Beat Your Muse with a Club

Inc. magazine has an interesting profile of the CEO of the country’s largest independent advertising agency in its November issue. Here’s what the reporter took away:

Creativity doesn’t need a muse. It needs a drill sergeant.

The article is good – worth reading – but doesn’t actually spend much time going into the counterintuitive nature of that headline (my thoughts on the paradox of limitations driving creativity are here). I dug into the article because it struck me about the same way as this Jack London quote that makes it way through the Twitterverse every couple of weeks:

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

I agree with London, and I think the concept of a muse is dangerous for writers. The idea that there’s some supernatural, external force floating around in the ether looking for your head to occupy with an idea is a recipe for not writing. It’s an excuse for writer’s block, about which Reed Farrel Coleman opines,

Writer’s block is a romantic notion, and it’s bullshit. If you want romantic notions, get tuberculosis and let people write odes to you.

I want you to utterly eliminate the concept of a muse from your mind and your writing practice. Replace the muse with a hero. Everyone has a hero (even if you’ve forgotten yours). A hero is someone admired for achievements and for noble qualities. Firefighter, cowboy, Marine, parent, teacher, Batman … I give you permission to admit who your hero is, even if it’s only to yourself.

Someone you admire. Someone – alive or historical, fictional or non – you can confabulate with about writing. Someone you know – either in reality, in imagination, or virtually – pretty well. Someone you like to spend time with.

When you run into a challenge with your writing – maybe you’ve written yourself into a corner, maybe you’re feeling uninspired, maybe you’ve just realized you need to rip a seam out of your 125,000-word epic – consult with your hero. She or he is always there. Don’t wait for a muse. Stop wasting time. Ask your hero what he or she would do.

Your hero may not have an answer, but the process of asking and explaining will get you closer to the answer you need.

Your hero may not have the answer you want, but the process of arguing will get you closer to the answer your need.

Here’s my hero:

 

 

Who’s yours?

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    4 Responses to “Beat Your Muse with a Club”

    1. I completely agree –and thank you for saying it so bluntly. I read a book on writing (one of many) awhile ago that had a whole section (at least 50 pages) devoted to writer’s block. I skipped that section. Writer’s block is a load of crap. Inspiration isn’t magic. It’s focus. Stop whining.

    2. Donnell says:

      David, I love this. Not that you want to do violence to my poor little muse, but put her out to pasteur in general and replace her with a hero. Well done, and great blog! Speaking of which — off to write. Happy Friday.

    3. For years, I’ve considered the romantic notion of “waiting on the Muse” to be similar to enabling a drug user. Great article.

      Suzanne Adair

    4. J. R. Nova says:

      I reference the muse occasionally but I do not believe in it at all. I know the writing comes from me. But it’s still an interesting idea. Good post!

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