As a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, I think it’s important to devote a little time to considering how we source our inspiration and the obligation of realism when it comes to those who inspire us. I also look at this segment as advice for those who find they’ve been made a muse of mine. There are some important rules I’ve come up with for how and what I utilize, and the form it will take. I don’t break these, because they arose from a need to define the worlds of my creativity as separate from objective, shared reality.
Welcome to Write Club
“If this is your first time here, you will be used as a character.”
I think sometimes, new muses may be a bit uncomfortable because they feel singled out. What’s important for them to understand is that they are one of a select group. Not just anyone can get into the club, but I also don’t feel right about keeping their status from them. Sooner or later, they’re bound to discover themselves staring back from a printed page, and I don’t want to have to have an after-the-fact conversation about how the character isn’t them, but a refracted, reflected version.
Sometimes, things they say will come out of the mouths of completely different characters, and that’s another aspect of musehood I don’t want to have to play catchup about. This handful of people are my muses because they inspire me to create. That doesn’t mean I copy them and put them in stories. It means I value them above all else. Full disclosure also offers them a chance to object. Some people are extraordinarily private, and they may feel that even indirect use of their personalities is a violation of their privacy. It’s important to me, as a writer, that I respect that, even if it means going back to the drawing board.
I would feel the same about using a source or research conducted by someone else and not citing them in a non-fiction piece. Because consent is so important to me on a personal level, if I have any intent of taking work beyond the pages of my journal, I feel I need the consent of those who inspire those words, if they are anything more than metaphorical and artistic interpretations of my own thoughts. If their influence is so obscured, so filtered by and through my own perspective, then that is a different matter. It’s the direct representation that I think needs to be addressed.
Lines of Purpose and Perception
Because I am a creative writer, I often take ideas and run with them. That means, even the closest approximation of a character to a muse becomes at once both more and less than that person. It’s not them–it’s me, my relative intellect and experience, shaping an approximation of them. There are those who adhere to the philosophical tenet that perception is reality. I could not disagree more when it comes to the products of inspiration and a muse source.
A very dear friend of mine–whom we’ll call Yoda, since reverse her grammar she does–has been a muse for some years. Her approximation and her real self are very different. There are things characters based on her will do or say that conform to what I know of her. But because we have grown close over the years, there are topics and behaviors that are off-limits. They’re too personal, too real, and I feel invasive if I use them.
Other muses over the years will also be able to tell you that I adhere to this strict observance of emotional privacy because I love each and every one of my creative well-springs. That doesn’t mean I necessarily love the people–I have some muses I don’t like very much as human beings. Still, there are laws of privacy and respect, even in regards to them. I feel obliged to tend them with care, to not abuse or exploit them. But because the products inspired by a muse are not the muses themselves, I also feel a need to maintain a perceptual anchor. I write love poetry, erotica, and short stories that deal with deep emotional complexities.
A Hero is a Creation, not a Being
It would be all too simple to fall in love with a character, to develop feelings for a muse because of a creation they inspired. That’s dangerous, and it’s also why I insist on knowing my muses particularly well. To say that I need to “keep it real” is exact, and not a cheesy colloquialism. Human beings are flawed, sometimes selfish, and rarely as pure as a hero character in a story. Muses themselves are seldom as good, smart, sweet, genuine, altruistic, or motivated as the characters they inspire. I may write sexually charged erotic poetry about someone I don’t feel particularly interested in, because they spark the words in my brain.
Here’s the rub. How easy would it be to convince myself that a muse and the iterations–my perceptions, personification, and creative permutations–were one and the same? I think it’s a danger of those with too much imagination for their own good, to imagine that the poetry, the story lines, or the characters themselves, are inseparable from the individuals they draw from. This is far from the case, and because the dawning of attraction and the attributes that win my esteem happen mostly in my own head, a muse upon whom this is visited is often completely baffled by what they see as a sudden attachment on my part.
So I keep my language distinct. I employ platonic terms of affection, such as Dork. Especially with new muses, with whom I feel a drunken sort of creative infatuation, I try to remain a bit dry and pragmatic when talking with them. I know it sounds odd to most of you, but I promise, it’s the way I’ve come to deal with how I am as a writer, a creator. It would do me no good to love someone for what they are not, and it would also pose a danger to that particular creative well-spring.
In the future, should you find that you’ve been made a muse of mine, here’s a quick reference list of things to remember:
- It’s about you, and yet it’s not. Creativity is a two-part dynamic in which the creator invests a good bit of themselves.
- Don’t try to run or imitate furniture. This only makes you more interesting.
- Don’t be afraid. You won’t be the new kid in class forever.
- Remember, muse status is a compliment, not a punishment. If it freaks you out just that much, say so. I can find other ways to feed my word factory.
- Not every muse is a friend. Sometimes, even people I hate inspire me to write, though they get no say–for them, it is a punishment. Even so, there are still rules.
Chances are, most of the people I encounter on a daily basis will find their way onto the page in some form or another. But it’s important to differentiate between page fodder and muses. With the former, direct representation is often the result–gestures, patterns of speech or turns of phrase, even physical appearance and behavior. With a muse, the inspiration is what counts–they may spur me to write poetry about quantum physics or gardening, in which there are no humans represented at all.