“There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement kind of guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you. Do you think it’s fair? I think it’s fair. He may not be much to look at, that muse-guy, and he may not be much of a conversationalist, but he’s got inspiration. It’s right that you should do all the work and burn all the mid-night oil, because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic. There’s stuff in there that can change your life. Believe me, I know.”
― Stephen King
I can’t tell you where to find your muse-guy. It might be a corner-booth in a crowded bar. It might be in your own house, in your own bed, as you struggle to fall asleep.
You might even find your muse in the subway, as you ride home after work.
Stranger things have happened.
I can tell you only that when you find this muse, every civilized instinct in your soul will disappear. You’ll suddenly feel this itch, impulsive as hell, a complete disregard for rules or consequences.
You will want to create something of your own. You will want to do what you can, with whatever’s at your disposal at that moment. Right there, right then. If you have to write your story on a piece of napkin, so be it. If you have to sketch on your phone, fine.
When you find your muse, you will feel yourself becoming addicted to the promise of doing work you hope could last forever.
The goal isn’t to live forever. We all die. We all know that. The goal, however, is to create something so beautiful, almost as beautiful as the things we can imagine, and then hope it’s going to last forever in the hearts and minds of everyone else.
However, it is of utmost importance that you go home. Seriously. Go home and get to work.
When you find your muse, listen to the voice of inspiration. You won’t be able to sleep anyways. You might feel the need to pick up smoking, or some other bad habit. The side-effects of inspiration are often teeth grinding, a loss in appetite, and taking longer than usual showers, so you can brainstorm until the skin on your fingers gets all wrinkled.
“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” — Aristotle
There’s a myth about Michelangelo working on the Sistine Chapel.
One day, someone was watching the Italian artist spend an insane amount of time laboring over a small, hidden corner of the chapel’s ceiling.
Surprised by Michelangelo’s persistence to make that obscure corner as perfect as possible, they asked the artist who would ever know whether it was perfect or not.
Michelangelo replied, “I will.”
Even though the great Renaissance artist considered himself to be a sculptor, and wasn’t a big fan of painting, he did however have a deep love for the act of creation, regardless of the medium.
Another popular myth about Michelangelo is the fact that, even at the age of 82, a master of the arts, he was proud to admit that he was still learning.
The process was his reward. The creative journey interested him, far more than reaching the destination.
In our pursuit of success, we often focus mostly on the end result. Ironically, by doing that, we either neglect the journey because we want to get there as fast as possible or we simply obsess on making the end result as perfect as possible.
Either way, we forget to enjoy the journey, and in effect, we lose our desire to even reach the destination.
In the sixteen years since I wrote my first story, I’ve published five books, thousands of blog posts, and written a billion or so words that I later deleted.
When I first got started, one of my biggest fears was that I’d run out of ideas. I was concerned that I would burn out, that there won’t be any stories or words left in me. This doomsday scenario would play in my brain, over and over again, and for this reason I became a hoarder of… ideas.
Oscar Wilde once said that, “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”
Writing as an art can’t be taught, and even though Creative Writing courses and workshops undoubtedly help writers grow, writing is a solitary process, and it’s up to each individual to reach within the confines of his mind for answers.
Writers are unique to the extent that even if someone would try to replicate the same career a fellow writer had, he would most likely fail to achieve the same success. A lot of factors come to play in this, including luck, and blindly following a writer’s advice is not the most suitable of actions. What worked for him might not work for you. Instead, you should absorb the rules others have used before you and change them according to your own style and needs.
There are no maps to guide you in this journey. All you get are some folks who are more than happy to help you find your way from time to time.
I think I wrote and published well over a million words by now. Probably even more. Who knows? Who cares?
After all, the blank page that I have to fill right now with words doesn’t care about my previous articles, short stories, or novels. All it cares is that I transform its emptiness into something worth someone’s time.
This is what being creative means: to turn the white page, the blank canvas, the empty document into something by sheer power of will, which is, at times at least, quite a painful process.
And don’t believe anyone who tells you that being creative can be effortless. They are trying to sell you something, whether it’s an e-book or e-course.
Anyways, here are some tips and tricks on being creative. It’s not going to make the process effortless for you, but it’s going to offer you a bit of clarity, which I’ve found to be extremely useful especially when you’d much rather bang your head against your desk than write another word.
In 2009, during an interview, radio host Ira Glass shared rare insights into what it means to be a creative. The kind of insights that are just at the edge of our mind’s peripheral vision; he managed to pull into focus an often overlooked element about the act of creation.
What drives us to create in the first place is not a desire to play god, but rather our hunger for art.
“Nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish somebody had told this to me — is that all of us who do creative work … we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, OK? It’s not that great. It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste — the thing that got you into the game — your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you, you know what I mean?” — Ira Glass
He later goes on to make his most valuable contribution: the most important thing that you can do as a creative is to produce a huge volume of work until you become good enough to create work of the same quality as the art you consume.
You bridge the gap between the art you produce and the art you admire by producing as much work as possible.
It is true, and this particular insight has become almost myth, being written about over and over again by countless creatives.
Yes, the advice to do more work applies to almost all areas of life, but there’s something that we often take for granted: killer taste is not so easy to develop.
In my younger, more vulnerable years, I used to keep a list of all the books I read. I took pride in this, took pride in counting how many books I read in any given year.
I was one of the few who liked to read. It was a secret pleasure of mine, but as soon as I hit the thousand books milestone, it’s lost its charm to me forever.
Maybe I’ve read twice as many books so far, maybe I’m not that good at counting anymore.
In any case, there are billions of words I’ll never get to read. Millions of books, stories, poems, plays, and essays that I’ll never even know about.
I do my best to read two books a week, and if I were to keep this up until I turn 75, I will have read an additional 4, 700 books. Give or take a few, because I’ve stopped being good at math in sixth grade, when I decided that all I wanted out of life was to write stories.
Maybe it sounds like a lot, but it’s not. It really isn’t.
J.D. Salinger once wrote, “Do you know what I was smiling at? You wrote down that you were a writer by profession. It sounded to me like the loveliest euphemism I had ever heard. When was writing ever your profession? It’s never been anything but your religion. Never. I’m a little over-excited now. Since it is your religion, do you know what you will be asked when you die? But let me tell you first what you won’t be asked. You won’t be asked if you were working on a wonderful, moving piece of writing when you died. You won’t be asked if it was long or short, sad or funny, published or unpublished. You won’t be asked if you were in good or bad form while you were working on it. You won’t even be asked if it was the one piece of writing you would have been working on if you had known your time would be up when it was finished.
I’m so sure you’ll get asked only two questions:
“Were most of your stars out? Were you busy writing your heart out?”
If only you knew how easy it would be for you to say yes to both questions. If only you’d remember before ever you sit down to write that you’ve been a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to read if he had his heart’s choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself. I won’t even underline that. It’s too important to be underlined.”
Overall, I believe this is some of the best writing advice ever written. But I’d like to analyze the hell out of this paragraph, and tell you what I think about writing being either a profession or a religion.
First of all, writing is both at the same time. It has to be, if one wishes to be productive.
After all, my writing mantra has been, “Punch the damn keys.”
I say nothing about being inspired, having the time, or the planets being aligned in just the right way. I say nothing about other commitments, or chores, or the fact that you have to go grocery shopping.
I say, punch the damn keys, because, ultimately, that’s what makes you a writer. It’s as simple as that.