In the words of Sander Cohen, respectable citizen of Rapture, a muse is a fickle bitch with a short attention span.
Though Sander’s muse may not be the most attentive and regular visitor, that isn’t because she is fickle, he simply doesn’t know how to treat her right.
He fragments his attention between several different projects. He is focussed on his audience instead of on the muse, and he is too preoccupied by anger, fear, and every other emotion in the spectrum, to pay attention to his muse at all. Worst of all, he makes someone else do his creative work for him.
A muse is not fickle, and her attention span is usually anything but short, but she is a jealous and demanding creature. If you want her to become a central and recurring part of your life, you need to invite her, make her feel welcome, and lastly you need to make her feel so appreciated that she wants to come back to you. In other words, you have to court your muse.
The most important thing to realize is that once she has arrived, your muse wants to be the center of your attention. She wants you to eliminate all distractions, and to focus only on her.
If your muse has left you, or if she seems very willing to give you space lately, let me give you some advice on how to get back into her good graces. Keep in mind that since I am a writer, the more practical portion of my advice may not apply to you if you are not, but the theory should be as universal as it is solid.
If you write on a computer, take a moment to install a writing program that takes away all your distractions. If you are on a Mac, install Writeroom, and marvel at the solid black background, and the sleek interface. For Windows users, like myself, Darkroom offers the exact same functionality.
I run a Linux distribution, Ubuntu 7.04, on my laptop, and have not yet found a Linux application out there that offers the same thing, so I am using a work-around of sorts; I have made some changes to the text editor that came with my Ubuntu 7.04, Gedit. The background has been set to solid black, the font to pale purple, and I have hidden the tool bar, and maximized the window. Not quite as smooth as Darkroom is on my Windows PC, but it gets the job done.
If anyone out there knows of a native Linux application that mimics the functionality and interface of Writeroom, I would very much appreciate a link.
Before you start writing, close your browser. In fact close all other applications except one (we’ll get back to which one later), to avoid the temptation of tabbing back and forth between the windows. Turn off your IM client, your RSS feed, and and your email notifications. Actually, if you’re on a notebook, go ahead and disable the wireless altogether. You don’t need it right now, and it distracts you from the muse. She doesn’t want to share you with Digg anymore than your partner wants you to keep trying to watch TV while you’re making love.
Now that you have removed all visual distractions, you are a quarter of the way there. Next is to get rid of all those things that take place everywhere around you, and that hover just at the outside of your perception and nags you to turn around, just briefly, to see what’s going on. I’m referring to the TV downstairs, the conversation in the next room, the loud music from your neighbors, in short, I am talking about sound.
Sound is deceptively good at distracting and fragmenting our concentration, and when that happens our focus slips away from the muse and back to the movie that is playing on the TV below. Fortunately, there is a very easy solution for this: Listen to other sounds.
Install a good media manager on your computer, and create a playlist for when you sit down to write. The media player is the only thing that should be running on your computer, aside from the word processor, when you write. What kind of music you listen to is not as important, whatever you like and whatever shuts out every single distracting sound from the world around you, is perfect. My primary writing playlist consists of a lot of metal and gothic rock, my secondary plays classical music.
Listen through earphones. Speakers are all well and good, but they don’t isolate you from the sounds of the world. Plug in your headphones, and keep the volume at whichever level is loud enough to shut everything out, yet soft enough to be pleasant.
There is one more thing you need to do, before you can guarantee your muse the complete privacy she needs. You need to let your room mate, spouse, child, pet, or any other creature living in your home, know that when you write, you want to be alone. All the Darkrooms and earphones in the world are useless if someone suddenly walks in to ask you if you remembered to buy toilet paper when you went to Costco last night. Ask for privacy. I should not have to tell you to ask nicely, or to be willing to explain why you need it.
Now, the forth and last piece of advice I have is that you make it easy for your muse to find you, and show her that you will be there when she comes looking for you. She doesn’t just want to just date you, she wants a committed long-term relationship, and she wants to be able to count on you to show up when you’ve asked her out.
Make writing a part of your routine. Sit down to write at the same time every evening. It doesn’t matter if you can only do it once a week, though if you can’t do it very often you need to rethink whether you really want to have a relationship with a creature as demanding as a muse.
But if you can promise your muse that you will be in front of your computer, earphones plugged in and word processor open, by 8:00 PM every Thursday night, and spend at least two hours with her, you will eventually begin to find her there at that time, every week, impatiently waiting for you with countless new ideas that she can’t wait to share with you.
Court your muse. She’ll reward you with life-long loyalty and endless inspiration, and she will help you achieve things you never thought possible because she wants to inspire you. She just needs to be convinced that you want her there with you, every step of the way.