The Muse Is Not a Harsh Mistress. She’s a Supportive Goddess.
The Muse, Inspiration, and Creativity as Part of the Everyday
There’s a common sentiment that creativity is something foreign to all but a few individuals and has very little to do with daily life. It is also a common idea that creativity must always be a grueling process.
I’ll admit, sometimes it is grueling, but that doesn’t mean it’s grueling per se. Anything in life can get tough.
I asked Rebecca Buchanan to chat with me about all this and other topics dear to me.
Rebecca’s poems and short stories have been published in a wide variety of venues. She is also editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer and editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
Here’s our conversation:
Francesca De Grandis: The well-known phrase “The muse is a harsh mistress” is not part of my belief system. The Goddess is a kind Muse. She is creator and creation, and loving Mother to us all. I find Her gentle, loving, and supportive.
The Goddess in Her guise as Muse guides everyone in the way that best suits them. For example, in my case, She guides both the left and right brain parts of my writing. If I’m channeling words and ideas, She’s guiding, and if I’m editing the material I channeled, She’s still guiding.
Tell me a bit about your relationship with the Muse, Rebecca.
Rebecca Buchanan: The Muse never comes to me the same way twice. She comes as Story/Stories. Sometimes the story is complete, beginning to end, with the characters and world fully developed. Other times, I only get a single scene or character, and I have to work the rest of it out from there. Sometimes the Muse—as Story—is content to wait. I jot down a few notes and a rough sketch, and I can let it sit for a while. Other times, she is very impatient; the story has to be written *right now*.
I have never found her to be harsh. Demanding, yes, in a way that encourages me to stretch and grow as a writer; but never harsh.
FDG: I believe the Goddess as Muse wants everyone to find inspiration in their own way. For example, I don’t wait to be inspired before writing. If I did that, I might never write. If I sit down to write, the inspiration comes.
Sure, at first I might write something I don’t like, but the sheer act of writing opens my heart, so the Muse can connect with me, and then something worthwhile can get written. Then I throw out the material I don’t like.
Or perhaps I just need to get something off my chest, so I write it down, and never show it to anyone. But having written it, my heart is open to the Muse so I can then write something to share.
Or the material I don’t like is the beginning of something yummy; perhaps there was something I want to express, and I could only do a bad job of it. But once it’s written, then I can do an edit to express it well.
How do you find inspiration? How do inspiration and your writing practices interact?
RB: I write both by inspiration and against deadlines; both have their advantages and drawbacks. And sometimes the same story is a bit of both.
When I write by inspiration, I feel like the story is coming from someplace else. Those are often the easiest write, as long as I stay out of the way. I just sit and type and let the story come. If I try to force the story in a direction it doesn’t want to go, it all comes to a screeching halt. I have to go back and delete everything that shouldn’t be there, and pick up the thread of inspiration again. I’ve noticed that my inspired stories are most often faerie tales and creation myths.
I also write against deadlines. This can be fun, but also stressful. If I find an interesting call for submissions, I start thinking about the kind of story that might fit those guidelines. I let the ideas stew for a bit, and finally sit down to write just before the deadline (usually a week, sometimes two, depending on the word count). I’ve written stories I never otherwise would have come up with on my own thanks to various calls for submissions, so I think inspiration works its way in here, too.
And while I would like to say that I do all of my writing in a quiet, beautifully-maintained study or home library, such is not the case. I have a lot of books, but they are scattered through every room in the house. I do most of my writing on the living room couch, with any books I need stacked on a tv tray next to me. There is a very obvious butt-shaped dent in the couch and, I’m sure, there are more than a few M&Ms lost between the cushions.
FDG: Heh, snacking and writing go hand-in-hand for me, too. And I wonder if a writer exists who writes only in one place. Heck, I’m often writing in my head when I go for walks.
About creativity as part of everyday life:
Everyone has their own perspective on creativity. I strongly believe creativity is part of life. The act of writing isn’t for an elite. Writing can’t just be trapped in books. Whether someone writes in a journal that no one ever reads, or publishes bestsellers, or improvises silly songs to sing to their children, or carefully crafts sentences of loving concern to speak to a spouse who’s lost their job, it’s all vital and beloved by the Muse.
I’m very driven creatively: I’ll spend eleven years writing a book. And have been blessed with a few best sellers. But I’ll spend twelve years writing a curriculum that only ten people will ever learn from me. And they may never actually read the curriculum. Most curriculums I teach outside of my books are taught orally. The Muse is part of my everyday life.
Devotion to wordsmithing opens up my overall creative power, so I’m more able to create a better life for myself and help others do the same. It’s as if striving toward high ideals as a writer is an alchemical act that makes me a better creator of my own destiny and of a better world for everyone.
Devoting myself to wordsmithing in oral material allows spontaneity in my classes. It might seem to some people that wordsmithing and spontaneity cannot go hand-in-hand, but at least in my practice they come together to create the sacred joyous moment. (Dear reader, for more about my classes, subscribe to my free newsletter. Click the box to the right.)
However, my creative approach isn’t right for everyone. Everyone has their own creative path. The different paths might be completely tangential to each other. Yet they all result in contributions to the universe, and they are all sacred.
RB: “Alchemical act” is a very good way of phrasing it. I have definitely found that creativity in one aspect of my life bleeds over into other areas, though there is an ebb and flow to it.
My primary creative outlet is writing, mostly short stories and poems, but I also garden and bake. Creating fictional worlds has, in a twisty round-about way, made me more invested in and aware of the physical world. My fictional worlds are places where justice wins the day, beauty and truth overcome ugliness and lies, and love leads to healing and acceptance. If my fictional worlds can be like that, why can’t the real world? Why can’t I create a yard filled with bright blooms and nourishing fruits and vegetables? Why can’t I sit on my front porch and watch the butterflies and hummingbirds feast on the flowers I planted? Why can’t I bake good things for my friends and family to feed their bodies and souls? Why can’t everyone enjoy that kind of peace and beauty? Why can’t everyone have the opportunity to live in a better world?
FDG: Yes yes yes! You so get what I’m talking about. Whether it’s a Pagan liturgy or short story, writing it makes me more able to implement the vision I express in that piece of writing. As I write it, the Muse blesses me so that I can be a force for good.
Mind you, the writing alone is not enough. I also have to look inside myself and, for example, see what inside me is blocking that blessing, or blocking my ability to be a positive force.
So, what’s your latest creative project?
RB: So many creative projects! I have two novels in the works, but they are going slowly as I am focused on my short stories and poems right now. The short stories that currently demand my attention include an alternate version of World War II featuring a priestess of Oceanus and Tethys who repeatedly finds herself up against nasty fascists trying to conquer the world; an urban fantasy set in an alternate present where the Veil Between the Worlds has been ripped to shreds; and a science fiction story in which the Roman Republic never fell and went on to colonize the rest of the solar system.
Plus lots and lots of poems.
FDG: Anything else you want to add?
RB: I am also an editor and contributing writer for ev0ke: witchcraft*paganism*lifestyle. For the past year, the zine has been hosted by Medium. Unfortunately, their terms and conditions have changed, giving Medium rights to everything that appears through that service. The bad news is that we have to take the site down and relocate it to WordPress. The good news is that allows us to change our format. We’ll be relaunching on 1 October 2020 as a monthly zine with brand new short stories, poems, essays, pop culture commentary, reviews, and interviews. Some of the content will be free (such as the reviews and interviews), and some of it will be subscription only. We’re hoping to attract a small stable of contributors through a share of the subscription fees (and profits from our shop) — so if there are any witchy, Pagan, or polytheist writers out there who are interested in a supportive, friendly venue in which to feature their work, don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FDG: It’s been wonderful talking with you. I feel we have so much in common. Thanks for doing this with me, especially when you’re uber-busy getting your new zine going.
RB: Thank you very much for having me!