Resisting the 3 Steps to Embracing Your Muse

What do you do when you have all of the answers on how to maximize your personal creativity–and you’re an inspiration for others in this regard–and yet you don’t fully practice that advice in your own life?

It’s an age-old problem. We know what we should eat in moderation (bacon) and yet, there we are, eating it again. We know we should sleep more, drink less, exercise more, and so on. And yet.

I saw this sign outside a dorm room on the University of Virginia campus while in Charlottesville on my cross-country road trip. You can’t even trust a well-dressed walrus not to tempt you. Of course, it appears his drinking has led him to lose his pants.

In writing my work-in-progress–a travel memoir about my cross-country U.S. road trip and the artists I interviewed along the way–I occasionally will review my materials from that trip, such as the audio diary I kept, and other audio and video. An artist I “revisited” this past week in my review epitomized this disconnect we’re prone to between awareness and action.

Here were her lessons for embracing your muse:

  1. Tell your story. This was the artist’s mantra. “Three words,” she said. “Tell your story. Don’t be afraid of exposing yourself. Someone else has probably been through it, and putting it out there will help you get past it. If you’re a songwriter, write music. If you’re a poet, write a poem. If you’re a painter, paint a picture. But tell your story.” Yet in listening to her marvelous music, and talking with her in person, it was clear she wasn’t telling her story. She was rendering the struggles of others in her life with power, but still she kept herself out of her music. To her credit, she recognized this fact, and was working to correct it.
  2. Take creative risks. This musician works with young people, and encourages them to explore the outer edges of creativity. “And I’ll say, ‘Have you ever hit your guitar, really smacked it?’ And they’ll say no. And I’ll say, ‘See what happens. Use mine if you’re worried your parents will get upset.’ And you should see the look on their faces when they let themselves loose like that.” But she confessed that she is spending more time playing backup in other bands with others’ music than with exploring the edges of writing and performing her own music.
  3. Recognize your gift and share it.This musician spent five years away from her muse, off of the art-committed path. Then she had an encounter with an old friend: “She gave me a very loving chewing out, and said not everybody comes into this world with the gift of creating. She pretty much told me it was my duty to share that gift, and if it was my job that was stifling me, I could mix it up and find a different job. She said I was wasting my life, and that was probably true.” To her credit, this musician left that stifling job and found one better paired with her muse. But while she is playing again, as the bullets above note, she is not fully sharing her gift with the world. Yet.

In many respects the question I am asking here is pivotal to my own creative quest. This blog celebrates my return to an art-committed life. I knew that path was a difficult one; after all, I had left it years earlier. I don’t think I fully appreciated how difficult it was to stay on it.

Life has a way of wanting to pull me off. It’s only for a little bit, the voice will say, as it highlights that latest challenge at work or home. You’ll get back there soon enough. But will I? Each return is harder than the previous one.

This artist inspired me with her perfect messaging on embracing my muse. And she inspired me as an example of what I could be if I didn’t completely follow her advice. I know today she’s still trying to live by these rules, and that helps me in my struggle as well.

Do you sometimes find yourself understanding what you need to do to be creative and yet not following your own advice? How do you turn that around?

23 thoughts on “Resisting the 3 Steps to Embracing Your Muse

  1. She Started It

    I agree, Patrick. “The artist’s road” IS a difficult path to stay on. I think it’s healthy acknowledge this once in a while.

    Some days, if I feel spent emotionally, I can’t also be creative. I’ll give myself a few “no creativity today” passes. But I try not to let it go beyond a few days.


  2. Right on target for me – again, Patrick. If it were easy, everyone would do it… nice, but that doesn’t help get us through the tough parts.

    My heart and mind want to quit all responsibilities of the world and just write/research/sort images on my work in progress. The real-world part of me can’t quit the day job. Doing what I can – and giving myself some credit for having gotten back into it these last six months. Giving myself credit for using the years of down time, away from this book, to find my way to “telling my story” and opening it up to all of me. Making it personal.

    Posted next to my monitor: It’s not how many times you fall down – it’s how many times you get up again.


    1. I’m sorry, ML, did you just steal that comment right out of my own head? 🙂 I particularly like this: “Giving myself credit for using the years of down time, away from this book, to find my way to “telling my story” and opening it up to all of me.” When I think of the “lost time” in which I wasn’t creating the way I’m trying to now, I do try to remind myself that that period led me here, so it’s all part of the story. Very helpful to hear this from you.


  3. I often struggle with “finding time” to write. I’ve found there’s no such thing as “finding time.” You just have to make time. Which is easier said than done when you’ve got ten or twenty or a hundred tasks competing for your attention every day. 🙂 For me though, I love writing and it’s totally worth it.


    1. Hi Sarah,

      Yes, it is about making time, well put. And for me that can mean some early mornings, or time when I can’t be doing something else. I got some good writing done on a trip recently on the plane, for example. And yes, it’s worth it!


  4. Committing to the artist’s life is an act of courage in itself–there’s so much out there telling us that it’s useless, or crazy, or that we’ll never make it. Better take that stifling job, at least you can buy yourself a car!


    1. The artist I profiled above found a job that was less stifling, so that was a good start for her. But I think she was learning that it wasn’t just the job that was stifling her. It’s easier sometimes to fix external problems than internal ones.


  5. Too often, we think committing to an art-centered life is all about the hoopla that surrounds us when we first make the decision, when in reality, it’s a long slog. A wonderful slog, but you’re right–it is really difficult to stick to it. The rewards are great when you do, however.


    1. You’re so right, Charlotte! And you’ve been on this long slog with me from almost the beginning. I’ve been at this blog about two years now, and I started it when i re-committed to the path. I’m not sure a single day has been easy, but so far it’s still been worth it.


  6. Nice post, Patrick. Creativity is like marriage: it’s a long-time commitment, not a one-time choice. Yes, you have to say, “I do”. But then you have to wake up every day and say, “I still do.” Sometimes it’s easy to forget that. If I’m ever feeling run-down or like straying from the road, I just remind myself that this is my choice. No one is making me do this. Even acknowledging that makes me feel refreshed and steers me back on path.


    1. Hi Annie!

      Marriage, an interesting analogy. Of course, in a successful marriage, both parties need to support each other in ways they need it. When I think of me and my muse, I don’t always think of her as a partner; I think of her as an elusive sprite, or an inflexible taskmaster. But I do think when you “honor” her, she rewards you, by appearing when you really need her to, for example. Hmm, I need to run with this marriage metaphor some more. Perhaps another post! (You’d get the inspiration credit.)

      And yes, it always is our choice. But I think that knowledge was making it harder on the woman I interviewed, because she knew deep down she was choosing not to stay focused on it.



    1. Oh my, it’s so funny how we can interpret things! If you needed this to be a “pow,” I’m glad it worked. I wanted to “pow” this artist when I interviewed her, but I think she already knew consciously where she was, or wasn’t. Ultimately we need to act ourselves, so I’m glad you are, Carole Jane!


  7. Corey Barenbrugge

    The activities that often consume our time don’t just restrict our time and draw us off-course, they also threaten to identify us in a vacuum. The pressure is often intense, for example, for me to allow myself to be consumed by my day job in order to build what most people would consider a successful career. While that’s alluring, I try to remain focused on the attributes I want in my life (i.e., autonomy and deep skill sets), even if writing takes a hit (which it currently is and has for a while; in fact, I haven’t truly committed myself at all at this point, which is something I’m struggling with).

    Of late, I’ve been studying deep practice, hard focus, willpower, and attention among other related subjects. I hope by incorporating these traits and activities in my own life I’ll be able to better harness my time and direct it toward rewarding and worthwhile activities. In that vein, I turned off all notifications on my phone (except work email and texts), and I’ve found I’m already spending much less time on my phone and more time reading.

    Where we focus is where our energy will be directed. Finding that energy and directing it is the ultimate struggle of the mind and heart interacting.


    1. “Of late, I’ve been studying deep practice, hard focus, willpower, and attention among other related subjects. I hope by incorporating these traits and activities in my own life I’ll be able to better harness my time and direct it toward rewarding and worthwhile activities.”

      Fascinating, Corey. Any other steps you’re taking other than the phone notifications? I do that as well, at least audio ones. I do it with email at work, too, the constant pings prevent me from concentrating. I’d love to hear more ideas I could do to focus on deep practice.


      1. Corey Barenbrugge

        I’m still thinking about what exercises I can adopt and how they will interact with my writing. I’ve had a couple of long-term (non-writing) projects I’ve put off in favor of thinking about writing (which always falls away to fretting about these projects). As a consequence I haven’t gotten much of anything done, so I plan to tackle those two projects first (hard focus) and then return to my writing in a couple of months. In the meantime, I plan to deliberately practice saying “no” to new projects!

        A great series from the Publication Coach blog was recently posted. I like her ideas about copying writers you admire (every day) and her suggestions for analyzing their writing.


  8. Pingback: Creativity Tweets of the Week — 10/12/12 | The Artist's Road

  9. dignitarysretreat

    A little late to this post, I admit, but I loved it! What spoke to me, especially, was the need to embrace your gift of creativity and to share it. This is something I was afraid to do for a very long time, but I kept getting drawn back into writing. My blog is a wonderful outlet for me and I often surprise myself with what I write. The discovery and cultivation of one’s creativity is a pleasure but it does take courage to share it. Great post (as always)!


    1. I really admire the way you’re opening yourself more in your blog; did someone suggest that to you? 🙂 I’m also glad you’re still at it; this blogging thing is easy to start, hard to maintain.

      Thanks for visiting again!


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