I used to think of my creativity as something elusive and mysterious, slippery as a fish - a mythical creature, perhaps. My muse was a unicorn, dancing skittishly in the pasture of my mind, and if I made any sudden movements, she'd vanish, leaving me bereft in her wake. I had no doubt this unicorn was real; I'd fallen into that gorgeous, selfless state of creative flow too many times to think it was a hoax. But like every wild and untamed creature, she had no real attachment to me, and her visits were sparse and fleeting at best.
I had no control over my muse; this much was clear. I could never plan for her arrival. She'd grace me with her presence whenever it struck her fancy - most often between the oh-so-convenient hours of midnight and four a.m. I'd be laying down in bed for the night, lights out, ready to drift off, when suddenly I'd sit bolt upright and reach for my notebook or my guitar, choosing to forgo sleep rather than miss an opportunity to fraternize with the source of my inspiration.
Her stay was always brief: too brief. We'd have a whirlwind creative encounter, and I'd feel like I'd somehow stepped into the collective conscious of the entire universe - like I could bathe in liquid stardust and harness the power of galaxies. It would wreck me in the best way possible. Far before I was ready to say goodbye, however, she’d steal off into the pre-dawn, whisking herself away like dandelion seeds on the wind. I would sadly watch her departure and hope she’d be back soon, so that I could write more songs or create more art or craft more prose. And that was it. My creative expression was entirely dependent on her flighty schedule.
I have grown to understand that she would have visited a lot more, and stayed a lot longer, if I had created more hospitable conditions for her in my life.
The relationship between you and your muse is just that: a relationship. And just like any healthy coupling, you have to nurture it - and you have the right to set boundaries and state your needs. It takes two to tango - and while it may seem that we creatives must operate entirely at the mercy of our muse, the truth is that our muse depends on us more than we may realize.
What if, instead of just waiting for her to show up...we simply invited her in? And what if we worked on building lives that support the muse, so that she'll settle in for longer and longer stays?
Yes - it's possible! Take the Beatles, for example. Here's a group of songwriters who churned out one masterpiece after another - and quickly. In the span of eight years, they released twelve studio albums - all of which went Gold or Platinum - and a huge portfolio of singles, EPs, and collaborative works. In terms of music, they moved at lightning speed - and their work didn't suffer for it. Why is this?
You can bet it wasn't just luck. The muse didn't just happen to bestow her genius upon them more often than on others - they made themselves available to her in order to summon her back. And over time, they got so good at it that she became a permanent fixture - a member of the band herself.
As I've worked on my relationship with my own muse, I've discovered some effective ways of inviting her in and prompting her to stick around. While I can't promise these tips will turn you into the next Paul McCartney, hopefully they'll be useful to you in your own creative practice!
5 Ways to Feed the Inner Muse
1. Notice the patterns to discover what your muse needs from you.
I mentioned earlier that my muse always paid me visits right as I was getting ready to go to sleep. When is yours most likely to visit? Look for the patterns around when she stops by most often - and then use that information to figure out what it is she's really looking for.
When I started trying to understand why my muse always came around late at night, I realized something important. As I was bedding down every night, laying in the dark and silence and letting my thoughts drift, I created something important: space. No distractions, no noise, no sensory input - just me, in a calm state, with a quieting mind. I realized that this was what my muse was really after. No wonder she hadn't been visiting during the day, when I was constantly allowing input from all manner of sources to infiltrate my energetic field. With all the information coming at me at any given moment - information I was absorbing - there simply wasn't room for my muse.
This discovery inspired me to create rituals of meditation and mindfulness in order to create space for the muse to visit me more often - a mental guest room, if you will.
2. Create even when your muse isn't around.
If it sounds hard to pick up the paintbrush or open the notebook when you're not feeling particularly inspired, rest assured that it is. Sometimes, the last thing I want to do is create; I'd rather just zone out with some Netflix instead. But if I've learned anything about creativity, it's that it is so important to exercise it, even at those times. Especially at those times.
Why? It all boils down to two words: brain training. If you make consistent attempts to create - attempts that supersede your mood or motivation level - you are sending signals to your brain that creation is going to happen, regardless of how you feel in the moment. And when you do this, it's the energetic equivalent of sending a Bat Signal to the muse, inviting her to spend more time with you.
We get out what we put in; we receive more of what we are open to. And when we devote time and energy to our creative pursuits, even when we don't much feel like it, we are opening to receive the muse - and everything she has to offer.
3. Give your muse some consistency by establishing creative habits.
This is essentially an extension of the last tip, but it's distinct enough that I felt it deserved its own place on this list.
A common misconception is that we have to wait for inspiration to strike. While sometimes, it really does feel like a bolt from the blue, we have more control than we realize, especially when it comes to building creative habits into our daily routine.
When we form habits, we actually make physical changes in our brains. The more often we repeat a habit, the stronger the neural pathways in our brain grow - and if we reinforce the pattern for long enough, it becomes automatic. Given this information, we can literally tailor our brains to expect creativity at a certain time of day - and to expect creative inspiration right along with it.
This can be difficult at first, especially if we're not feeling particularly inspired. Don't worry, though: the more you attempt it, the less time it will take to get into the zone. As this begins to feel less forced and more habitual, we'll spend more time actually creating, instead of, say, staring at a blank canvas, wondering where to start. That Bat Signal to the muse I mentioned earlier? This is an excellent way to fire it up. Hello, Muse - I'm ready for our scheduled appointment.
4. Let go of your perfectionism.
If, like me, you've struggled with perfectionist tendencies your whole life, this step will not be easy. I urge you to try it anyway; it's so important. In fact, it's probably the single most vital step I have taken to welcome the muse into my life.
The pursuit of perfection is a futile one. Not only is it not possible, it actually stifles creativity. If we can let go of the rigid rules and conditions that so often go hand in hand with a perfectionistic mindset, we can open ourselves up to more creative flow - and more frequent visits with the muse.
Practice letting go of your perfectionism by sitting down to create with the intention of sucking at it. Write a terrible poem. Scribble on a page of your flawless journal. Try an art form you've never attempted before, expecting that you'll be awful at it. Setting out with the intention of being the opposite of perfect can help us access parts of our brain that are generally walled in by perfectionism.
One of my perfectionist tendencies that always kept the muse away was my desire for my journals to look exquisitely gorgeous - as though, as soon as the ink dried, they'd be snatched up, photocopied, and distributed to millions of people worldwide. Not only did my handwriting need to be flawless, I had to use the exact same pen on every page to create a uniform appearance. The date format had to be the same for each entry; if I started the book writing out "October 1st, 2010," it had to remain that way for the life of the journal. I couldn't cross anything out, either, because cross-outs didn't look pretty - if I made a spelling error, the whole journal was ruined. (I'm serious - I'd start over in another book. It was that bad.)
It was a nightmare - and it took so much of the fun out of writing. If I couldn't find the right pen, for example, I couldn't journal. If I didn't have something deeply profound and insightful to write about, I couldn't journal. If I was feeling too tired to pay close attention to my sentence structure and cadence, I couldn't journal. These harsh rules I'd set for myself had me abandoning my creativity more often than serving it.
I realized I had to combat this, so a couple years ago, I started intentionally breaking my own rules, in order to force myself out of my perfectionist comfort zone. I made myself use pens with different color ink. I wrote at a slant one day and straight-up-and-down the next. Other days, I doodled instead of wrote, or led my words in waves and spirals across the page, instead of straight lines. Once, I even took a brand new blank book and scribbled on the first page. It made my heart clutch in my chest - but once I'd effectively "ruined" the book, I found I could be so much freer and more authentic with what I wrote inside it.
Look - it's called a creative practice for a reason. Creativity is this beautiful, magical, ethereal gift the universe bestows upon us, and I am of the opinion that precisely none of us actually knows what the hell we're doing, creatively speaking. That's kind of the point. Try to focus on the process, not the end goal. Remind yourself that this is for you and you alone - no one else need ever lay eyes on it. Truly, the most profound creative fulfillment is that which is found in the process of creating - not in admiring the thing we've created.
5. Take care of yourself first.
You are the host body for your muse. If you crash and burn, so will she.
This means, of course, that if she's constantly visiting you at midnight, when your eyes are heavy and your alarm is set for six a.m., you have every right to prioritize your own well-being by not answering her call.
Sometimes, when the muse descends, we're in a position to do something about it. That's great. Other times, we're not - and that's okay, too. If we look at the muse as something fleeting and slippery, the way I once did, we're approaching her with a scarcity mentality - and as anyone who's studied the Law of Attraction knows, that's no way to welcome abundance into your life. Work to cultivate trust between yourself and your muse. Sorry, Muse, I can't indulge you right now, but I look forward to your next visit so we can make some magic together.
Self-care is foundational. It is the basis of creating a fulfilling, healthy, and manageable life. Don't be willing to sacrifice your own well-being - not even for the muse. She'll be back - especially if you put the other four tips into practice.
There are lots of other things I do to maintain a fun and robust creative life, and one of those things is to indulge in journals that make me feel good. Sometimes it's the smell of them, or the texture of the paper, or the way they open in my hand. Sometimes it's the design, or the size, or the lines, or the lack of lines. Different books speak to me in different ways, and the listening is the best part.
The journal I can't get enough of right now is a beautifully handmade creation from Fishrule Studios. Crafted from walnut, maple, and purple heart woods with a hand-sewn binding, it feels sturdy, weighty, and rich in my hands: a book of substance.
The end papers are truly wonderful: they're pages taken from a 1941 copy of Audubon's The Birds of America. There's something so special about these beautiful color illustrations and their old-book charm. This is one of the most decadent journals I've ever owned, and it's inspiring so much creativity!