I recently discovered novelist Steven Pressfield’s non fiction work on resistance and creativity: The War of Art, Turning Pro, and Do the Work. If you are any kind of creative, these short volumes are necessary wisdoms for your craft. They are about the kind of resistance that holds us back. What would keep you from your voice, vision, power, inspiration, and getting it out into the world. In conversation with Pressfield, I want to talk to you today about protecting your creative process. And when I say that, I’m speaking of HARNESSING the process. Creating an awareness and an intention as to what happens and who shows up when we sit down to do the work, whether it’s writing, painting, composing, business building, any kind of innovative dream creation.
Now you’ve heard about “invoking the MUSE,’ a reference to the Odyssey, and a classical reference to the way many poems and great works begin throughout the history of western art. And the idea here is that it’s not us who is doing the creating, rather there is a force inside of us, an inner daimon, our genius, which is operating through us. That we are a vessel for this voice, potency, and vision.
So we have an experience of the MUSE. Maybe call it an experience of creativity.
I’m in a curious double relationship to the muse in that I am both a professional Muse for my clients, creating a safe, generative place for them to get their stories and ideas out onto the page, and that I have a muse in my own creative process. That “double” allows me to get a handle on Musing—because my professional Muse knows a lot that my relationship with my creative muse could benefit from.
The most important insight I’d like to share with you is this: when I function as Muse for clients, a portion of what I do is also play Bouncer.
What I mean here is that I, (with intention and frameworks), consciously create a place of safety and play at the writing table. Creative and generative ideas are all invited until we have form and structure. Negative, destructive, critical, and fearful ideas are immediately dismantled and bounced out. You’ll often hear me saying, “Ok, great—that’s the fear, let’s name it and see what it has to say to us, and then get it out of here.”
Now I’ve noticed that I’ll do this for my clients but I won’t do it for myself.
And it has me in somewhat of a naïve relationship to my Muse. A conversation I’m going to return to in a separate post.
For now, I want to introduce the idea that the Muse never shows up alone. And if you want to test this idea, think about how the muse shows up for you in your creative process?
The exercise for this is to think of a time when you were inspired to write, paint, compose, design, create. Describe exactly what happened. I’d like you to think of a time when you successfully let the idea seed and become a finished product and describe it. I also want you to think of a time when the inspiration came and you weren’t successful. What happened? What did you do? What was the conflict? How did you feel?
What I’m looking for in this exercise is noticing the difference between carrying the inspiration through to finish vs. what I know I do most of the time. I get stopped in my tracks. Sometimes I’ll seed the idea. I’ll write the essay but I won’t turn it into finished product. Sometimes I’ll just take notes on the idea. Sometimes I’ll see the idea and I won’t give it expression at all.
And what I want to talk about here is when we fail to bring the idea into fruition, into finished product, into the world. What is at hand in this experience? What’s going on here? What are we up against?
I think the Muse doesn’t show up alone.
That’s a naïve assumption. An old myth. Someone else’s sense that the creative process is all lovely and easy. An Angel come to whisper into your ear. A nymph dictating poetry with your job to take notes. This is a kind of fantasy about the process that I want to dispel.
I’ll say it again: when the Muse shows up she doesn’t show up alone.
I’ll tell you from my process and from guarding the process for my clients, she comes with a motely Entourage. This is the Entourage that Pressfield names as Resistance.
Here’s what the Entourage looks like. Some of them are quite handsome and full of seduction, both impossible to repel and banal: Distraction, Procrastination, all the things that I might be doing instead, emails, phone calls, walking the dog. Others are more directly sinister: Fear. Self Doubt. Self Loathing. Blame. Shame. “What if.” “Why I Can’t/or Won’t.” “When I’m in another place/space/when I feel better.” “When I know more.” “When I have the money or the resources.” “I’m not ready.” “It’s been said before.” “ The idea is too precious.” “The Idea is Ill formed.” "I need someone to help me." Sometimes it’s just a really icky feeling that I’ve got too much to say and I can’t possibly get it out and instead of trying, I give up.
When my Muse comes, so does this Entourage. And more often than not, I forget that the point of the visit was the Muse. That she in fact came to my writing room with a purpose. But I fail to discriminate. I choose to hang out with procrastination, fear, distraction, all the reasons why I am not showing up to do the work. I don’t see the Muse for the noise of her Entourage.
Now something my Professional Muse knows is part of the job of safeguarding the creative process is the Bouncer. He’s the one who stands at the door of the voices in our head and says, “Fear? No. Not you. Not today. Emails? No. Not you either. Later. Not Enough? We’ll talk to you about that another time.”
The Bouncer is the energy that DISCRIMINATES and blocks what doesn’t belong in your hallowed creative space.
I know I need the Bouncer and I need one who is healthy, strong, and wise, who can protect my process and allow the Muse to do what she does. To allow the Muse to get through to me at all with the gifts she came bearing.
Now later on, we’re going to talk about the relationship of the Muse to Resistance. So that we begin to understand that the function of resistance is inherent, that is necessary, to the creative process.
For today, it is enough to start to think about cultivating your Bouncer as necessary to the process of creativity.
And I'd love to hear from you. How does your Muse show up? Does the personification of an Entourage and Bouncer resonate?