People sometimes ask me if I ever get writer’s block. I guess they think it’s romantic. They imagine a tortured author sitting at the keyboard, head in hands, trying to summon the muse. I wish I did have a muse, to be honest. It would make my life a whole lot easier. How exactly does a muse work? Would she sit on my shoulder? Would I hear creative whisperings in my ear? Or a stirring in my stomach? Can there be male muses?
How did this muse thing get started anyway? With a hot love affair and a myth. The original muses were the product of a nine-day fling between Zeus and the Goddess of memory, Mnemosyne. Each night of lovemaking produced a muse, goddesses who presided over drama, comedy, epic poetry, lyric poetry, melancholic poetry, history, music, astronomy, and sacred hymns and agriculture. In ancient Greece when an artist or poet was about to begin work, he would call on a particular muse to inspire him. Ironically, all nine muses appear in the 1980 film Xanadu, with actress Olivia Newton-John as Terpsicore, the muse of dance, a movie that sorely needed a muse of some kind.
Today a muse might also simply be someone who sparks the creative spirit in us. Audrey Hepburn was the muse for fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy, who drew his sketches with her in mind. Zelda Fitzgerald inspired her husband, F. Scott, to write This Side of Paradise, his first success. Linda Eastman inspired Paul McCartney to write “My Love,” and “Maybe I’m Amazed.” And Gala Diakonova, not only inspired her husband Salvador Dalí, she was also the muse and lover to a whole generation of surrealists, including first husband Paul Éluard, Max Ernst and André Breton.
I don’t want to be the Scrooge of the writing life, but on a day to day basis writing is rarely about inspiration. It’s about work. Hard work. As Samuel Johnson famously said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” If you become a professional, you’ll be beset with deadlines and responsibility to publishing companies. Only the crème de la crème of the writing world have the luxury of writing what they want when they want. When you think about it, writing for a living is a remarkable way to live. You spend your days putting words on a piece of paper and selling them to the public. If you sell enough pieces of paper you get money to buy a couple of pizzas. But it is also a business, and if you miss a deadline claiming you had writer’s block, it’s like saying, “The dog ate my homework” to your teacher.
My favorite tale about a muse was a 1999 film written and directed by Albert Brooks called “The Muse.” It’s about a screenwriter with writer’s block who’s referred to a muse personified by Sharon Stone. But her inspiration isn’t free. He has to rent an apartment for her buy her expensive gifts, in return for her brilliant suggestions for his screenplays. As Brooks’ success increases so does the muse’s rewards, until Brooks moves out of his own home and lets her live in the master bedroom while he camps out in the guest house. In the end it turns out that Sharon Stone’s character has escaped from a mental hospital. She only thinks she’s a muse, but as long as other people believed her, she was able to give them inspiration.
The truth is, inspiration is always there, completely inside you. Inspiration comes in the shower or while your shaving or walking the dog. Personally, I’ve never had writer’s block. When I get stuck and don’t feel like writing, I look at my bills. The mortgage is my muse. There’s nothing more compelling to get me off the stick like paying the rent.
Steven Gaines is author of One Of These Things First. Read a BookTrib review at the link below.