By Steven Pressfield | Published: September 16, 2009
The issue that comes up more than any other among aspiring artists and entrepreneurs is this: “How can we chase our dream when we’ve got kids, a job, demands and deadlines? How do we find the time, the self-discipline and the energy when we’re dealing with all this real stuff in the real world?”
The Muse can be a tough taskmistress. But she does have one soft spot, if we know where to look.
Here’s what the goddess wants:
“Commit to the pain”
The Muse wants commitment. She demands a long-term contract. She wants us to sign in blood and hang in from now to the finish line. The Muse hates one-and-done. She will not tolerate weekend warriors or drop-ins. If we’re in, we’re in for the duration.
The Muse likes to see momentum. She favors those supplicants who start the pea rolling and don’t let it stop. When the goddess checks in on Thursday, she’s not happy if the ball is on the same yard-line as it was on Tuesday. That makes her grumpy.
Go deep and go long
The Muse demands depth. Shallow does not work for her. If we’re seeking her help, we can’t stay in the kiddie end. When we work, we have to go hard and go deep.
The goddess wants focus. Concentration. When she sees mental “scatter,” that is a major turn-off. She wants us to unplug the phone. Deadbolt the door. Banish all distraction.
The Muse is a jealous goddess. She demands our full attention. No competition. No other suitors. And we can’t cheat her. She sees right through us.
The sin of pride
Lastly, the Muse demands humility. Remember, to the Olympian gods, the most heinous felony was not murder or rape or even treason. It was pride.
These are hardcore demands. But why shouldn’t they be? The Muse’s contribution is ideas, inspiration; she’s the one who links us to our truest selves and brings out the gold that is ours and ours alone to contribute. Without her, we’ve got nothing. So she rolls hard. She plays for keeps and she demands that we play the same way.
The Muse’s soft spot
But there is one area where the Muse cuts us a break, and this is it:
She doesn’t demand massive amounts of time.
When Steven Soderbergh picked up his Oscar as Best Director, he lifted the statuette and said, “This is for everybody who puts in even one hour a day pursuing their dreams.”
One hour. The goddess can live with that. If we can give her sixty minutes of undistracted, unscattered, deep, focused attention, she’ll accept that. Maybe not forever, but for now. For a start.
And those hours add up. Sixty minutes a day, five days a week, fifty weeks a year equals 250 hours. My own typical workday (even at the top of my game) is only four hours. 250 hours equates to more than sixty workdays a year. Twelve weeks. That’s not nothing. That’s something. That’s really something.
Frederic Raphael, the screenwriter of Eyes Wide Shut, has a great definition of work: “Work,” he says, “is when you have pages at the end of the day that you didn’t have at the beginning.” That works for all of us—actors, entrepreneurs, everyone.
And it works for the Muse too. She likes to see that pea rolling—even if we can only roll it for an hour a day.
[Thanks to Coyoteguy for this week’s quote, “Remember, the Muse favors working stiffs. She hates prima donnas.” A signed WOA will be on the way. Please keep the quotes coming. Next week’s prize will be a signed copy of Patricia Ryan Madson’s excellent book, “Improv Wisdom.” A winner!]