All writers get their ideas from somewhere. The question is—where, or what, is that somewhere?
I don’t believe muses are entities like those venerated in Ancient Greece. However, when my subconscious comes up with things I never saw coming and never could have consciously created in a million years, it’s easy for me to understand why the Ancient Greeks thought something outside of their experience was the source of their inspiration.
From a psychological perspective, I find the muse concept and subconscious mind fascinating. Our entire self-image is based on that running internal monologue we hear from our thoughts, but our brain is so much more than just that conscious aspect. We aren’t who we think we are.
Just ask the erotic romance author, who’s conservative and shy in real life. Or the sweet mother-of-two who writes horror. Or my original critique partner, who doesn’t want to be comfortable with her work. Our writing comes from someplace outside of what we think of as us.
When I first started writing, I tried explaining to non-writers where I got my ideas. The closest I got was telling them that if I was very quiet, if I turned down the volume on that stream-of-consciousness mental voice, I could make out the whisper of my subconscious.
That’s why I treat my subconscious like an entity, talking about my muse visiting me in the shower or me dragging him out of bed to get to work, because I-me is my conscious thoughts and my muse is an entirely different voice, a not-me. This approach has helped my writing in that I’ve learned to tune in to that voice.
Call me insane—no really, go ahead—but I’ve trained myself to tune in to that subconscious voice so well that I have full-blown conversations with my muse. As I mentioned in the comments of my last post, I always have a brainstorming buddy because I’ll just talk to myself.
It’s almost as good as talking to an actual person because my muse is so much not me. For one thing, he’s male and I’m definitely not. *grin* But he’s also better at themes and symbolism and big picture stuff than I am.
If I think of my muse like a person, I respect him like a person. Which means I don’t try to make him change, stuffing him into a constrained box of “what’s acceptable.” I let him explore ideas I’d never consider.
I follow where my muse leads and he hasn’t misled me yet. Some of his decisions for incorporating this wording or that concept didn’t make sense to my conscious mind until years later. No kidding—years. I’m slow sometimes.
Me: So that’s why you wanted her to react that way. Him: Took you long enough. He loves those conversations, the smug little ba— *ahem*
I often wonder if those who think they aren’t creative simply can’t turn down the volume of their conscious mind. Who could think out of the box with a voice saying, “That’s stupid” or “That doesn’t make any sense” drowning out their ideas?
I loved the post by my friend Todd Moody about freeing the fireflies of our imagination, because that’s fantastic imagery for our subconscious. Fireflies flit this way and that, illuminating such a small area that we can’t see the size of the meadow.
Our muse gives us seeds of ideas, and we can’t see how they’ll all fit together at first. But when the pieces come together as a whole, it’s magic.
Almost every visitor to the Phoenix Art Museum has the same favorite exhibit: You Who are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies by Yayoi Kusama. Seriously. I won’t describe it here because nothing can do it justice. The exhibit captures that sense of infinite wonder that exists in outer space—and our subconscious.
Free your imagination, turn down the volume on that nay-saying conscious voice, and let your muse explore possibilities. You never know where they’ll lead you.
Do you think of your subconscious as a muse? Does your muse cooperate if you let them take the lead? What techniques do you use to tap into your subconscious?
Photo credit: Steve IrvinePin It