This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? We’d love to hear from you in the comments. bornfreel2

I was speaking to a visual artist the other day. I found myself guilty of asking him the same over-worked question we writers so often get asked by non-writers.

“Where do you get your inspiration?”

He looked at me intently for a few seconds and then, in a low conspiratorial voice, said,

“I await my muses.”

I nodded my understanding. You see, I too have muses.

Every creative person should have muses. Freelancers being no exception.

Now if that all sounds too metaphysical, please indulge me for a moment.

Muses have a solid, pragmatic value to the working professional. They are not solely the province of mystics and visionary artists.

What’s a muse?

My dictionary defines Muse (with a capital “M”) as one of nine sister goddesses in Greek and Roman mythology in charge of the arts and sciences, and muse (without the capital “M”) as an act of inspiring creative excellence.

My muse or muses certainly inspire me but are not any of those nine goddesses. (At least, I don’t think they are. I’ll get back to you next time I conjure one up!)

For me a muse is a primary source beyond my own skull of inspiration. Of motivation. Of compelling me forward in the often-laborious tasks involved in my work.

You can, of course, simply be inspired by the arrival of a regular paycheck.

But most of us require something more than just that in order to keep at it. Something greater. Something that can obsess us and grab hold of us, shaking our talents loose and forcing us to focus all our attention and skills.

In other words, a muse.

The universal muse

There is a theory – by no means original – that inspiration is just “out there” in the universe and we are merely receivers that can be tuned into “picking it up”. The veracity of this theory is often “proven” by the similar number of works of art that come out at any given time on a particular topic or in a given style. Others, of course, call it coincidence.

But my visual artist colleague was most sincere in his belief that his muses are “out there”, all around him, and if he behaved in a worthy way, in a manner that pleased them, that they would bestow their bounty upon him.

One could argue that by being fully alive and sensitive to the world around us – the physical as well as news, culture, etc. – we can allow ourselves to be inspired by all that we encounter.

Whether there is an intelligent, ethereal origin for that inspiration – call them muses – will depend on your personal beliefs. Either way, you still have to train yourself to be in a receptive frame of mind to be able to see patterns or connections where none formerly existed.

Subject/topic muses

Big issues serve as muses for some of us. How many of us feel deeply compelled to do something about the environment or human rights or diversity? Or perhaps we are obsessed by aviation or technology or moviemaking.

Certain topics will always draw some of us to write about them again and again because they have a special resonance for us. I would class them as a kind of muse too.

Branding experts tell us to specialize; our muses will tell us what to specialize in, if only we will listen to them and follow where they take us.

Place or thing muses

Haven’t found a person or cause to inspire you? Perhaps your muse is a place or thing. Travel writers manage to combine their love of travel with a public desire for adventure. They find their muses in far away locations and exotic rituals.

But you don’t have to travel far to be so inspired. Your muse may be your own city or backyard. The city I’ve moved to is one such muse for me. It has inspired me to conceive a series of stories about it (currently looking for a final form and home).

The point is, inspiration is potentially all around us. The more open-minded and receptive you are, the more willing you are to actually experience what is in front of you, the more often I find the muses will arrive.

So I’ve got a muse. Now what?

A muse (inspiration) usually comes to you when you least expect it. In the bath. Driving to work. Walking along the road. Waking up or going to bed. The real trick is to keep a notepad or audio recorder with you at all times to record and log these fragile wisps of inspiration.

Later, the real work begins. Sitting down and doing the hard work required to turn the gifts of muses into useful product that you can sell using your hard-earned skills.

Given the muses don’t always appear when you’re hungry and need work, it’s best to keep an active file of ideas and musings ready to go and to constantly work on refining them on the many days that your muses are absent.

The takeaway

It’s our job as creative workers to inform, educate, entertain, and if possible, inspire. It is hard work, compounded by frequent frustrations and roadblocks. It’s a job so much more worthwhile if occasionally we are doing it not just to make a living but because we have been moved by ideas so exciting, so novel, so compelling that we just can’t wait to share them. In other words, if we have a muse.

Muses are, in reality, just another way of thinking about and describing the act of creative inspiration. They are imaginative, symbolic representations of our own idiosyncratic subconscious processes.

Where does inspiration actually come from? Who can say. If it pleases me now and then to think about it in the form of abstract external muses – and it does – well, I see nothing wrong with that.

But do they really exist? Or is it always just me, alone on this keyboard, with no outside intervention at all?

The way I figure it, it doesn’t matter. Ideas and inspiration are my bread and butter. I don’t care where they come from. As long as they keep coming – I’ll keep believing!

Got a question for a future column? You too can be a muse. Contact the author directly: thebornfreelancer AT gmail DOT com

What are your thoughts on the nature and origins of inspiration? Let us know about your own muses in the comments below.

POSTED IN: Columns