Instinct and the Muse

When I was reading and Chris Kastensmidt’s story this morning, I felt the touch of the muse. I haven’t written about the positive spark for a while, and I figured it might be time, especially since Maggie Stiefvater wrote about books that fed her as a writer, and I re-read my upbeat post right after Viable Paradise.

There are three topics that seem to me to be relevant here: identifying your muse, keeping your muse happy, and nourishing your muse.

How do you know your muse?

I believe that there are as many conceptions of the muse as there are creative sorts. I’ve heard the muse compared to a lion, to a beast, and to a moose. As I’m a Gemini, I conceive of the muse as the creative and whimsical side of myself. Artist!Cath doesn’t come out to play nearly as much as she should. Professional!Cath has to be relaxed and less stressed to make this happen, and Professional!Cath has a struggle with this.

How do I know Artist!Cath has come out to play? Well, when I’m writing, I’m having fun and delighting in what I’m doing. Words flow out easily, or it feels like channeling characters. The effort of creativity is not perfect, but it is enjoyable. Artist!Cath solves plot problems. Artist!Cath is giddy and fun.

I’m sure that your muse is something similar, a satisfying creativity that takes your artistic endeavor above the edit, and into that place where inspiration comes from.

How do you keep your muse happy?

I really think the way to keep your muse happy is to create every day. By that, I mean working on your art. In my case, it doesn’t have to be the physical act of counting up words. I can also research or plan, brainstorm or review. It’s like physical exercise. Once the habit is there, I’m more likely to miss doing it, and the more I write, the more chances I have to let Artist!Cath out.

I really have to keep Professional!Cath from tramping all over Artist!Cath’s agenda. Artist!Cath wants to play, experiment and plot. Professional!Cath likes to turn things into lists and polish things too soon. Once all of my projects become items on a list, that means that Professional!Cath is in the lead. It’s all good if and ONLY if Artist!Cath has been allowed to play. I have to teach Professional!Cath to wait her turn, because otherwise we can’t get the magic we need that makes special stories.

I think Artist!Cath knows what she needs via instinct. If a story isn’t working, Professional!Cath will keep swinging and slogging. Artist!Cath needs to go somewhere else, play for a while, and maybe she’ll be ready to come back to what needs doing after the break. I’m lucky, because I’m a very disciplined writer, and don’t start and leave lots of projects, but I could be a little easier on the goal orientation so Artist!Cath doesn’t get overshadowed by ProfessionalCath! as much.

Professional!Cath has to remember that it’s also okay to procrastinate and enjoy other things to replenish Artist!Cath’s creativity. Not to the extent that suddenly a book deadline looms large, but I know Artist!Cath has been wanting to sew for months. Professional!Cath said after the troll book, and Artist!Cath has been recalcitrant. Would the book be done by now if Professional!Cath hadn’t been such a jerk?

How do you nourish your muse?

Obviously, Artist!Cath likes to feel good and have fun, and like what she’s doing. I know she also likes to read delightful works. She watches shows and says that she would like her art to be like that. She looks at pictures and sees how her world should look. An active community of wonderful artists that are enthused about what Artist!Cath is creating is nice. (NOTE: Criticism is necessary later, when Professional!Cath gets to read the story. This is the place where Artist!Cath talks about cool ideas and figures out what the heart of the story is, with others enthused about her and their own writing.)

Recently, as Professional!Cath has needed to re-energize and heal, Artist!Cath has been guiding some of the relaxation choices. Little Dorrit and Bleak House remind me of the drama and feel that I would like my stories to take on. The drama in stories as diverse as Scott Westerfield’s Uglies, Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch, and Megan Whalen-Turners The Queen of Attolia is something I want readers to experience when they open my books.

Enjoying the work of artists I admire tells me what I want to give my readers–the same experience these writers give me. Artist!Cath seems to take a lot of subconscious notes along those lines.


From you, I’d be interested to hear about your concept of muse, if you have one. How do you keep the writing flowing? And the ideas? And how do you take care of your creative self?


Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

4 thoughts on “Instinct and the Muse”

  1. Like I said on Twitter, my muse is a part of me: I think of it as the part of my creative process that I don’t quite understand. I sometimes refer to my muse as Odin, the norse god of poetry, magic, and death (because it feels appropriate). He doesn’t give me ideas, but thinking about my process as a metaphor like that gives me the distance I sometimes need to find the problem I’m having – to fight off the block.

    I think of it as a relationship: I have to feed my muse by reading amazing books, by putting myself in situations to experience beauty. Because the feeling of beauty (that stab of longing when when I’m standing at the ocean or watching the sun rise) is the same feeling I get when I am doing something right with my writing.

    Also practice. Habit. My muse is as much of a habitual creature as I am, so although occasionally one or the other of us is tempermental, there’s still the butt-in-chair aspect of opening up to him.

  2. Hi Catherine, I just came across this post about your muse and enjoyed reading it! I wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek post about my muse last year: My Muse Strangles Me.

    I agree it’s important to feed your muse with regular creativity. And I can certainly relate to your discussion about the interaction between Professional!Cath and Artist!Cath. I find incorporating bursts of creativity throughout my days to be the best way to take care of my creative self and keep the writing flowing. These bursts include my own writing, spending time in nature, reading things that inspire me, and doing just about anything else that makes me feel fully alive. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    ~Sandy Ackers

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