Vikk Simmon's, on his excellent site, Down The Writer's Path, recently wrote an article, "What is Your Relationship With You Muse?"
Far too many writers are content to play the romantic courtier languishing on the sidelines while waiting for even the briefest glimpse of their Muse, the supposed supplier of their creativity. They love being caught up in the moment, dancing among the glorious stream of words only to fall exhausted at their Muse's feet. When they wake, their Muse has vanished. Distraught, they sit and pine.
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy defines "muse" as, "Nine goddesses of classical mythology who presided over learning and the arts. They were especially associated with poetry. Ancient Greek or Roman writers would often begin their poems by asking for the aid of the Muses in their composition. Writers and artists to this day speak of their “muse,” meaning their source of inspiration."
It's time to kill the muse, an over-used, rhetorical device that gives writers an excuse to avoid doing what we should be doing--writing. There are no goddesses who bestow some magical power that allows words to flow from our fingers. We know that, yet we continue to use the word, and words have power--in this case, I would argue negative power.
I responded to his post by suggesting a third path I laughingly call it my rhetoric machine...others would call it the unconscious. Scientists have determined that over 90% of our mental processes occur at the unconscious level--and these are sophisticated machinations. The unconscious is where we form judgments, values, opinions, evaluate our world, decide what is dangerous or safe, and even form behaviors. The bizarre thing is that we rarely have awareness of what's going on there.
All of us have had the experience of watching words appear on the page as if by magic having no idea where they came from. Well, they come from the unconscious lying outside our awareness.
Whether I'm writing fiction or non-fiction, I've developed a deep trust in my unconscious to lead me into surprising and wondrous realms that are as much as surprise to me as the reader. I may have a conscious idea about the theme of a book, characters, and plot lines, but almost never does it work out the way I intended. New themes and characters emerge unbidden, plot lines get twisted and sent along mazes I only can hope my unconscious is smart enough to get through.
(O.k., this is arrogant stuff for an unpublished novelist, but the same holds for my business writing, and I've been very successful in that field using the same techniques. For example, I cannot write from an outline. A VP used to demand outlines of speeches I wrote for the CEO. I'd write and edit the speech until it was ready, then do an outline and give it to her. She finally caught on and gave up.)
The verbalized theme of the current novel I'm trying to pitch to agents didn't really emerge until 3/4 of the way through the book. It's Thoreau's quote, "Most men live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." When I found that as I was doing research for a scene, I thought it the saddest statement I'd ever heard. Most of us have heard the first line, but I'd never heard the second. But I also realized that that quote had been driving the entire novel, even though I'd never heard of it.
If you're not writing, it's not because your muse has abandoned you. More likely, you've let the outside world distract you to the point where you don't write, where your unconscious is so wrapped up in garbage that the rhetoric machine is unheard.
There are no muses. I would suggest that that's a dangerous concept for a writer, as if the inspiration came from somewhere else. There are only the wild and mysterious ways of the unconscious just waiting for permission to be released.