The mystical writers’ muse: that which calls to the creative genius, enthralling and enrapturing them until their work of sublime greatness is complete. I don’t believe a word of it. The writers’ muse is a piece of romantic fiction. The concept – which still drives much of our understanding of ‘creativity’ today – is out-dated, regressive and unhelpful. It gets in the way of people actually being creative and needs to be debunked. Here’s why.
A long time ago I used to work in a bookshop. Every day, office types would come into the shop, idly finger the poetry shelves and wax lyrical about how they would love to work in a bookshop (if only their mortgage allowed) and how privileged I was.
Perhaps they imagined my days were spent perched on a stool reading Kafta rather than stocking the warehouse, lugging books around the store, and dealing with the local shoplifter putting copies of Bill Bryson down his trousers.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved working there but it wasn’t a rarefied place of creative expression. It was a shop. It involved hard work and graft. It was exhausting – and the money was rubbish. Hmm, any parallels there with the writers’ life perhaps?
1. The writing muse lies
The first reason why I don’t like the idea of the writing muse is because in the same way that working in a bookshop is more about the bottom line than flouncing around reading Chaucer, writing is more about hard work than about creative inspiration.
Clearly you can’t write without any ideas but ideas alone aren’t good enough – you need to work and you need to stick at it. Whilst I’m sure there are some rare examples of people who get struck with an idea and produce a work of genius overnight, for most of us – that just doesn’t happen and if you think it will, you need to wake up. The writing muse lies. Naughty writing muse.
2. The writing muse is a snob
The second reason I don’t like the idea of the writing muse is because it puts people off writing.
Because writing is less about being a creative genius and more about putting the hours in, that means that anyone can do it – and that’s great. But very often, people are intimidated by ‘being creative’. It doesn’t come naturally. It’s not a label that sits well with me if I’m honest.
Sure, some people are better than others at writing – its flows more easily. But the idea that only the chosen few can write because they’re the ones who have been touched with a creative wand is pure snobbery.
Writing has one of the lowest ‘barriers to entry’ of any creative endeavour there is. All you need is a pen and a pad of paper. Isn’t that an exciting thought?
3. The writing muse stops you trying
The third reason I don’t like the idea of the writing muse is because it stops people from listening to experts – and getting better.
If you believe you’re a creative genius who’ll at some point get a calling from your muse then you’ll never really try. There’s nothing wrong with writing as a form of therapy either but your writing won’t improve if you don’t learn from others. And if your writing doesn’t improve then you’re missing something hugely fulfilling about progressing as a writer.
It would be unbearable to play a musical instrument exceptionally badly for extended periods of time and never improve – so why do it as a writer? Listen to the experts. Writers, novelists, scriptwriters, film-makers, editors and agents – knowledgeable people who can help you grow as a writer and meet your writing ambitions
4. The writing muse de-values writing
The fourth reason I don’t like the idea of the writing muse is because the whole concept takes away from writers being amazing – it de-values their achievements.
Writers are heroes – and their successes or failures are down to them. They have got nothing to do with the writing muse. Whether published or unpublished, novelists, scriptwriters, bloggers, poets or playwrights I’m constantly amazed at the creativity, dedication and downright bloody mindedness of writers.
So, set yourself free of the writing muse. Don’t wait to be inspired – just get writing.
How to persist with your writing
If you’re interested in persistence read this post about how film-maker Alice Lowe got noticed by making 12 short films in a year.
Also, find out how novelist Rosie Garland kept going with her writing for 12 years until she finally won a writing competition and a six-figure book deal.
If you want to become more productive, check out our review of the top five productivity books for writers.
Here’s our own thoughts on how budding writers can build a writing habit that works and a piece by writing evangelist Mike Fishbein on how writers can get past that those first few words and write a whole book.
Why writers are heroes
Find out how writers can support each other by setting up critiquing partnerships or ‘beta reader’ relationships.
There’s also a great piece on how one writer relies on a collaboration to keep going.
If you’re a NaNoWriMo-aholic, find out here how it changed the life of novelist Julia Crouch for good.
Why expert help matters
If you’re keen to learn from the experts read our interview with the UK’s top drama screenwriter Sally Wainwright and find out why you shouldn’t take no for an answer.
There’s a guest post from published author and creative writing guru Julia Bell who shares her top 10 tips on becoming a better writer.
We’ve also interviewed top literary agent Hellie Ogden for her thoughts on finding representation and why the first pitch is all important.