Musings on the Craft of Writing

►Muses and Monsters

Novel writing is complicated, but not nearly so complicated as novel writers.  Creativity is a strange animal, and it leads authors in strange directions.  Recently I discovered Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, which is primarily about overcoming resistance and truly chasing the artist’s life.  It’s filled with many excellent insights, and I recommend it.  However, he does spend some time discussing his sincere belief in the ancient Muses and Daimons  and their influence over his own writing.  (In case you don’t know, this is tantamount to saying that you really do believe in Zeus, and that Apollo is really guiding you on a journey.)


And then last week I came across a Ted Talk where Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) makes similar claims of the guiding force of supernatural agents. Weird?  Well, yeah, but really this is no different than people believing that the “Holy Ghost guides them” in their projects, as some Christian artists assert.


“There was a daimon in me, and in the end its presence proved decisive. It overpowered me, and if I was at times ruthless it was because I was in the grip of the daimon.. . . A creative person has little power over his own life. He is not free. He is captive and driven by his daimon.”  -C. Jung


I highly doubt the veracity of any of those claims, but I can see the temptation to believe in such things.  As Gilbert notes, truly creative people are often tortured by their minds, frequently leading to dysfunction and suicide.  They have something that needs to be shared with the world, something that they truly feel they must fashion in order to find peace.  Their very raison d’être is their art. Some describe this as going into labor: It hurts beyond description, and yet it must come out.  At the same time, some feel that the creative process has a magical quality to it, that it’s “happening outside of them” (and/or “happening to them”).

As with most cherished (and needed) supernatural beliefs, it does little good to try and refute them.  (And why destroy those pet-beliefs anyway?)  But what about those of us who don’t believe that there are any “wall fairies” (Gilbert- Ted Talk) in our homes to guide our projects?

Hell if I know.  Sorry if you were expecting a silver bullet.

I can just tell you about my own personal solutions though.  What I have learned in my own life as a “troubled creative type” is that the more angst-filled and stressed I am, the worse everything is.  I’ve also learned that stress is something we, on some level, do choose and can mitigate.  This stress is a monster born (at least in some part) by the need to create.  That same monster crushes the life out of us.  Again, I can see how some supernatural agency would be a wonderful thing to believe: If I believed that a daimon or The Force was at work (and therefore, responsible) for my art, all kinds of angst may vanish.  For those of us who can’t make themselves believe in Zeus, we can still make ourselves relax.  It’s irrefutable that we can impose on ourselves a sense of calm.  The existential crises that seem to accompany the creative life, through a process of developed willpower and awareness, can be controlled.  Willpower/self-control have been studied for decades in the “lab,” and the results clearly show that these are controllable states of mind.  And, if you’re not a fan of Western scientific method, ancient monks have been doing it all over the globe for a few (thousand) years.


The bottom line: Belief that daimons/gods are involved in your art will lower your angst, leading to greater performance.  It could be true for all I know.  There are more things in heaven and earth… However, we don’t need these beliefs to gain the same result.  Even if the gods are non-existent or wholly uninvolved, being calm and clear slays some of the fattest trolls on the hill.












5 responses

  1. I don’t believe in muses, but your post almost makes me believe in synchronicity. (I just wrote a post along some similar lines.) I’m also a big fan of The War of Art. And The Art of War. Pressfield was recently on The Joe Rogan Experience. You may want to give the podcast a listen. It was a fun interview.

    November 20, 2013 at 9:47 am

    • Thanks, I will find it. I really enjoyed his War of Art book.

      November 20, 2013 at 4:13 pm

  2. Thanks for following me on Cold, Daniel.

    November 23, 2013 at 4:20 pm

  3. Ha! Nice! I wrote about this subject too in a newsletter. Just wanted to reach out through here and say thanks for liking my blog post, “Silence Between Writing.” Would love to stay connected!

    All best,

    December 8, 2013 at 2:39 pm

  4. Pingback: Drawing Stone | Through Fire and Dust

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s