Inspiration: Follow your Muse?

I was recently thinking about inspiration and how people develop a personal style. There's a phrase, "follow your Muse." But what's a Muse, why do we follow?


In modern times, a Muse is considered a person or thing that inspires you to create art. In Greek mythology they had a different idea: the Muses were goddesses of music, poetry, comedy, and other arts, and they were responsible for providing inspiration to humans. A song was not invented by humans, it was created by these goddesses who would whisper it into the mind of a musician. Divine inspiration. Something from the ether, that could reach out and grab an artist unexpectedly. For what it's worth, I think that might be more or less how it works. The subconscious mind will bring together past experiences and hidden desires/urges to create, and will suddenly give the artist an idea-- often at the worst time. Tom Waits described an experiences of having a song come to him while driving on the highway, when he had no recorder or notebook to preserve it. His response? “Excuse me. Can you not see that I'm driving? If you're serious about wanting to exist then I spend eight hours a day in the studio. You're welcome to come and visit me when I'm sitting at my piano. Otherwise, leave me alone and go bother Leonard Cohen!” I too have had to pull off the road to write a note about a sudden idea I have had, or rushed out of the shower to write something down or sketch out an image before I forget it. It rarely comes when I am trying to come up with an idea…

What can one do to nurture their garden of the subconscious? I think that having a wide variety of experiences and references to draw from is important, whether it's having life experience or consuming a broad range of art or music. Equally important is having space to be receptive to ideas: the reason most ideas and flashes of inspiration tend to come to us while driving or in the shower is because that's often the only time we have set aside and allow our minds to wander. When you are working, worrying, or watching Netflix, you aren’t really engaged with your imagination; or rather, your imagination *is* engaged, but it's conscious, talking instead of listening.

Listening for that Muse's whisper.