The writer’s muse – fiction or fact?

Muse whispering in ear

Creative inspiration?

The idea of having a ‘muse’ fascinates me. I often hear other writers referring to their muse, praising them or calling on them for help, and I wonder: are they using it as a gimmick or do they really believe in the presence and power of a mystical muse? Is someone or something really there, sitting on our shoulder and whispering prose in our ears? Or are we alone in our writing endeavours, creating stories through nothing but our own laborious thoughts?

To answer this, maybe we should start by looking at what exactly ‘muse’ means. According to the Free Dictionary, the noun ‘muse’ refers to:  

  1. any of the nine daughters of [Greek Goddess] Mnemosyne and [Greek God] Zeus, each of whom presided over a different art or science
  2. a guiding spirit
  3. a source of inspiration
  4. a poet.

When writers speak of their muse, I believe they’re usually referring to a combination of (2) and (3) –a guiding spirit who provides them with creative inspiration.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, has an interesting perspective on the ‘muse’, which is worth hearing regardless of whether you cherished, despised or didn’t even read Eat Pray Love.

Elizabeth has returned to the ancient belief that creative inspiration (i.e. the muse) is an entity independent from us, which speaks through us. She uses this belief as a sort of coping mechanism for those days when the words just aren’t coming  – you don’t have to feel so bad, because at least you turned up to do your job; the muse just hasn’t upheld her side of bargain.

You can hear Elizabeth speak about her perspective in the video below.  (It’s 20 minutes long but worth the time – I found it inspirational and refreshing).

So that’s one opinion. But I’m interested to hear yours. What do you think about muses? Are they real? Do you have one? Or do you think they’re as fictitious as fairies? Please share. 🙂

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22 Comments

Filed under Creativity, Elizabeth Gilbert, Muse, Writing

22 responses to “The writer’s muse – fiction or fact?

  1. Personally, I believe in muses. Of course, I couldn’t tell you if it is my own imagination creating one or if there is some sort of spirit to it. Sometimes I write and don’t even remember the words I write, typically that happens more with the very few poems I write, but it has happened with regular prose to. I can usually tell when I get into such a zone, so to speak, because someone will mention something good about my story and I have to look it up. Yeah, I’ll admit it sounds a bit on the loony side of things, but it works for me. *laughs*

    • Thanks for sharing, Cherie. I have definitely experienced those moments where the words just fly onto the page and you don’t remember even consciously thinking of them. I love those moments! 🙂

      • hi i love your story. i have been writing and was told i have the muse, i looked it up and it broght me to your blog, i have that muse, thats just what it is, who is that giving you those words, i never know what i am writing about till i am done, anything i have wriiten ,if i did not at the time would be gone for ever, i call it a fruit tree in my subconcious and it does not grow fuit , it grows words, and when they are ripe, they don’t fall to the ground to easily pick up, they fly threw the air and i have to catch them, if they get away never come back, like a bird just flies away, or like fishing, you get a bite or ir the fish gets away and never comes back to nibble the hook,. but i can keep them rolling for a while if i can’t get to a paper and pen soon, also like fishing the pencil is my rod the paper the water, and i must catch them quickly, would love to give you a sample of what i write

  2. I believe writers receive inspiration. I’ve seen this video before and it’s excellent! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Regina Linton

    Oh yeah, I have one. I call her Chaos. She keeps me busy with ideas and is always interjecting something new into my thoughts be it awake or asleep. She doesn’t let me shut down. My mind is constantly going and that isn’t always a good thing … hence Chaos.

    • Great name for your muse, Regina! Yep, I definitely have troubles shutting down too, especially if I’ve been writing right before I go to bed. It can be quite annoying, especially if I’ve got a big work day the next day!

  4. I don’t really have a “muse” in the sense there’s an actual person. I get inspired, and things will inspire me–but I don’t believe there’s an actual spirit or independent entity that has a sort of power to make me feel a certain way.

  5. I lean more toward my muse being inspiration. Although sometimes, when I’m really on a roll and the words are pouring out like water, it’s easy to imagine a guiding spirit sitting on my shoulder whispering.

  6. I think I’d agree with a few people here, in that I don’t know if I have a specific muse, per se. I don’t know if there’s one entity in particular feeding me words. This is probably a good thing, as I can be such a haphazard writer at times — even in the midst of inspiration — that I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a muse who wants ME as a full time gig!

    But I definitely believe in inspiration, and sometimes I also feel as though the ideas I write about come from somewhere else, almost fully formed. Maybe it’s not so much a case of one muse feeding the writer a bunch of different ideas, but instead a myriad of different ideas themselves that latch on to one writer or another?

    Either way, though, it’s definitely a conversation starter … especially if you’re the writerly type. 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective, Amanda. I know what you mean about being a haphazard writer at times – I can be guilty of that too! I can just imagine, during those times when things are tough and I switch from my manuscript to Twitter, my invisible muse standing behind me pulling her hair and saying, ‘You idiot! You almost had it!’ or something similar. *laughs* 🙂

  7. ali

    Great, great question Cally. I do refer to my creative inspiration as my muse, but I don’t believe it comes from any kind of entity. I do believe in God and do believe that He can help me, guide me, and inspire me. But I think my creativity, my writing, my abilities are a gift from God, but all mine. Does that make sense? So if I’m stuck, I’m stuck. I’m not at the mercy of some mysterious and fickle being. But if I’m flowing? If the words are THERE? I thank God for that, and get to work.

  8. I definitely believe in the muse – when I am in the studio painting – I go into a deep meditative state and become inert and something else moves my hands as I create -It is a deeply spiritual process – same with poems that come in the wind right through me – and they do come into me just as Elizabeth describes – for me poems come like butterflies and I havet o catch them in my net, fully formed. Novel writing is different – but – when you reach a state of
    openness – then you are external – an something else is leading the writing the words are somehow things are happening on the page which you were never even aware you were capable of thinking – that’s the magic of God andcreation, Just as Elizabeth says !

  9. My muse is Ellison, and she opens the doorways from me to these other worlds that I write about (a concept stolen partly from the Dark Tower Series by Stephen King). Because not only do I believe in Elli (or, the Lady of Imagination as she demands to be called), but I also believe that these other places exist, somewhere, in some other universe, and that writers are gifted with a window (or door in my case) into these other worlds. My characters are showing me their story, and I don’t always get it right at first because I can’t see it very clearly, and Elli is the one that finds the characters that want their story told (or, in the case of Mio she finds a character that she thinks is cute and takes years to figure out that the story is actually his sisters ;P).

    I was actually planning on writing a blog post about my muse later this week. I’m certainly going to have to now!

  10. Pingback: What’s in a muse? | sabineareed.com

  11. Chris

    I know this is an old post, but I must comment. I firmly believe in having a muse. I have just recently found mine. Her name is Olivia. She is a wonderful person. She has inspired many parts of my story that I’m currently writing from characters to full chapter ideas. The inspiration that I get from her is so vivid (I see the finished product). She pushes my imagination beyond its limits. I have told her that she is my Muse and she loves it.

  12. Jordan

    I believe a muse is simply a source of inspiration. I’ve been writing poetry for almost three years now and have just finished my first novel. In that time I have been inspired by many things. Sometimes I get inspiration from beautiful sights at a park near my home, other times from ideas talked about at my church, and there are even times when I get ideas from some weird ass dreams! (Pardon the language.) Yet, while writing, I have never once felt as if any other being was there helping me. But that’s just my opinion.

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