Sing, O Muse

(Posted by Laurel Halbany)

I envy Jane Yolen. All right, yes, because she’s a prolific writer of astounding talent, and I’m a very beginning writer of questionable talent, that goes without saying: but also because her Muse is gentle and kind.

Backtracking: of course there is no such real, tangible (or even intangible) thing as a Muse. They’re a metaphor from Greek mythology, a way to describe the creative inspiration that seizes us, where an idea illuminates the brain like cloud lightning and says: Write. Draw. Dance. Do this thing, now, and do it this way, or it will possess you until you make it real.

The Greeks knew there was more than one Muse. There were nine, by their count, but I think there are more, and perhaps we all get the Muse we deserve. Jane Yolen muses on her Muse:

The Muse is an ornery creature and rarely comes when called. She wears feathers in her hair and birkenstocks on her feet and is often out in the woods when you are home at your keyboard.

But sometimes when you are writing, and are so concentrated on what you are doing that you pay her little heed, she comes into the room, looks over your shoulder, and breathes softly in your ear. It is a tickle, like baby’s breath, and could be mistaken for a shift in the internal wind in the room.

Mine is not so kind. She has a tendency to interrupt me when I have other things I need to be doing. She knows her power and she wields it as she pleases. I think when I struggle with what she wants, she finds it funny. She’s cruel and capricious and impossible to resist.

“Write about that Lesbian Avengers party,” she says, “not the real one, where you danced, but a different party where two women slip away for a very private meeting. Talk about what it’s like to kneel in front of a new lover and have nothing in your mind but bringing her pleasure.”

“I didn’t get laid at that party,” I say. She leans over my shoulder, her mythical and metaphoric breast brushing against me. She slides her fingers into the soft hair at the base of my neck, and yes, she breathes softly in my ear, her breath as warm and dangerous as the wind before a storm.

“Tell them,” she whispers, and I do, and “Girl Ascending” was bought by a real publisher and printed in a real book, for money, my very first professional fiction sale.

She sits in the imaginary office chair across from mine and curls her elegant legs up beneath her. She holds her long fingers up to make a square, like a director framing a shot. I pay attention: she rarely talks with her hands. “Here’s what you see,” she tells me. “There’s a man, handcuffed to a chair. He’s surrounded by other men, professional men, from the Mafia or something like it. He’s going to die. They’re waiting with him, because they’re not going to kill him. They don’t hate him, so they’re comforting him before the awful thing happens.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” I say. “Why don’t they just shoot him? What are they waiting for?”

She uncoils herself from the imaginary chair and bends over me. I inhale, expecting perfume, but she smells like nothing at all. Her lips brush my ear.

“You know,” she says, “or you will know. Tell them.” And The Black Seal printed “Admission” it its fiction supplement, Five Million Years to Earth.

I don’t pretend she gives me talent or good language skills. Those are my department, not hers. Inspiration is her game. Sometimes she shows up when I barely have a minute to breathe; sometimes she goes away for long stretches of time, leaving me to spend my limited writing time putting commas in and taking them back out.

But when she deigns to drop by, I forgive her every time. “Tell them,” she whispers, and I do.

18 Comments on “Sing, O Muse”

  1. Mine is a auburn-haired Scot in a kilt. With a sword. Drunk most of the time, or absent on some clan fight. But when he’s here, he makes me invent hot men. I have some suspicions about that point, lol.

    But I can cope with him. The Internal Editor, skinny little bastard in a grey suit, and the plotbunnies are the real problem. ;)

  2. Y’all have Good muses. Mine’s an Eeeeevil Muse, I never see her, I just hear her in the back of my head, muttering, whispering, telling me to write awful awful things that’ll blind my readers and drive them into the bowels of insanity with its sheer badness *nodnod*

  3. I remember reading Stephen King’s description of his muse – a fat, balding guy who smokes cigars and drinks all the beer. (This must really piss King off. Stops drinking and still has to by his muse beer.)

    I realized at that point my muse was a foul-mouthed, red-haired anorexic hippy chick who smokes an incredible amount of weed. I make her bring her own, though, as I’ve never smoked the stuff.

    She must love my upstairs neighbors.

  4. Oh, do I relate to this entry. I was musing on this subject in my own blog a while back: I totally personify the creative force as a female muse, but a relatively impersonal one. She certainly doesn’t hold my hand or direct me in any way–like you said, she gives me the inspirational light bulb moment(s), but what I do with the inspiration(s) is of course my own *#@(! problem, in terms of actually using my craft and creating something from what she gave me. I don’t think she even knows my name. Hussy. ;)

  5. Mythago, has your book Girl Ascending been released yet? I wasn’t able to locate it on Amazon, and Google was fruitless. Who’s the publisher? It sounds like something I’d like to read.

  6. Great post. My muse was once a mellow and gentle creature, as well, but after a weekend off she discovered her sadistic tendencies.

    She doesn’t breathe into my ears anymore; she holds inspiration out like one would hold a carrot in front of a donkey. “Write a little more,” she says, or “think about that for a moment.”

    “But I’m at work,” I protest, or “I’m tired/lazy/occupied.” She just grins and starts to put inspiration away, invariably causing me to call out to her again. “Wait,” I say, “I’ll do it.”

    And when I do it, and my fingers tremble, and my sweat gets bloody, then she smiles her most capricious smile and tosses me the inspiration like a rotten fruit. “Well done, boy,” she says, and turns away, bored now. And I thank her profusely, because suddenly, it all makes sense. There’s a blinding flash and my path is illuminated from then on. I know the way. I still have to walk it, write my along the path, but still.

    My muse is my mistress, and I love her for it. But I also kind of hate her :-)

  7. My muse is a shy redhead with a mischevious streak, crouching in a dark corner of my mind, scribbling at my synapses with sharpened fingernails, stained with the blood of her enemies. Too bad her enemies include Motivation and Productivity.

    When she’s feeling cooperative though, she can be quite loveable, thought still a tease. Last week she convinced me it was time to start work on our second book while people are reading over the first. The first dozen pages are great. Then she decided to disappear for a few days. When she started strumming those neurons again she whispered all sorts of wonderful things about the overall picture of the book — major plot points, the ending, the progression of the half of the book, but when i asked her about the beginning, she simply laughed and dove into the shadows.

    It’s been a few days, and i’m trying to will her out of hiding, while at the same time concealing the collar and leash, that she for some reason submitted to during the creation of the last half of the first book, behind my back.

  8. A true muse infuses art and creativity. She awakens your soul’s desire while she illuminates it. Her seductive grace reveals realms beyond those you know in your tangible world. Her trues whisperings will nourish your imagination. She has a gift for prophecy so you should listen when she visits you with her guidance. Do not fear her or idolize her but respect her and she will light your way out of darkness like the moon in a night without stars. To learn more, visit my web site at or my online journal at to the sections with links and explore the sites I have referenced…Perhaps your relationship with your own muse will improve! Golightlymuse, Faerie Muse Emelin


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