Muses and Failure

Today we seem to make an intrinsic connection between a person and their creative output. For example, an author is hailed as a creative genius when they complete an epic or trilogy. The creativity was internal to that person, it was they themselves that created the thing. Which is the case. They put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard and hammered out the words.

The question I put to you is where did the idea come from. Where do all good ideas come from? In a movie I find dear to me, one of the characters who is an author suffering from writer’s block suddenly has a breakthrough. Another character asks how she came to this final detail of her masterpiece, and she said “it came to me.” Another character questioned how, and she replied something to the effect of “like all good ideas, it came to me suddenly and without method.” That may or may not be the exact wording, but the point is clear nonetheless.

Her breakthrough idea didn’t come from a rigid structure, nor did she attribute it to herself. The notion itself is very subtle, the idea ‘came to her’ as if someone else dropped the idea onto her doorstep like an orphan baby. In that moment she externalized her creativity. Which is somewhat the crux of this.

Where does creativity come from? Is it luck? Luck in this sense as the pithy expression goes: ‘when preparation meets opportunity’. Creativity can’t be luck, simply because the genesis of a spontaneous new idea is not the product of preparation. At least not to my mind. What happens following that can be luck, but that initial spark surely can’t be.

Where does it come from then? In ancient Greece, artist ascribed to the notion of muses. The terminology has stuck around, but the meaning has been radically altered. The ancient Greeks believed various muses inspired artists and other humans. Like literally, this mythical being gave you the ideas you were to create. It gets a little too hokey for my taste beyond that, but the genesis of new ideas was from external forces to them.

Today we still talk about finding our creative muse, but it is internalized. Our muse now lives inside of us and we have to let it out. And somehow if we don’t or can’t let it out, like when we have writer’s block, then we have failed in our creativity for that day. In ancient Greece an artist who could not start or complete a painting didn’t view himself has a failure, his personal muse just hadn’t finished giving him the idea. He was still a successful artist, just waiting for his muse to sing to him again.

Today, the muses sing, but we no longer think of them as external things, but we have internalized them. Our ideas come from us. We own them. However, this allows us to fall into a trap of self-judgment and failure. What if we aren’t coming up with creative ideas. What if we’ve been to our favorite awe-inspiring places, read our favorite books, studied the work of our role models, but nothing comes of it. We somehow judge ourselves as a failure.

Maybe not a total failure, but we’ve failed to come up with an idea when we really wanted to come up with one. I contend this is because we have fully internalized our creativity. We no longer accept that ideas can be spontaneous and that we need to search for them. Now I’m not saying that there are little invisible idea bubbles floating around waiting to pop into our heads when we bump into them. No. I’m saying the brain is a very complicated thing and we need to give it a little more space and a little more respect. The ideas we want so desperately to have, are in there somewhere.

Just like the author character in the movie said, “like all good ideas it came to me suddenly and without method.” So, keep thinking, but stop judging. You are not a failure just because the idea hasn’t come to you yet. Your personal muse is still inside your head, but the complex cares of today bog it down, plus you need to stop yelling at it to get the creative juices flowing. Give it time and the ideas will come to you…suddenly and without method.

By Phillip

Phillip is a dad of three boys married to a beautiful dedicated woman. An aspiring artist and science fiction author. He has been an IT professional for the past 15+ years. He is currently working on a full-length sci-fi novel, but he also makes small drawings/watercolors for his school-age son's lunchbox and occasionally pretends to be a comedian. He also still struggles with putting two spaces at the end of sentences.