The Muse Works When You Do

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Hilma af Klint

I just spent the weekend in New York City.  Kara, one of my best friends/travel buddies, and I explored the shit outta that town.  We traipsed and Lyfted our way from Spanish-Italian cafe to French bistro to Korean small plates through Central Park, to the MoMa and Guggenheim, in search of great food, beer, coffee, art, ice cream, and pizza.

What always blows my mind about travel, beyond the obvious benefit of ‘seeing the world,’ is the doors it breaks down surrounding my creativity.  Which is an easier sentiment to have while listening to the Dark Side of the Moon and contemplating Hilma af Klint than sitting in my robe in my bed back home.  It’s a fleeting feeling I’m constantly yearning for, yet what I learned on this trip is creativity is not actually one fleeting moment.

Our society loves the idea of an overnight sensation, the big break.  It’s a propagated myth.  The general public doesn’t see the years of work behind the masterpiece.  We see Starry Night by Van Gogh and wonder where the hell that kind of talent came from, not realizing that Van Gogh created some 2,000 works in his life and died penniless and virtually unknown.  We crave George R. R. Martin’s next book, and lament why it takes years to be released.  Creativity is continual work; drafts and copies, years of research and practice.  The muse isn’t an instantaneous visitor, the muse works when you do.

This is a breakthrough I’ve been coming to for a while now.  I’ve written about it here before, in some form or another.  I am a novelist, and I am plagued by the feeling that to be a novelist one must be able to simply sit down and write on command.  As if I write for long enough there will be a novel.  It’s a crippling thought, because it necessitates having a kernel of an idea, with enough stamina, to make an entire book.  Which, of course, is not true.  Even the freshest of ideas need outlines, lists, and pages and pages of notes.

In the end, it takes the pressure off it all.  It’s about time, effort, and revision.  It’s about dedication and discipline.  It’s changing my process in a way that I hope will be sustainable.

4 thoughts on “The Muse Works When You Do

  1. Enjoyable post, Alaina!

    Though I have had a few quick visits from the muse in my time.
    But for a poem (or artwork) that can be fairly simple,
    compared to the sustained effort required of longer forms.

    1. You’re so right; for some creative forms, the muse *can* be a quick visitor. A poem flies out of the pen, the paintbrush moves continually. I do not think, however, that the inspiration provided by a quick visit can be appropriately utilized if one has not spent the rest of one’s time in the in-between murkiness of the creative work. It’s been a long lesson for me. It feels like I’m always waiting around for “inspiration” to strike, but, really, that doesn’t seem like how it works at all!

      1. Actually I’d given up on poetry.
        Couldn’t write a line for 13 years.
        Then one came to me almost fully formed in a quick rush, so fast there was barely time to write it down before the muse had disappeared again.

        So now I’m trying to embrace uncertainty a little more.

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