The Rape of the Muse

by

Photo credit: Susannah Conway (susannahconway.com)

“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”
― W. Somerset Maugham

Creative projects live and die by what you do when you don’t feel creative.

Maybe you want to write a symphony. I don’t know. Let’s say you do. Let’s say you take in the music and get halfway decent at composing and now you’re ready to make your big statement with an orchestra. Symphony in F. Or C. Or G minor– that’s a good one too.

Writing that symphony, it will go like this: first, it will be heaven. You will want nothing more in the world than to sit down and scribble out the harmonies of life, love, and loss as you know them. Things will come easily and you will be full of excitement. You will drink from a firehose of inspiration and spew out melody after beautiful melody.

Then, a ways in, that excitement will wane. The music in your head will start to cycle in and out. The inspiration will come to a drip. Writing the symphony is still kind of fun, but maybe you will take some time to write that folk song or a string quartet or some other little project. Something newer and fresher– because the big one just keeps dragging on.

This continues. It gets worse, really. It becomes hell– the point where you’d rather do anything else than the one reason you’re here. You’d sooner fold socks and vaccuum under your bed than write more song. And that’s exactly what you will do.

When it comes to that, you’re at the decision point. Somewhere between dusting the top of your fridge and organizing your bookshelves according to the Dewey decimal system, you will have a realization: I can either keep doing this crap, or I can write my symphony. But why would you possibly subject yourself to the misery of churning out music when there’s no fire in your heart and your melody in your head?

Answer: because you know it will be worth it. You know that your symphony needs to be born and you are the only one to be able to give birth to it. It may kill you, but deep down you know you don’t really have a choice. Such is art. Such is calling.

And those moments, those realizations– they’re so inevitable in a long creative endeavor that I can only say this: they define it. What you do when you’re bored defines the project. Not how much enthusiasm you start with, not how good of an idea it is, not how much you were looking forward to finally doing this, not even how close you are to finally finishing the dang thing– just what you do when you don’t feel like doing it.

There are other things that are like this. Tall mountains, for instance. In the thin air of 19,000 feet, it doesn’t matter how much you wanted to summit when you started climbing. Base camp is so last week. Now, it’s pitch black and windy and you slept 3 hours. You’re nauseous and there are hours of hiking ahead. It ain’t getting any easier. How you felt a few days ago has no bearing on what you’re doing now. The only thing that has bearing now is if you can conceive in your mind that reaching this peak is worthwhile– worth you suffering and pushing like a vicious animal in a struggle that no one will ever see and few will ever understand.

And if you know that’s worth it, you can do it. You can climb the mountain.

And you can write the symphony.

And– this is cool– when you talk to others who have, you will know what they’re talking about.

When you decide what you will do with your life and your energy and your time, pick something that you know will be worth it even when you’re mind-numbingly, soul-crushingly bored. And tired and nauseous. Then do that thing, and do it with all you have.

You didn’t come this far to give up. You came this far because you knew it would be worth it in the end. So sally forth now. This is the defining moment. All those other moments were just light snacks and refreshments.

“I’m going to do this or die trying”.

Good for you. One day, you will die, and there’s no better way to die than trying.

  1. August 31, 2012

    This article is spot on. About two months ago, I finished the initial draft of my first novel. It’s well over 80k words in length. There were times when I would sit peck at my computer and maybe only manage 500 words in an evening. Other times, I would skipping along with the words and hammer out 2500 in just a few hours. The ebb, I think, is just as important as the flow. At least with writing, I believe it infuses the work with that extra shot of love for the thing. In other words, “Dear Novel, I don’t want to work on you right now. I really don’t. I’ve had a hell of a week, I’ve got a sixer of my favorite craft beer in the fridge, and there’s a Sons of Anarchy marathon coming on. However, because I love you more than my own tiredness, my favorite show, or even beer, I’m going to work on you tonight and forego all those things. Sigh…”

  2. September 1, 2012
    Erik

    Amen Dustin!

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