It's a beautiful thought, that inspiration is a blessing, bestowed upon creatives by special individuals that enter our lives, sometimes fleetingly, bringing with them a spark that ignites and inflames our imaginations. They stand both in the shadows behind the writing desk and shine from the page. The muses. This week, we're asking whether our resident writers have a muse of their own.
Muses come and go. I think it’s the nature of most muses to be transient. If we take ‘muse’ at face value, then the men in my life do tend to make appearances and cameos in or inspire my work from time to time, both fiction and nonfiction. It’s a really natural thing, because we write what we know. Even in fiction, we are drawn to threads of truth. The people that evoke strong feelings within us - those people that inspire love, passion, pain, affection, fear, obsession - often get a little more than their equal share of our thoughts and when a writer focuses on something for long enough, it’s probably going to end up written down!
So write about the girl whose face you see in your dreams. Write about the boy you can’t have. Write about the person you loved for a day and never saw again.
A muse represents creative potential; a vessel brimming with urgency and ink. I encourage you to broaden your thinking from ‘Who is my muse?’ to ‘What are my muses?’, taking a very wide definition of ‘muse’. Think about anything that lights a fire inside you and draw inspiration from it. People, relationships, places, activities, feelings and objects; write what you know. Write the things that excite you, thrill you, terrify you, anger you.
Write the things that are straining at the membranes of your mind.
I’m not sure I believe in the idea of the muse. Or at least, I don’t believe that an artist has a person in their life from whom they draw all inspiration. When an artist claims that one singular woman is their muse, that all of their creativity is owed to them – that is a chat-up line.
That doesn’t mean, however, that we cannot be inspired by the people we have relationships with – be it platonic, romantic, sexual, or otherwise. Of course, we can. Whether it be your partner, your family, your friend – even a stranger in the street – as a writer, it is your job to find inspiration in those people. Because that is how we make our characters feel authentic. I am not ashamed to say I have plagiarised whole conversations verbatim that I’ve had with the people in my life, or I’ve heard on the bus, because real conversations between real people have substance. Not only can we use muses in this way, but we can also hold certain people in mind while we write and imagine that we are writing specifically for them. This helps us find the right words and tone for a piece, specifically in poetry. When I write poetry, I imagine that I am speaking the words aloud to somebody. If it is about love or heartache or something very intimate, then I write to my girlfriend. If the poem has more action, if it is angry or funny or it tells a good story, then I compose it as though I am on a stage in front of my friends and my Write Yorkshire peers.
Of course, a muse is much more than this. The central idea of what it means to have a muse is that they inspire creativity – they somehow reach into your soul or your mind and they allow you to pull out the good stuff and splash it on a canvas, or across a page, or punch it into word processing software. The thing is, when the miraculous happens and I am struck with inspiration and it runs through me like lightning and urges me to pull out a pen or the notes app on my phone – it isn’t always a person that has caused this reaction. It might be a line in a song, or a family of swans. It could be a change in the weather, or an old coin. Sometimes I find inspiration just standing in the shower with my eyes closed, letting words and images bounce around my head while hot water splashes on my neck. My point is, muses are everywhere, all around us – we just have to look for them, or at least open ourselves up and let them in.
My initial thought was that I don't have a muse. To me, a muse was a specific person that inspires an extended piece or a collection of works. But then I began to think more in depth about the concept of a muse and what it could actually be. Much like writing, I think a muse can be anything or anyone you want it to be. It's much more than just an inspiring person.
Let's start with my muses that are actually people though. I'm very lucky to say that I have many wonderful and inspiring people in my life who influence my creative work. My family are a huge inspiration, I often take pieces of them and put them into characters, or real life experiences I've had with them become settings for my poetry or stories. My incredible Write Yorkshire family definitely number among my muses, it's hard not to be inspired and influenced by such talented and lovely people. There are countless other people that I write about, or have seriously inspired pieces of my work, so these are just a few examples.
In a wider sense, I think some of my biggest muses are actually places. I very often can't stay away from writing about York or Norfolk, the two places I consider home above all others. The water of the Norfolk coast very often finds itself within my writing, just like the hustle and bustle of York does, or the beauty of the river that runs through it. It's impossible to not consider these places muses, they have such a huge impact on not only my creative work but also myself as a person.
I think it's important to remember that you don't necessarily need a muse, if the concept isn't something you love, or want to partake in then you don't have to. But for those of you that enjoy the idea, think of the most important influences in your life, that impact your works. You'll be surprised at what you might find to be your true muses.
Frida Kahlo said, “I am my own muse. I am the subject I know best. The subject I want to know better.’ To a point, I agree with this, as I tend to think that most writing is in some way autobiographical, and like Frida, we are all producing self-portraits, even if we writers are lucky enough to be able to disguise them a bit more easily.
However, I do have external Muses too. They are drawn from various places; my real life, my heroes and my subconscious.
In real life, my fellow writers are probably my main ones – I can’t write in isolation. I need to have someone in mind, whom I know I’m going to show my work to, and who will give me honest and supportive feedback. So, my husband, who is also a writer, and my colleagues on my Masters course are my current real-life Muses. They have infinite reserves of talent and patience, and I’m lucky to have them. I think it’s really helpful for a writer to have the support of other writers – you are baring your soul when you write, so you need to have people around you whom you can trust to be gentle with it, while also encouraging you to reveal it in the best possible way.
Then there are my fantasy Muses – the ones I wish to emulate but don’t even come within a million miles of. These are people whose art I have absorbed and hold as some kind of benchmark, but mainly it’s their attitude to their work that I most admire. Some of them are writers, but not all: Shirley Jackson, Vincent Van Gogh, Philip Larkin, Frida Kahlo, Stevie Nicks, David Bowie and Nina Simone. It’s not only what these people produced that inspires me, but their whole approach to making their art; industrious, focused, confident, honest and above all, serious. These Muses of mine weren’t buggering about, and I could do with a dose of that myself at times.
Lastly, there are the subconscious Muses. The ones who truly believed I would make it as a writer one day, and who now live in my head and cheer me on. So, my dear old Auntie Flo; my Dad; Mr Brooks, my old teacher - they seemed to think it was a given that I’d get into print, bless them. They’re the ones who get my fingers to the keyboard on the days (weeks, months) when it really does seem like a hopeless task.
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