Invite the Muse

creativity creator inspiration mindset success Dec 19, 2023
Blog post: Invite the Muse

So here it is. You have cleared your mind and stilled the incessant, distracting chatter (as we discussed in last week’s blog post). Now you are staring at a blank page, or staff or canvas. Maybe you are sat at your piano or looking out at a landscape, waiting for inspiration. But waiting is so…passive. It’s time to invite the muse.

Did you know that there are specific Muses associated with specific modes of creation? According to Hellenistic classical mythology, Apollo, god of art, had nine daughters, each with a specific ability to inspire an artistic endeavor:

Calliope (epic poetry)
Clio (history)
Erato (love poetry)
Euterpe (music and song)
Melpomene (tragedy)
Polyhymnia (hymns and sacred poetry)
Terpsichore (dance)
Thalia (comedy)
Urania (astronomy - later “Christian poetry”

There you go. Now you can erect a temple to your favorite muse and conduct elaborate rituals to engender their favor and divine illumination.

Or you can understand the muse in the modern sense, as a source - and sense - of creative genius.

How to Recognize Your Muse

I suspect there are as many experiences of the muse as there are creators, so the best I can do is give some examples of the way inspiration comes to me.

When I teach songwriting I am frequently asked: “Where do you get your ideas from?” I gingerly sidestep the precariously dangling participle and explain that inspiration - for me - takes many forms.

Sometimes I hear part of a melody, seemingly “out of the blue.” I have heard complete pieces of music - melody, harmony and instrumentation intact - when I can get quiet enough, or in a dream. But my musical cues are normally just fragments. Regardless of length or completeness, they are the gift of the muse - of unconscious creation made conscious.

A lyric phrase - a verbal fragment - can also be the first spark of inspiration. This is the best answer I have to, “Which comes first, the words or the music?” It depends. On occasion these gifts are quite poetic. Sometimes they are born of supremely pedantic sources: a street sign or graffiti on an urban wall.

Here is an example, so strikingly unbidden that it has remained in my memory for decades. I was driving a spectacularly unremarkable car down an equally uninspiring road when it happened. It was a car I inherited after my dad’s death:

This is the car my father drove
Eyes that can no longer see
Looked through this window
And thought of me

Now, What?

I treasure these moments of unexpected inspiration for two reasons. First, they are truly gifts. They come from who-knows-where and - as related above - can come at random moments. I wasn’t “feeling poetic,” or meditating on a breakthrough for writer’s block or trying to meet a creative deadline in the example I just gave. It. Just. Happened.

It is no wonder that this kind of serendipitous lightning strike was attributed to gods and their offspring. When it happens like this, unexpected and complete, it causes me to laugh out loud. What an exclamation point at the end of a long existential sentence! (Double entendre intentional.)

The second reason I so thoroughly enjoy these seemingly divine communiqués is that they are fecund with possibility. I didn’t understand this when they started, but now I see.

In most cases, these revelatory flashes are not at all complete. A part of a melody, a verbal phrase, the way the light plays through a cloudy sky; all serve as a starting point for creation. “Sparks” of inspiration indeed: these gifts can cause a creative inferno if you know how to stoke them.

I once drove slowly around a narrow bend in the road in a tiny village in Northern New Mexico. There was a low, menacing overcast that rendered the land in shades of grey and black. As I rounded the corner, a lone bay stallion ran in glorious technicolor across a pasture briefly illuminated by a bright shaft of sunlight. The sight was so awe-inspiring I swear I saw it unfold in slow-motion.

This moment inspired prose, poetry and an album, and will remain etched in my memory for as long as I can access it.

But how can we increase our odds of being blessed by these happy incidents?

Invite The Muse

I have found the best way to invite the muse is to feed it.

My findings are admittedly experiential, but I believe they imply both correlation and causation. When I sit for days or weeks in an attempt to force creativity, it invariably eludes me. There may be small successes but they are typically reluctant and anemic.

As soon as I “give up” and take an extended break - ideally a long drive - the muse appears. It is almost as though the creative energy was pent up, patiently waiting for me to get out of the way so it could accommodate my wishes.

A great deluge of thoughts and music and images typically follows. I have learned to be ready with a recorder or journal to capture as much of it as possible. This method isn’t one-hundred percent successful, but if I am rested and ready, it is the rule and not the exception.

What makes it work? One can only speculate about matters of the gods, but I believe the way to feed your muse is to give it a steady diet of sights, sounds and other sensory delicacies. Get out and bathe in the myriad gifts that are the grace of consciousness. The more you put into your subconscious hopper, the more your muse will produce, given the space to do so.

Here, then, is the formula, if such a miraculous process could ever be reduced to the formulaic:

Fill your senses with the world around you; travel as far as need be.
Hold the desire for inspiration in mind.
Then be quiet and wait for the results.

The first of these parameters is the greatest; you can’t pour from an empty cup.

Inspiration, for me, at least, can’t be forced. I can’t coerce it to dance on command or respect my deadlines. It must be nurtured to be consistent.

It is experience that invites the muse.

I am a creator (musician, writer, live-streamer and podcaster), entrepreneur, counselor and professor.

 To learn more about how to use these concepts or to inquire about working with me, you can contact me through my website, the comments section on my Substack or Medium accounts or The Authentic Life Blog page. If you have found value in this article, consider following my Instagram and Twitter (now called X) accounts. To support this community, you can even Buy Me A Coffee or donate through my Patreon account.

 Subscribe to my River of Creation podcast - The Podcast for Creators, and my associated YouTube channel, coming in 2024, wherever you download your podcasts.


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