I’m sure you’ve heard time and time again of the muse. Sometimes she appears as a beautiful being–a metaphor for all that excites us into creating in her image. Other times he is a fleeting thought removed from time and space, hard to grasp and hold tight. We must grab him by the coat tails and hang on or he will slip from our fingers and disappear. A muse can be anything. A muse can be anywhere, perhaps even everywhere for some. Muses may be generated, I think, by an artist’s determination and continued practice of an art form. For others, however, it seems a muse must be stumbled upon haphazardly. The people who stumble upon their muse unexpectedly may not recognize the muse as such, passing it off as just another idea. This is dangerous. Let me tell you why.
I’m at my mother’s house and on her television is a rock concert featuring a shirtless man who ponces about on stage before a tremendous crowd. I notice the sweat on the rock singer’s brow, the bright stage lights, the cups of half drank beers on his piano. But, most of all, I am spellbound–for lack of a better word–by the way this man’s heart and soul pour into his songs. Why haven’t I noticed this man before? The songs sound familiar, yes, but I haven’t seen this rock star before. Now that I have seen him, I’m thoroughly interested. Within the week I will encounter a series of coincidences that cascade, seemingly out of nowhere, into my life–all of these amazing insights having to do with this rock star’s life. I will be blown away. There will be no way to describe this experience to anyone without them thinking I’m a bit off my rocker. Should I even try?
Here is where, as a writer, I can recognize my muse. For what else is it I’ve been waiting for: the perfect moment, an easy answer, something out of nothing? Why can’t a series of coincidences that lead to an enormous surge of inspiration (felt through adrenalin) be recognized as a muse? I say, Yes! This is it. This is an opportunity. If I weren’t an artist, I could chase a dream gambling–after all, I was in Vegas all of last week–on numbers that come from these coincidences surrounding this rock star. But I see another option. Having been a lifelong skeptic, I must go with the logical choice, which is to make something of what’s inspiring me at the moment. Music has always inspired me. In fact, I’ve written my best stories while listening to music. I’m so sensitive to music that I am unable to listen to sad songs or I will become melancholy to the core. Music takes me to an emotional place that’s otherwise elusive. Just as many a song has been inspired by literature, so have stories been inspired by songs. After all, song titles are not copyrighted. An author can listen to a song, title a short story by the name of the song (for a start) and write to heart’s content. If the music inspires enough, the story will follow.
During my MFA program at EWU, it was not uncommon for professors to talk about writers “borrowing” or “imitating” in order to find their voices. Many writers probably do this in some form or another. I used to think, during the first year of studies, that everything I did had to be 100% original and generated from nothing except the bowels of my brain. I couldn’t have fathomed any sort of borrowing, because I didn’t understand that nothing is purely original anyway. There will always be a similarity out there somewhere. Authors may not be keen to divulge every secret, so the source of their inspiration may remain a mystery. Perhaps this air of mystery adds another layer to their work, giving readers even more to ponder. Was this short story persuaded by XXXXXX? A reader may wonder. The story may take hold in the reader’s mind because of revelations that he or she has during the course of the story. Drawing connections is invaluable to a story’s success, for the mind often produces adrenalin when we are excited and this is why we tend to remember the exciting times we’ve had in life, or thrilling parts of stories we’ve read.
Those excruciatingly wonderful lyrics, that seemingly unique musical score, that brilliant painting and that unparalleled short story? They started somewhere. Their creator drew from the muse, sucking life into his or her work like a vampire. That is how new work is born. It’s dangerous to downplay a muse. Every spark that inspires must be explored. Take hold of your muse! Don’t wait until the fire dies down for that muse may not come again.