Finding Your Muse

Where is It?
Don't Wait for it, Go Out and Grab It!

In Greek Mythology, the Muses were thought to be the source of knowledge and inspiration for the arts. Today we use the term more loosely, as anyone or anything that helps us find inspiration for our creative pursuits. Today, I'd like to help you find your own Muse.

See, a lot of artists think that if they wait around, inspiration will come to them. While sudden inspiration can happen, it's not something to be relied upon, as it's sporadic at best. And the thing is, there are actually a number of ways you can actively search for and find your Muse, instead of just waiting around for it.

Just Go for It

First thing's first: don't sit around waiting. I wrote another article about the importance of daily practice, and that's something worth reiterating here. You won't always feel inspired every time you practice or create something, but make art anyway. Push through the block.

“One reason I don't suffer Writer's Block is that I don't wait on the muse, I summon it at need.” -Piers Anthony

If you have no idea what to draw, just practice poses or something, but do something art related. Inspiration isn't magic; it comes from your subconscious turning over ideas and information and eventually bringing them to your attention. Give your subconscious the fuel it needs to keep doing it's thing by making sure you don't stagnate.

Fill Your Life with Creativity

One sure-fire way to make inspiration come easier and more often is to intentionally fill your life with creative things. Music is a great one, because you can listen to it throughout most of the day. Services like Pandora are especially valuable here because you can discover new artists to inspire you without having to lift a finger beyond actually creating your station and giving the thumbs up or down on various tracks.

Also, make friends with creative people, or if you already have creative friends, pay more attention to their projects. Ask what they've been up to lately. Inquire about their creative process and share yours. This sort of back and forth is great for fostering creativity and idea-generation for all parties involved. Relatedly, Susie Sahim, aka BogusRed, PaperDemon’s own creator and maintainer, wrote an article on how pancakes helped her be more productive as an artist, which talks about how meeting up with your creative friends can help all of you help each other be more productive.

“I am my own muse, the subject I know best.” -Frida Kahlo

Additionally, you can try things like visiting art museums, galleries, concerts, etc, etc, etc. Basically, don't just make art; observe others who make art—of all shapes and sizes. You might be surprised what ideas and flashes of inspiration strike you as a result. And not to mention, being surrounded by creativity is just fun!

Turn to Another Medium

It's not uncommon for artists to dabble in more than one type of artistic medium. Using myself as an example, I occasionally toy around with writing, and I also play an instrument (badly). I'm nowhere near as practiced in either of these endeavors as I am with visual art, because visual art is my chosen medium (granted, I don't think I'm very good at that either, but see my first article on artists being our own worst enemies). But that's not important. The fact that I dabble at all is helpful when it comes to helping to inspire my art.

The reason this can help is that if you get a block in one medium, you can go to another one for awhile. Sometimes if I'm suffering from a bad case of artist's block, I'll pick up my ocarina (and yes, I first heard of them from Legend of Zelda, but no, they were not made up by that game and are in fact a real instrument) and play some songs, or add a couple notes to one of the songs I'm writing.

Often, this will help dissolve the art block or even give me some new inspiration purely from the joy of what I'm doing. Blocks in one medium don't always translate to others, so switching around like this can be to your benefit when it comes to keeping the creative juices flowing all the time.

Exercise your Imagination

“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” -Albert Einstein

These days, our lives are filled with entertainment that does the imagining for us, leaving the average person's imagination sadly underdeveloped. TV is a fantastic example of this; when you watch a movie or TV series, the writers, actors, special effects team, and so on have already done all of the imagination legwork for you, and all you have to do is sit back and watch.

Video games are a bit better as they're interactive, and therefore can involve a degree of creativity—sometimes a lot of creativity. That said, depending on the game, it's often a similar case to TV: the imagining has been done for you by the game's writers and developers and so on.

Mind you, there's nothing wrong with watching TV or playing video games. Hell, my partner and I spend almost every evening binging one TV series or another, and I spend at least half of my leisure time playing video games. And in fact, in moderation, they can be good for fostering imagination, because you can pull ideas from or become inspired by feelings evoked by games and TV.

The trick is to avoid doing nothing at all but pre-imagined amusement like TV. Supplement your gaming or netflix binging habit with a good book every now and then. Books are great because they require you to imagine; you get the basic outline of what's going on and being said, but your imagination fills in the blanks.

Music is also great because you can close your eyes and pay attention to the feelings that the song evokes in you, and perhaps even imagine your own music video in your own mind for the song you're listening to.

Finally, how you engage with media like TV and video games is important. If you just sit back and watch TV without thinking much at all, you're doing your own imagination a disservice. However, if you think about the things that are going on, make predictions about what's going to happen next, and speculate about miscellaneous things in the universe or even come up with your own imagined scenarios for the characters in the show, you're giving your “imagination muscle” a pretty decent workout.

The point is, when it comes right down with it, how you engage with media is even more important than what media you engage with.

Look Around You

Inspiration is all around us, if only we know where to look. Most of the time, people go from place to place without really noticing their surroundings. We get so used to our given routines or routes that we never stop to appreciate what's around us.

Next time you're driving to work, walking to school, browsing the store, or anything else in your daily routine, take a moment. Stop moving. Listen. Watch. Appreciate all the little things going on. Things like a bird's nest in a branch of that tree you've passed a million times and never noticed. Or a little side street you never realized existed. The lively chatter of children playing. The melodic song of birds and wind rustling in trees.

“Nature's my muse and it's been my passion.” -Frans Lanting

Being more aware of your environment and present in the moment can help nurture your creativity a great deal, and not to mention it's just relaxing.

“And muse on Nature with a poet's eye.” -Thomas Campbell

Finally, consider making a sojourn to the wilderness every now and then. I don't care whether or not you're the “outdoorsy type,” or if hikes and nature walks “aren't your thing.” Do it anyway. Find a national park, national forest, or even just a grassy field without another human being in sight, and go for a walk. You'd be amazed how calming and even inspiring the natural world can be without too many humans around to mess it up.

Prompts, Prompts, Prompts...

When it comes right down to it, sometimes no matter how well you follow the guidelines above, you still can't think of anything. When this is the case, look for your muse in prompts and other tools specifically designed to help jumpstart your creativity.

I've already covered this particular topic in another article, so go check that one out for specific ideas, under the “But What to Do" heading.

What We've Learned

  • You're not going to find your muse by just sitting around
  • Surrounding yourself with creative people and things can give you the creative fuel to stay inspired.
  • If you get stuck with an art block that you can't seem to shake, try another creative endeavor for a while, then switch back.
  • Limit your exposure to pre-imagined media like television, and/or change how you engage with it.
    • Read a book now and again. Books give you a story and framework and ask your imagination to fill in the gaps.
    • When you watch TV, keep your mind active; speculate on the characters and situations in what you're watching.
  • Pay more attention to your surroundings; you'd be surprised what tidbits of inspiration await you around every corner if you know where to look.
  • Prompts can act as a jump-starter for your imagination, helping you get the creative process started.

Alright, your muse is out there somewhere. Time to start looking!