Muse Burnout (It’s Not What You Think)

Originally posted on Wednesday, ‎August ‎24, ‎2011, ‏‎1:45:00 PM

Lately I have been noticing the popularization of something I’m going to call Muse Burnout. And despite what you might think, I don’t mean that writers all over the world suddenly have tired Muses and a lack of ideas. What I’m referring to is the general and seemingly sudden social rebuttal of the concept of a “muse” at all.

Everywhere I go, I am reading rejections of the idea that writing is anything magical. Articles in literary magazines, quotes on Twitter, angry rants in blogs. The whole writing community seems to be screaming, “WRITING IS WORK, DAMNIT. STOP GIVING THE DAMN MUSE ALL THE CREDIT.”

And I get it. I really do. Because it’s true. Writing is hard work. Exhausting, frustrating, agonizing work that thousands of people have dedicated their lives to pursuing. And when the going gets tough, well, the tough keep chugging along and fighting through and struggling to maintain daily word counts in spite of their dry spells. I think the continuance of writing even when the luster has worn off is admirable and necessary for success.

Writing IS work – work that comes entirely from the writer’s endless source of determination and commitment.

Here’s the thing: it’s also magical.

I don’t believe in magic. I really don’t. I don’t believe in any supernatural things, actually, so I certainly don’t believe that there’s a mystical being who waits around in the Aether to bring you slammin’ ideas for your new short story. And she certainly doesn’t have wings.

But I do think that the concept of the Muse is a convenient metaphor for inspiration that seems almost magical. You know, for that first initial spark that calls us to start imagining new, creative things. The reason writers call themselves artists. The reason we all became writers to begin with – because let’s face it: there were easier careers to go into. No one chooses writing because they want to make money or become famous. They choose it because it calls to them. Because they’re so bursting with ideas that they feel like they have to write them down.

We begin because of the Muse. We stay because we’re hard workers.

Admitting to the easy, fun, inspiring parts doesn’t make the hard, dreadful, draining parts any less impressive. If you admit that you have no idea how you came up with that splendid idea, people aren’t going to be any less admiring that you stuck through and turned it into an 80,000 word novel.

I believe that when most of us speak of the Muse, we don’t mean to imply that writers aren’t doing that work. I, at least, am speaking of it as a part of myself. It is a metaphor for the subconscious, the back wheels and cogs of the mind that work without my intending them to. I don’t use the Muse as a way to take credit away from hard-working writers. I use it as an acknowledgement that, sometimes, there are parts of ourselves that are greater than the credit we give them. Bits of us that go overlooked, under-examined. And when things come from that place, the result is truly magical.

So please, stop yelling at those of us who stand by the tradition and analogy of the Muse.

And after all of this, if you still disagree with the metaphor of the Muse… if you’ve never felt that magic sparkle, that little itch that drags you along… I’m very, very sorry.

It’s wonderful.

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  • Katy

    I do believe in Muse. The first time I ever felt it was when I had a really, really good book idea. (Remember the one I told you about? It was that one.) I thought of it and I simply had no choice but to start writing it. It absolutely couldn’t be kept on the backburners of my head. Characters, plot, dialogue, worldbuilding…it all just popped up in my head without any thought of my own. An hour later, I had one whole chapter done.

    That luster and fascination with the idea has long since worn off. I now find my Muse in the power that comes from writing. Writing makes me feel like I’m doing something important that’ll change the world. And, in a way, I am. Words have power–I never let myself forget that.

    • Exactly, Katy! That’s exactly how it works for me, too. And I agree; words absolutely have the power to change the world. <3