By Steven Pressfield | Published: October 9, 2013
What follows is my own personal metaphysical model for how writing (and all art) works. You may think I’m crazy. I may indeed be crazy.
“The Muse,” as I imagine her, is the collective identity of the nine goddesses, sisters, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (Memory), whose charge it is to inspire artists. Other names for this mysterious force might be the Unconscious, the Self, the Quantum Soup. Whatever it is, it represents the unseen dimension of Potentiality that is either within us or beyond us. It’s where ideas come from.
That scene that you wrote yesterday between Prince Mordrapal and the Avatar of the Elves: that came from the Muse. So did your idea for your next post-crypto-punk rap album and your next Mongolian Bar-B-Q restaurant.
Here’s how the Muse works.
Each day she makes her rounds (I like to imagine her traversing the globe in a small, open-top space vehicle, kind of a cross between the Jetsons and the old Flash Gordon serials), carrying her bag full of ideas. She’s a bit like St. Nick, only instead of giving gifts to children she gives ideas to artists. To Beethoven she gives da-da-da-dum, to Stephen King she offers Carrie.
When the Muse gets to your place, she looks down from her little rocket ship. Are you in the studio? Before the easel? At the keyboard?
You’re not? Okay. The goddess cuts you some slack for this truant day. She’ll check back tomorrow.
What? You’re not on the job then either?
Or the day after that?
The Muse’s brow begins furrowing. You are disappointing her. She’s starting to get a little pissed off.
Could it be that you don’t really want her help?
Your name has now become entered on the goddess’ Bad Boy List.
How will she punish you? She’ll do nothing wanton or vicious. She’s a lady.
She will simply withhold her favors.
That problem you’re wrestling with in Act Two? You’re on your own, buster. Solve it yourself.
But let’s turn to the flip side, the happy side.
Instead let’s imagine the Muse cruising past your place on Monday. There you are, hard at work. Same thing Tuesday. Wednesday too.
Ah, now you have made the goddess smile! She likes your style, she digs the way you roll. (By the way, the Muse doesn’t hold it against you if you can only spare her an hour a day, or even if you miss days because you have to work to feed your family. The goddess can read your mind. She recognizes your honorable intentions. As long as you are showing her the proper respect, you remain on her Good Boy List.)
How does she reward you?
She gives you the breakthrough for Act Two. The idea pops into your head while you’re in the shower, or on the subway, or walking your Doberman.
You think it’s your idea. It’s not.
She gave it to you.
Is this magic? A miracle? No, it’s common as dirt. It’s how creativity works.
We show up. We do our best. Good things happen.
This is the intersection of Hard Work and Inspiration.
When we say “Put your ass where your heart wants to be,” this is what we mean.
This is what being a pro is all about. It’s why we practice self-discipline, self-validation, self-reinforcement. This is why we train ourselves to overcome Resistance. It’s what “swinging our Authentic Swing” is about.
We master all of those disciplines for one reason: so that we can be sitting there in the sweet spot when the Muse’s rocket ship passes by. That’s how the two sides work together. Hard work and inspiration.
Diligence produces inspiration because it shows respect to the goddess. Genius and brilliance do not earn her favor. She prefers sweat.
Get your butt in to the studio. Sit down at the piano. Boot up your iMac.
See yourself as the Muse sees you. You’ll know what to do.