’t the Ouija board or the spirit-world we’re talking about here, but just another job like laying pipe or driving long-haul trucks. Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’til noon. Or seven ’til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up.”
I’m not willing to say there’s nothing magical about writing. Where do ideas come from? Why do we write? How does a story take shape? The subconscious, God, the muse? I think all of it. It is magic.
But you can’t wait for the magic. You’ll be waiting a long time.
Nothing good in life happens through passivity. The girl you married didn’t come about because you prayed and waited for her to knock on the door. You made the call, set up the date, and later asked her hand in marriage.
Relationships take work to flourish and writing is no different. Lay the pipe and drive the truck. The muse won’t do it for you.
Somewhere along our journey’s the myth of the muse poked its mythical head in our writing room. The magical creature that shoots ideas out of her butt, into your brain, and then funnels to our fingers. Instead of laying pipe, we sit in the truck, and wait for inspiration.
Steven Pressfield in a recent interview said he wears work boots to write every day. Why? You know, because there’s no Muse. The work boots are a reminder to punch the clock and do the work.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your next book, or article, wasn’t built while you napped. It came to life with fingers tapping, a computer buzzing, coffee flowing, and a back aching.
Waiting for the muse is rooted in fear. A fear of being exposed as a phony and wannabe writer. An opportunity for Resistance to sink her claws into our writing souls.
Later in On Writing King explains the difference between pros and amateurs:
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
Pressfield wears work boots to remind himself it’s time to lay pipe. King writes from nine ’til noon whether or not the muse shows up. Grisham sets a goal of ten pages per day. Muse or no muse. I write 10,000 words a week, whether or not I’m feeling it. The difference between the pro and the amateur.
Now before I go, there’s something King said which is super practical advice. Something we can apply to our writing craft today. Let’s not leave this conversation in the ether:
“Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’til noon.”
If you need The Muse, fine. But make sure he/she knows where you’ll be. Have you determined your writing time/place? Is it on the calendar? We schedule everything else in our lives why does our writing get second fiddle?
Or, are you too much of an artist? You only write on Tuesday’s after drinking fox tears from a silver goblet? You only write when the schedule allows for it?
The more we plant butt in a chair at consistent intervals the better chance the muse can sprinkle story dust on our heads. Funny how that works.
Tell the muse what time you’ll be writing tomorrow. They’re welcome to visit anytime. If they forgo the invitation, fine, we’ll still be laying pipe, and punching the clock.
You know where to find us.