I think I've mentioned this topic once or twice in passing, but I thought it was worth exploring on a deeper level. I never gave much thought to them until I read Steven Pressfield's "The War of Art," but after that, I couldn't deny that outside powers seemed to play a role in everything I've written. One of the most interesting stories of The Muses — and you always capitalize them to show respect — comes from Elizabeth Gilbert's TED talk, which is absolutely worth watching in its whole, if you haven't seen it.
She tells the story of meeting Ruth Stone, an American poet. Ruth tells her this amazing story about how her poetry comes to her, while she's working in the field, like a freight train barreling down on her. When she feels this happening, and she physically feels it shaking the earth around her, she only has one thing to do. The only thing she can do then, in her words, is "run like hell." She has to find a paper and pen fast enough to get the poem down before it moves through her and onto another poet who would have the time to write it down.
Believe that story or not, it doesn't really matter. Anyone with experience creating knows there's a piece of the divine in it. The trouble is, as a young artist, this is so easy to miss. Because getting there is hard. Getting there takes work. Getting there means investing in something that isn't going to feel good right away.
Thankfully, we have people like Steven Pressfield to remind us that "When we sit down each day and do our work... The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight... we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings."
But what's the point of believing in The Muses? Elizabeth Gilbert sheds some light on that as well - it protects the artist. It protects him not only from the crippling pain of criticism — after all, it was my Muses who steered me to write that awful feature length script that I was foolish enough to show to people — but also from an even more insidious enemy - ego.
And, yeah, all of us artists are slight egomaniacs, I think. We all love the attention, the praise, the adoration of a thousand screaming fans just dying to tear through our limo doors to make sweet, sweet love to us. But that applause, as imaginary as it may be in my case, doesn't help us at all when we're staring at the blank page once again, praying that something new comes to us before we embarrass ourselves.
And that's when The Muses come in, sit down beside us, and remind us that if we show up every day to work, we'll never really be doing it on our own.