Why do Writers Have Muses? Musing on the Muse

Note: all references to ‘muse’ hereafter do not refer to the inspirational beings in your life such as your pets, other half, family, friends, coffee, food stuffs or basically anything either living or an object that kicks you up the bum to write or gives you ideas. ‘Muse’ as referred to here is that airy fairy, other being, invisible fantasy type thing. 

I have never understood this whole muse business, for any creative endeavour, let alone writing. Maybe I’m not worthy of a goddess who pokes and prods, whispering genius ideas into my ear for my writing. I expect my muse, if ever such a thing existed, got pissed off with being ignored.

I’m setting out my position from the off; I don’t believe in muses. Please read on, bear with me, and if you still believe in muses possibly don’t let yours read this, she may get stroppy.

What is a Muse?

I’d heard of muses before I started writing. I always saw them as these whimsical, floaty goddesses in paintings. I wasn’t far wrong.

Muses derive from Greek mythology. They are the watchers over the arts and sciences, apparently offering inspiration. There are nine of them. I won’t list them here. Go look them up if you feel the need for a female deity to write your novel for you. Let me know if it works. She’s got herself a ghost-writing gig for life if it does.

Your Imaginary Friend

Muse - criticising museMaybe the problem is that as a kid I didn’t have an imaginary friend. Epic child imagination fail on my part. I felt a bit silly at the thought of talking to the invisible thing. I guess I was precocious enough to figure out, even in my most tender years, that chatting away to something that’s not there is fruitless.

I also know this in my adult years. It may be something to do with mental illness but I like to avoid the whole talking to the voices thing. It can lead to a whole host of issues.

I did my ‘talking’ to an imaginary being through writing. From childhood I have written journals. Through my diaries I have spoken to, shared, confessed to, and sought solace through writing to something that I felt was taking my most personal words and accepting them.

I don’t think that was a muse. I needed to know I could offload to a part of me I don’t dare unearth in everyday life and I know that I can keep a secret.

That’s where I’m at now. When I start writing I seek a place inside me that has all the ideas and the words. Sometimes it is a chatty little blighter and plays the game. Other days it’s napping, along with the cat, on the sofa with a ‘Do Not Disturb Sign’ around its neck.

My form of a ‘muse’ is a rebellious one. My muse is me. I do not believe that there is anything else that inspires my writing other than me or if the wind is blowing in the right direction, I haven’t woken up in a bad mood or there is coffee in abundance. No imaginary friend is going to get me writing, more’s the pity.

Your Muse is Your Business

I’m not writing this to ridicule those of you who believe wholeheartedly in muses. Do whatever works for you creatively.

I do think it’s weird when I hear of level-headed people stating they cannot write until their muse has entered the room. However I am weirdness itself sometimes, so hello there, fellow weirdo. Pull up a chair and let’s chat.

If you want to have a muse in your life, that’s none of my business. You may need to explain to your partner why you’re having intimate chats with another woman. Your family and friends might suggest an intervention after seeing you arguing with the invisible woman but again, none of my business.

Have a muse if you want one. I just don’t understand it is all…

Blame it on the Muse

Muse - muse holding gun to writer's headI have a theory as to why writers and creatives have muses. You love the boogie, you cannot blame your lack of inspiration on that, therefore you have a muse in your life. Blame it on the muse.

It’s the muse’s fault if you have writer’s block. She didn’t rock up today, therefore nothing was written. If she had been there you would have written four short stories straight by now.

Revisions are tough today. You cannot see why the plot isn’t working; bloody muse not giving you a helping hand. If she could just sit down next to you and do the typing this novel would be published.

You’re still sitting there in your underpants and not just surfing the internet but doing a backstroke in it. If your muse had hauled her arse out of bed you wouldn’t be here.

The problem is she always has to look her best in her Grecian robes and immaculately coiffured hair. She needs to understand that PJs or undies are standard writers’ uniform and there’s room for only one diva in a writer’s space.

Your muse has lost her red pen. There will be no editing today. She won’t perform without her favourite marker. It matters. It has her name on it with feathers and glitter coming out of the top.

It’s so much easier to blame it all on the muse isn’t it?

How Do You Invoke a Muse?

This is an honest question. I’m curious as to how writers and creatives get their muse to rock up to the party.

Do you perform a strange kind of muse seance where you raise them from the depths of mythology?

Do you say ‘Good morning’, give them a peck on the cheek, and make them coffee to show they are your partner for life?

Do you meditate deeply until you feel at one with them? *tries so desperately not to sound like she’s taking the mickey*

I’m genuinely curious. How do you know when your muse has entered the room? Is it when the creativity ignites? Is that your muse or is that you? Which leads me rather fittingly on to the next section…

My Work is My Own

Muse - Nora Roberts quote
Address all complaints to Nora Roberts…

Call me arrogant (oh, you already did) but I’m not up for someone else taking the credit for my work. Therefore I’m averse to muse plagiarism. There’s no way that I’m pouring all my angst, sweat, tears and anything else that’s messy into my writing only for someone else to take all the glory.

Muses are gorgeous beings already, according to art. Therefore they can just recline on sofas and let others adore them. I work flipping hard on my writing. That well turned out deity isn’t getting my fifteen minutes of fame. She already gets enough attention.

For those of you who believe in muses, whatever form they take, do you mention them within the acknowledgements of your novel?

If you firmly believe they inspired your writing, surely they deserve that first page dedication above your wife and kids who have threatened to move out every time you get into a writerly strop?

I can see the dedication now:

To my darling Melpomene,

You are a goddess in my eyes. Your support and encouragement have shaped this novel. Thank you for inspiring me with every blessed word. You complete me.

Oh, and to Polly and the kids, the child support cheque is in the post.’

What My Muse Would Be Like

I am sure by now it’s clear that I don’t believe in muses but for fun, if I did have a muse she would require the following to be my perfect writing goddess:

  • Has shares in Dairy Milk, in stock not money
  • Makes coffee on command
  • Talks me off the cliff, possibly literally as well as metaphorically, when I want to give up writing and life
  • Slouches around in her civvies: no woman feels comfortable having a stunning goddess sitting next to her when she’s in her stained t-shirt and her bare face look is a hazard to small children and vulnerable adults
  • Feeds the cat, keeps her off my desk and plays with her when I’m writing
  • Has powers of telepathy and therefore can transcribe all the ideas in my head perfectly onto the screen rather than the jumbled up crap I spout
  • Is a domestic goddess as well as a literary one who will undertake all the housework and other chores
  • Is funny, kind and chatty when I need a writing break, that’s standard issue for a bestie

Oh wow. That list sounds amazing. Where do you get yourself a muse?

Redefining Muse

Muse - muses getting coffeeUpon reflection, maybe having a muse isn’t such a bad thing as long as we don’t take it too seriously. Maybe a muse is just that inner part of us I discussed earlier? I cannot believe in muses as fantastical creatures. This is probably why I don’t write fantasy fiction.

I cannot start my writing day feeling like it does not begin until this mystical being shows their face. I have to take responsibility for whether I am writing or not. I am not judging fellow writers who need something else to believe in to keep them going. Whatever floats your boat.

I write this post as a writer who has struggled to get back into writing after depression. It is not good for me to think that a muse is my only form of hope. I may as well give up now because she’s certainly not showing up in my house.

I cannot believe in something intangible to get me fully back upon the path I want to tread. I have to believe in that place deep within me that tells me I’m a writer and I can do this, be it not much written today and pages pouring out of me tomorrow.

I am my muse and I’m rather proud of that.

I inspire me.

I encourage and motivate myself along with my fellow muse-type friends and family.

I talk myself through the writing process and I guide my hand to connect with my mind and write.

Maybe muses exist after all, albeit redefined. The muse is us in all our normal basic glory. No one has the time for all that preparation of hair, make up and layering on chiffon anyway.

About Lisa Sell

Lisa Sell is a fiction writer. When she's not wrestling with words she can be found showing the love for chocolate, cheese, coffee, books, the cats, and the husband. Perhaps not in that order.

20 comments on “Why do Writers Have Muses? Musing on the Muse

  1. Great post. I laughed at the list of “What My Muse Would be Like.” If you happen to find one who meets that list of requirements, would you mind letting me know? Otherwise, Muses are pretty worthless.

  2. I LOVE your last section about taking ownership for your writing and being your own muse. So well written, and so true. I’m with you all the way – I may write about magical beings, but muses aren’t one of them. (Although – now I’m thinking about it…;) )

    1. Of course the furry muse is exempt from this.

      Fill your boots writing about muses just don’t start trying to summon them up in the process my friend!

  3. I *wish* I had a muse. I’d send her off to cook dinner so I could get more writing done.

    Great post! I’m my own muse too. I should have figured that out long ago from how much I talk to myself.

    1. Ha ha! I never thought of the talking to yourself thing. That definitely makes me my own muse seeing as I do is so often!

      I think there’s a type of ‘muse’ who does cook your dinner. Mine is called ‘Husband’. For others it’s called a maid. Both are priceless.

  4. Love your list of what your muse would be like – this is one of the best things I’ve read on the interwebs for a while 😊

  5. Hmmm, I am not sure I have a Muse either. Usually talking aloud is the way I organize my thoughts for writing. Interesting perspective on the writing process.

  6. What an interesting perspective. You know what? I agree. I’ve been trying to be more present in my writing and in life. Not really rely on other ‘things’. It’s been a great experience. 🙂

    1. I absolutely agree. I need to take more responsibility for when I’m not writing as well as when I am and it’s going well. Thanks for that interesting perspective Camila.

  7. Nice post, I’ve never really thought much of the muse idea. Doesn’t really make sense to me. I agree that writing comes from within – it’s a bit like talking to an imaginary god or fairy or guardian angel isn’t it? Everything we need to do is within us. Anyway I like your blog – I’m an aspiring author too and I love cats!

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