April 28, 2011

Do You Have a Muse?

Time lapse photography of star trails and fireflies

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 Irvine

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Raelyn Barclay

Awesome post! I just adore that firefly image.

My muse is still finding their self, LOL, I’m not even sure of the sex of my muse! But I was always the daydreamer, getting sucked into other worlds and talking to the people populating those worlds, living a different life.


I have always believed in a ‘muse,’ a connection to a common conscious, sub-conscious. There have been many times I’ve looked for an answer, even to actual real life problems, not just those in my writing, and been able to grasp the answer from some unknown field, something that wouldn’t have occured to me.
My problem, and I see you have a blog on training your muse – I’ll be hitting that, is that my muse cycles. Usually fairly tightly, being available for three weeks out of the month with one week a struggle to create. Lately, I’ve gone through a longer, bigger dip. These come once or twice a year and last for a month, sometimes two. I never blame my ‘muse,’ but myself. My anxiety, my feelings, my damned distractions keep me from tapping into that beautiful source of ideas.
The drought is over though! The ideas are coming again!


I just call my muse what it is: my subconscious, and it’s quite normal for it to put things in my stories before I consciously realize why they have to be there. Like those two background characters who must‘ve had a kid together. Or that friend of the narrator who couldn’t be human, however much I thought she was—the hints to the contrary still came out in the drafting until I consciously realized what that friend had to be.

I wonder, though… That kind of thing tends to happen to me when the narrator doesn’t know what’s going on—yet. Could it be that I’m just so consciously entrenched in the narrative POV that I don’t bother to think through the things the narrator doesn’t know?


PW Creighton

I do tend to think of a muse as inspiration for ideas but internalizing, I generally let my consciousness flow freely. The only time my inner voice decides to pipe up is to apply the brain-to-mouth filter(sadly not often enough). I’m spurred by ideas, when something pops into my head it stays there until I write it down.


Hi Jami:

Well, as you pointed out, I don’t want to be comfortable with my work. I want there to be boundaries pushed, ideas I don’t agree with and statements made in my ms’ that I would never speak in real life. BUT, I want all those things to be real and authentic sounding – believable – and the only way to get there (IMO) is to disconnect and let those unlike-real-you-concepts flow free with no judgment attached.



I think it’s an excellent point that we have to respect our muse, whatever it is. How they seem to know the entire plot before we think of it, I’ll never understand, but you have to be willing to accept that “voice” inside of you and trust that things will come together.

Donna Cummings

I always joke that writing is 75% magic and 25% voodoo, because there is so much of it that happens without conscious thought. I can be thinking or analyzing or plotting, but the answers show up later, when I’m not concentrating on the solutions. It was frustrating until I learned that’s what the process is like for me. I also have my muse, who resembles Endora from Bewitched. She also doubles as my Inner Critic, which can be tricky trying to decide just which role she’s playing!

Michele Shaw

Oh, yay! We can have matching gowns at the asylum! My little buddy (muse, sub-con, inner mini-me…whatever you want call him/her) talks to me all the time. But I agree, I hear better when I have quiet in my outer and inner world, the words come easier. Although sometimes, during the busiest, loudest times, little buddy shouts at me because finding quiet just ain’t gonna happen…hence pen and paper on hand at all times!

N.M. Martinez

What a wonderful post. You’ve summed up exactly how I feel sometimes about my subconscious. I was actually thinking of doing a post on my subconscious and how she (along with my brain and gut) really help me write.

I don’t really think of her as a muse anymore. She’s just a part of me, sometimes a rogue, but mostly she’s like this quiet beast that hides in the background. Her food is knowledge and inspiring sources (like other books, comics, maybe even TV), and she lets me know what she wants by handing me a shopping list of things she’d like us to explore. Human evolution, the history of civilization, the big bang theory, palm reading.

And she also does this when it comes time to write. She finds these cracks in characters and stories, and she tells me something more is there. She’ll insist on it until I write, and she’s usually right. Even if it isn’t something that makes it into the story, it is something that adds another layer to the story I’m working on.

I consider her a very important part of the writing process.

Manon Eileen

I have a lot of muses, among which I guess my subconsciousness is part, because many of my story ideas come to me through my dreams.
But more often than not I’m inspired by places. Settings are very important to me. For instance, my muse is Venice, which returns in many of my ideas (but not all of them are executed of course). But in my current manuscript, Venice is the “main” city, sort of.

As I’m aware of the fact that places usually inspire me, I try to go different places and sit in a beautiful spot for a while and just… daydream. That usually gets me going.

Thanks for a great post 🙂

Peter Saint-Clair
Peter Saint-Clair

My mind is so sick and twisted, that most of the time, the ideas just pop in there…I don’t have to listen to anything but my normal thoughts, though maybe I should try out your way.

Mary Kate Leahy
Mary Kate Leahy

I don’t think I really have a muse. I think it’s just me…can one be so awesome they are their own muse? 😉 I don’t really question my ideas, I just let them come. Usually if I keep writing every day they keep coming. If I take a break then when I pick it back up again it’s rusty. Kind of a use it or lose it situation.

I get a lot of my ideas from my own dreams and music. I will dream whole scenes and see it like a movie, I even dream dialogue, and then I just write it down. It usually stays pretty much the same through the editing process. So I guess maybe my muse is Epona, the Celtic dream goddess.


This: “If I think of my muse like a person, I respect him like a person.” is gold. I didn’t think of my muse as a person for quite a long time until one day I actually envisioned her. She’s a character that I’ve written about, a starving girl with short brown hair and big eyes. She writes the more lovely parts of my work. I have another who wears combat boots and swaggers around a lot. She’s another character. If I think of these two, I know what type of voice and style I need. But it took me a long time to respect them. I’m good at squashing down what they’re trying to tell me because I’m too busy or it sounds too bizarre at the time. I treat myself like that, but would I do it to somebody else? No way!

Great, great post.

Roni Loren

This is a great post. I’m fascinated by the subconscious as well (one of the reasons I went to college for psychology.) And thanks for linking to me, btw. I’m definitely shy. Conservative–well, lol, maybe not so much. Just get a few drinks in me and that can go away quickly.

But I do agree with your advice to not judge or stifle your muse. The stuff I write about is dark, sexy, and at times boundary pushing. All the things lurking in the corners of your mind that you’re afraid to poke.

I remember when the idea for my book came to me and I was like–oh well, I can’t write THAT. I mean, do I really want to dig those ideas out of my brain and then air them in front of people? But I realized that if I judged the muse, I was just stifling my creativity. So I embraced his/her dirty and dark-minded self and it ended up being the book to get me the agent and deal. If I had scared myself off of it, I’d never have achieved what I’d be working for. So I wholeheartedly agree with letting your subconscious feel safe to rise to the surface sometimes. 🙂

Irene Vernardis
Irene Vernardis

Ok, brace yourself Jami. Can I disagree with you again or are you going to fly me out of here? :D. I’m not going to disagree, just kidding (I think). Quote: “I don’t believe muses are entities like those venerated in Ancient Greece.” Uhm, are you sure about this? How do you know? How do you know they are not still around weaving their grid which powers inspiration? 😀 Anyway, although the Muses are depicted as entities – goddesses, that was more to give an image and a name to various forms of inspiration. But maybe they are still around 😉 Your muse is male. Why “him” and not “her”? I don’t think it’s the subconscious. Actually, I’m not really sure that the subconscious exists, as it is defined. The mind has infinite capabilities, the only finite is how much of it we can use. It also has many functions. Two of them are logic and instinct. We use logic, but we follow (or not) our instinct. They are connected, because through logic we’ll choose to follow our instinct or not, but we can’t use instinct. However, instinct channels the vibes around us or from inside us (generated by people, nature, world, universe, etc.), more or less depending on the person. Those vibes, external and/or internal, and our interaction with them, trigger and generate inspiration. The more sensible we are to those vibes, the more inspired we will be (and not only inspired, but that’s another discussion) To conclude: In…  — Read More »

Gene Lempp

Classical Music is the key my “other mind”, Mozart, either Bach, some Beethoven and the muse is awake. I can hear her voice on drifting on the music at times, although I do admit that one thing I’ve been working hard on is getting the “practical guide me through the day voice” to quiet down enough to hear her.
I haven’t started talking to her much yet, although I know she has listened to me talk to myself. That is an interesting idea and one I’m going to pursue…I’ll try about anything to learn a new technique or trick 🙂
Thanks for another thought provoking post Jami, gonna go whisper back at my muse now 🙂


I came here via Ashley’s latest blog post. And I love your blog! I never thought about a muse in quite that way before, thanks for the different perspective.


Hey Jami,
I have never considered the idea of a muse before, but now I’ve read your article; a muse could be exactly what I’ve got. I agree that the muse is the subconscious part of your mind, it’s slightly worrying that mine is a bossy, know-it-all bitch. Uh oh. What does this say about me? Aha. It’s good to know that I’m not the only one who has conversations with theirselves.
My muse ends up imagining whole scenarious that are completely adverse to everyday life, often wandering off on tangents. Even before I started writing there were other people fighting for dominance in my head. For me my muse is a darker, prettier, other self, somebody who does whatever she wants, whenever she wants, and helps dream up ideas for me. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in two different places… yeah ok, I’m going to join you on the insane part.
The fireflies photo is gorgeous, and all this writing has made me want to go back to bossing round characters in my head. Thanks for this great post.

Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

It’s so perfect that you spoke about this today. I’ve been working on a paranormal romance that I’m loving writing. I’ve gotten more than halfway through and hit a wall (I’ve always been a seat of the pants writer, but I am learning that, for me, SOTP isn’t the best way. I’m sick of running into impassible concrete) so I’ve been taking time over the last few weeks to really delve deep into characterization, plot, GMC. I read Break Into Fiction by Mary Buckham and Diana Love cover to cover. It helped me like nothing else has so far! Anyhoo, in knowing my characters, plot, and GMC I recently (last night to be exact) realized that my first chapter and the inciting incedent is all wrong. I realized I not only need to re-write some sentences or a few paragraphs, but the whole sodding scene needs to be re-worked. The whole place, time, action needs to be re-done. Grrr. It’s one of those times when u hate 2 cut because u like the scene so much as is, but I know my duty. Slice and dice for the greater good, right? It’s just that my muse isn’t offering any advice. It’s like the chic is on vacation. I’ve emailed my crt partners and they’re scrambling to help, but so far nothing. I plan on taking your wise advice, “Free your imagination, turn down the volume on that nay-saying conscious voice, and let your muse explore possibilities. You never know where…  — Read More »

Kait Nolan

What lovely imagery. I like the notion of fireflies in the mind.

I definitely think that as members of the modern world, ESPECIALLY in America, we lead a lifestyle that makes it very easy to drown out that inner mental voice. We are constantly plugged in, constantly getting multiple sources of input from the internet, our smart phones, the TV, whatever. Americans as a whole are TERRIFIED of being still and quiet. I definitely have succumbed to that problem over the last several months and am only now getting back into a routine where I GET quiet and am starting to hear that inner voice again.

Great post!

TJ Hollingsworth
TJ Hollingsworth

I also see my muse as a separate person from myself. She is the twin of me only BETTER. She does and says things I (the timid creature hiding in the corner) would be terrified of. I do have a concrete visual image of her in a kinda graphic novel-y way. Physical description much like mine only she loves corsets and slinky slit-sky-high skirts, knee high ass-kicking boots and never goes anywhere without at least one weapon strapped to her thigh under that you-know-you’re-thinking-about-it slinky skirt. She doesn’t mind getting in fights, cursing, drinking, and hitting on whatever Hotness happens to cross her path and I know when I hear that evil chuckle in the back of my mind that MISCHIEF and MAYHEM are about to ensue. I have to take a leap of faith sometimes and trust her judgment. Just last week I was wrestling a serious case of writer’s block , begging for her help, and all she would give me was a sex scene. I refused. She insisted. So a broke down and wrote the scene. AHA! The scene itself may or may not make it into the story but it gave me a deeper insight into my MC and what makes her uncomfortable. Now I know what to do to show the MC’s emotional growth. Unfortunately, I now have to rewrite chapter one. Again. She loves doing that to me. I do get the benefit of her influence in my personal life occasionally. At parties. When…  — Read More »

Leigh D'Ansey

I don’t think of my muse as a person or as a single entity at all. There’s just always been a constant background ‘life’ going on, not in any way disturbing or intrusive, just there. It does, however, take real effort for me to draw on in terms of writing – to really delve into and bring those thoughts and ideas to the page.

I love the firefly imagery – hopping over to check that out now 🙂

Kate Kyle

Great post! You’re right, it’s the nay-saying conscious us who does not let us access our full creative potential.
I use ‘real life’ – real events, real people as a source of inspiration, but develop it talking it through with myself (I guess it’s the subconscious you’re talking about). It works best when I’m out and about walking, running, swimming, doing any kind of physical activity.

Ciara Knight

I’ve never thought of it this way. Although, I’ve always been teased that I live in another world. It sounds like my subconscious rules my life. I didn’t know what to do with it for years. Now, I’m no longer yelled at by teachers to pay attention. 🙂 Of course, now I’m much older and I appreciate my middle son’s focusing issues. It’s his muse ruling his life.


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