Man’s relationship to his muse has always been tempestuous. When the muse arrives predictably every day at our desks, we’re enraptured by our work, in love with our every superb sentence. Words seem to flow from our fingers with little help from our intellect. We’re not so much writing as taking dictation. Our work feels magical and mysterious in the muse’s presence.
But when our muse doesn’t visit for a few days, our whole attitude changes. The idea that once enraptured us seems boring, we despise our every stupid sentence. We’re no longer writing effortlessly— we’re staring down the Blank Page, a nightmarish void, a daunting nothingness. Like a deserted lover, we’re left wondering why we’ve been abandoned. Our muse used to call every day, to invite us out for dinner every weekend.
Did we do something wrong?
Was she seeing someone else?
Was she playing coy because she wanted us to reach out?
Maybe she tried to get a hold of us but we missed her call. Or maybe she just wasn’t interested anymore.
Suddenly, we’re bitter, angry, frustrated. How could our muse do this? She knows we’re on a tight deadline. Why won’t she sprinkle some of her magic fairy dust on our pens and— for the love of God— help us write? We start to hate our muse like we’d hate an ex. We cruelly, cuttingly catalog her flaws: her hand-me-down ideas, her pathetic attempts at imitation, her tendency to write sentences in a string of subordinate clauses, her elevated, trying-too-hard diction. We curse her name from the rooftops and badmouth her to anybody who’ll listen. “I can’t rely on my muse for anything! She’s such a capricious bitch!”
However, if we want our muse to return (and stay), we must treat her with tenderness. As executive director of National Novel Writing Month Grant Faulkner writes in his exuberant Pep Talks for Writers, “Ideas are like people: they’re attracted to positive energy, warmth, kindness. They don’t like being taken for granted or used and tossed aside. They don’t like being ridiculed or disparaged or abused. They yearn to be lifted by the love and excitement all around them— when they feel the buoyancy of such exaltation, they call out to their friends to join in the merriment.”
Just as our lover is more affectionate when we pamper her with champagne and chocolate, our muse is more likely to grant us ideas when we shower her with attention. So treat your muse to her favorite pastries and coffee confections, spoil her with thoughtful gifts (the Moleskin notebook she’s always wanted, that 12-week writing class) and ravish her with compliments instead of insult her ideas and find fault with her every sentence (“What lovely imagery! I love your description of the “surreal Van Gogh sky” and “sherbet-colored Italian houses.”) When work isn’t going well, don’t disparage her or scream strings of hateful expletives. Don’t demand she come to your desk right at this moment— be patient.
Most importantly, show her your appreciation. Thank her for rousing you awake in the middle of the night with another idea for a story, for murmuring inspiration in your ear at the most random times and in the most unexpected places. Thank her for the unforgettable title, the shocking plot twist, the compelling character, the delightful turn-of-phrase, the perfect final sentence. Let yourself be overcome by tear-jerking gratitude for the blissful hours you’ve spent in her company. Realize your time with the muse— no matter how fleeting— is a wondrous blessing. If you love your muse, she’ll visit more regularly.