For nearly all the years of my writing life, I’ve struggled with taking responsibility for what I create. Yes, I am the one who puts it onto the page, who polishes it, and who submits it; but there is also a very powerful sense of those ideas coming from somewhere else. Nearly always, when the writing’s going well and I’m in the zone, it feels more like I’m dictating than writing—or that I’m “being written.” Because my ideas and inspirations seemed to come from a different source than myself, I had trouble taking responsibility and credit for my words. However, a little less than a year ago, I realized that the simple act of “dictating” was, itself, a gift and a talent. That it still took skill to take these ideas and tidbits of inspiration, from wherever they came, and make them presentable, submittable to the world.
Then, earlier this week, one of my Facebook friends posted a link to a Ted Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, where Gilbert presents her belief that inspiration come from outside the artist, and, further, that it’s not totally the artist’s fault if their work turns out bad, because, “your [muse] was kind of lame.”
While I do admit it certainly seems like a goodly number of the ideas I put down on paper, especially the good ones, come from somewhere outside of me, I’m still not totally convinced that muses do exist. I’m not quite ready to surrender the notion that we artists are fully responsible for our works. I certainly am not ready to hold some other entity accountable for the caliber of my work. Sometimes, the inspiration arrives so purely and thoroughly, there’s nothing more to be done than make it manifest. Some other times, though, it takes a lotta chipping and polishing to reveal the gem received. Likewise, it sometimes takes both years and pressure to transform the rocky lump into a diamond. In other words, you must be present (and persistent) to win. As Twyla Tharp mentions early in her, The Creative Habit: Learn it and use it for life, “but whether or not God has kissed your brow, you still have to work.”
Gilbert does flesh-out her idea of outside inspiration moreso that I’m presenting, here. And she does pay heed to the artist having to show up to do the work, never minding whether inspiration has arrived, or whether it ever does. And, too, she also only had nineteen minutes to make her presentation, which likely wasn’t enough time for her to fully flesh-out her thoughts and beliefs on the subject. While I kinda disagree with some of what I heard her saying, I’d be eager to have the chance to discuss this further with her, To hear more of what she has to say on the subject.