Every time you start a project, or even start a day’s writing, you will be faced with a blank page and usually an overwhelming urge to crawl back into bed. It is at times like these you need to pull out your secret weapon. Used for millennia before we become too smart for it, your best friend in getting over that initial fear is your muse.
Having someone else to blame is the most basic description of a muse. And most of the time, that is enough.
The author of Pray, Eat, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert, gave an incredible TED talk on this subject, looking at what she referred to as ‘the genius’, the term taking from the Romans. However, muse is a Greek term which can be described as follows.
In ancient Greek, muses were often portrayed as scantily clad women, inspiring through the arousal of sexual desire, which is not their primary purpose. In truth, they were both the embodiment and the sponsors of the arts. You could only produce great art if the muses chose to grant you the necessary skill and inspiration.
A very important distinction of rules should be set. The purpose of the muse was not to arouse inspiration within you, but rather to bestow inspiration and passion upon you. You are responsible for working when the inspiration comes. That inspiration however, will be given to you by your muse. If you try to sit down and write but nothing comes up, it is not your fault. The muse was not with you that day. You are, of course, responsible for doing everything you can to win the fair muse over, but no more.
Your muse is the external part that assures you that there is some higher meaning to your work. She is necessary to a writer’s development but she is not the only element you require. Having found your muse, it is time to look inside yourself at the three aspects of you that make up the writer: your Genius, Creative Youth and Critical Elder.
For a fully coherent structure and a set of creative relationships, it is best to separate different concepts about the term genius. Elizabeth Gilbert used the term in reference to a muse, while it can also be crossed-over with elements of what can be called the creative youth. Even a lot more people use these concepts in different ways.
Genius is completely your own, not like the muse. It is part of your subconscious that sits away in a room you cannot enter, playing its secret games. So just like your muse, the genius is not really under your control and can be a bit fickle.
Through your activities you feed it little scraps. The more you feed your genius, the more it will be able to give back at you. It likes to work on problems, whittling away at them until something beautiful has been created. However, you can never force it. You cannot pull up the hatch and just grab at anything. The genius actually gets rather offended at this.
Your muse can take a lot of the pressure off from you, even if it seems silly to have two such figures in your life. Separate out the two from your conscious self, and you will never have to beat yourself up about your work ever again.
CREATIVE YOUTH AND CRITICAL ELDER
There are dual natures of your conscious creative process called Creative Youth and Critical Elder. These terms were developed by Dorothea Brande in her book On Becoming A Writer back in the 1930s. These are actually not at the level of the subconscious, and can be trained to be under your control. Basically, these are your left brain and your right brain at work.
If you want to be able to sit down, write on demand, and actually have a continuous stream of words come out, then you need to get to know these two. Your creative youth is like the ‘inner child’ people suggest getting in touch with. He doesn’t care much for grammar and spelling, preferring to run and jump, sprint along and tell wild stories. If you train him properly, he will give you entire first drafts.
The only other problem with the youth beside his lack of grammar, is that you can’t just rely on him to make you a writer. If you wait for him, wait for ‘feeling like writing’, then you could be waiting a very long time, and in the end will have a thousand pieces of different stories. He’s not consistent unless you train him to be.
That is where your critical elder comes in. The elder is wonderful in two, and only two, situations. They consist of controlling his little brother to get him to sit down and start, and then editing. He is a wonderful editor. The elder is the rational part of your mind that can be self-disciplined, loves structure and clarity and wants everything to be ordered.
Initially, the elder must place your creative youth in the chair and say ‘talk’. However, you must then make him step back, and not interrupt until the end of the first draft. The elder can, if you let him, become bossy and overriding, trying to correct the youth at he goes along, which, as you can imagine if you have elder brothers, causes the youth to not want to help at all.
It may be easy to ask someone else to edit and proof-read your work, but getting the creative ideas down on paper in the first place is what makes you a writer. Don’t allow your elder to bully your youth so much that he sulks in the corner. If this happens, sharply rap your elder over the knuckles and set about coaxing your youth back with promises of adventure and freedom. You cannot let the flow stop from coming for any reason.
The elder comes into his own in the second draft. By now the creative youth has run off again, and might be called upon to answer a few questions about what he meant by this and that, but on the whole is not interested in rehashing old material. The critical elder, fortunately, is more than happy to sit down and go through each paragraph sentence by sentence, making sure it is all correct and in order.
Your genius will be throwing in ideas that you never even considered before, your muse will bless you and all will be right in your world. You will get the most out of your writing when you train the two to work together. Your work will become faster and freer.