Invocation to the Muse
How often has this happened to you?
You're in the shower and 'bam' - a remarkable plot idea strikes you. Or you're on a long beach walk and 'bam' - a new character who is just perfect for your book appears magically just at the right moment.
Often you were thinking of something else entirely, or simply daydreaming. It's amazing how frequently these mysterious episodes happen.
Some authors, deep in the creative phase of writing, say they feel as if they are just taking dictation from some outer source. The work doesn't feel as if it is even theirs.
Where do these creative, seemingly out-of-body, ideas come from?
Some believe that there is an outer force - perhaps a collective consciousness - where the ideas already exist and are just waiting to be channeled through a perceptive individual. Some believe in gods or angels or some other supernatural beings who serve this purpose.
Personally I believe that these ideas start as iterating patterns in our subconscious where our neurons are constantly being stimulated by mental inputs of all kinds. They are primed to cascade into a perceivable connection by our thinking in general terms about them ("I need a plot idea" or "I need a new character"). When the appropriate connections from all the inputs finally cascade into an actionable pattern, the idea appears. It feels magical, but it is merely an astounding brain function. But there is no doubt that some people have the knack - inherited or nurtured - to bring the ideas to the surface. This is part of what we call 'talent'. But there is no doubt that this ability to create can also be nurtured systematically.
Steven Pressfield, who is best known for his book Gates of Fire, believes in the possibility of an unseen Power who channels creative inspiration.
In that spirit, he starts out his day by by reading the Invocation of the Muse from Homer's Odyssey. (The nine Muses from Greek mythology are the immortal daughters of Zeus and are the goddesses of the arts, literature and sciences. They are the embodiment of the arts and have been the inspiration for artists, poets and writers from the time of the Greeks. Many of the ancient poets and writers felt that inspiration came directly from a Muse.) An Invocation to the Muse is a request for help from one of the Muses and was a convention used in epic poems.
The following serves as Pressfield's daily Invocation to the Muse:
From The Odyssey of Homer translated from the Greek by T. E. Lawrence
O DIVINE POESY
GODDESS-DAUGHTER OF ZEUS
SUSTAIN FOR ME
THIS SONG OF THE VARIOUS-MINDED MAN
WHO AFTER HE HAD PLUNDERED
THE INNERMOST CITADEL OF HALLOWED TROY
WAS MADE TO STRAY GRIEVOUSLY
ABOUT THE COASTS OF MEN
THE SPORT OF THEIR CUSTOMS GOOD OR BAD
WHILE HIS HEART
THROUGH ALL THE SEA-FARING
ACHED IN AN AGONY TO REDEEM HIMSELF
AND BRING HIS COMPANY SAFE HOME
VAIN HOPE—FOR THEM
FOR HIS FELLOWS HE STROVE IN VAIN
THEIR OWN WITLESSNESS CAST THEM AWAY
TO DESTROY FOR MEAT
THE OXEN OF THE MOST EXALTED SUN
WHEREFORE THE SUN-GOD BLOTTED OUT
THE DAY OF THEIR RETURN
MAKE THE TALE LIVE FOR US
IN ALL ITS MANY BEARINGS
"Make the tale live for us in all its many bearings..."
That's the goal of all storytellers and that is the heart of what we are asking of the Muse.
I believe Pressfield's daily practice primes his brain to be open to subconscious patterns (created by his meticulous research and hard work) which convert into inspiration. (You can read his discussion of creativity and the Muse in his wonderful book The War of Art.) Believing you have a supernatural ally in the daily battle against resistance (which usually shows up as writer's block) certainly doesn't hurt."
Although I don't believe in any supernatural source of ideas, I like the idea of invoking the creative spirit within me to help win the day's writing challenges.
To that end, I’ve written my own version of an Invocation which I keep posted on a virtual ‘Sticky’ on one of my computer monitors.
Dearest Muse, "I don’t know if you are a habit, mind state or a divine Goddess, but I come to you as a supplicant, humbly asking for your gift of the spark of inspiration. Ignoring my old friends Resistance and Fear, breathe life into my writing, I beseech thee. I commit to the mystery of the creative fire. I bring to you my intent of opening to your creative guidance. As for myself, I gird myself as a writing warrior and commit to total effort in the present moment with no fear and no expectation of future rewards. I will foster a patient mind, open and aware. Oh, Muse, I understand your ways are beyond the ken of mortal mind. I expect nothing—but I place myself in your graces. Every day I will come to the writing place and begin. Writing with professional intent and discipline, but always receptive to your gifts. With deepest love and respect, your obedient servant.
Yeah, I know. Homer I ain't...
But I find the Invocation soothing and perhaps even healing. And I seem to find enough creative ideas from the unknowable source to improve my work. Who knows? Perhaps this Invocation thing works.
And when the Muse (supernatural or natural) does appear, be sure you get the inspiration down somehow. It often comes as just a fuzzy wisp of an idea. If you don't capture it, it's gone. I carry my phone or an Olympus mini-recorder wherever I go - so when it appears - the glimmer of an idea, divine or otherwise, doesn't get away from me.
If you are an active writer or other artistic creator, I highly recommend several of Pressfield's nonfiction books:
The War of Art
Do the Work
The Warrior Ethos
They are full of amazing insights into how to survive and thrive in the creative life. I would start with the War of Art.