Writing Challenge, Day 7: the Myth of the Muse

30 Day Know Thyself Writing Challenge

Day 7: Do you find that inspiration to write happens organically, or do you sometimes feel that you need to seek it out?

I feel that we must court experience: ideas sparked and new connections made are the organic results of exposure to new people, places, and things. Sure, a significant part of writing—and often what makes it the bewildering, enchanting, mind-bending journey that it is—is the ability to draw from one’s imagination. But what feeds imagination?

I have yet to read Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine (you’ll note it’s on my to-read list), however I did see Lehrer appear on The Colbert Report and speak about it. In his book-promoting appearance Lehrer explained that (and I’m paraphrasing from memory here) nothing in this world is original; what we assume are ideas invented out of thin air are really just new connections between old ideas. He even when so far as to call the Muse a myth.

If Lehrer is right, then what better way to foster new connections and generate ideas than to flood your subconscious with images, words, concepts, sensations, experiences, etc.? Courting experience is like adding colors to your mixing palette; the more materials in the arsenal, the better your subconscious can forge connections and lead to “organic” inspiration. In other words:

 Chance favors the prepared mind.”

—Louis Pasteur

Chance in this case, of course, being the Muse.

Lehrer said something else about creative generation, too. Something that every writer should know: daydreaming is good. “Although most people assume that to solve a problem what you must do is focus, focus, focus—chug a cup of coffee and chain yourself to your desk, stare at your computer screen—that’s exactly backwards. When you need a moment of insight you need to find a way to get relaxed.” (Yes, alright, I went back and watched the segment of Colbert Report in which he appeared. That’s a direct quote.)

A few months back I read Ogilvy on Advertising and was surprised to see that David Ogilvy, one of the fathers of modern advertising, recommended basically the exact same thing for copywriters and admen: to overcome a creative block, get away from your work. Go for a walk; take a shower; fold laundry, potter about the garden, do the shopping. Drink a beer. It is when we give time and space to our subconscious, allow it to wander and play, that our imagination churns out the best material. Ogilvy himself once dreamed of a wooden cart filled with baked goods drawn by a white horse; that horse-drawn cart became the brand image for Pepperidge Farms.

The one thing that’s important to remember, of course, is that you have to put in the work before you can daydream and expect to get results. If you really want to be inspired, experience the world around you! Go with an open mind, ready senses, and always be curious.


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