got muses?

by la rebelde

An amiga recently shared with me her experience attending a creative writing workshop. Like me, she is an academic whose field of study continually recreates an investment in different kinds of objectivity—quite different from the kind of poetry and flower talk that her fellow participants discussed. They had to share poems with each other. It made me think, gosh, I’ve never written poetry—in fact, my version would probably be to write a narrative and then press the return-button at different points that looked…nice. I struggle with creativity in my writing. Creativity is not part of the standard historian training package. But how to find my own voice in my academic writing, or any writing?

My advisers have recently critiqued me for “letting historiography overpower my own voice”—as in, relying on established scholars to say what I want to say for me. I get that I should do that. In fact, I didn’t want to do that in the first place, but I thought I had to. Anyway, I’m working on developing my writing voice. I mean, I have lots of ideas that I can speak about for hours, but writing it is a different story.

At amiga’s workshop, some folks discussed how they lost their muses. According to wikipedia, in Greek mythology, muses are

“a sisterhood of goddesses or spirits, their number set at nine by Classical times, who embody the arts and inspire the creation process with their graces through remembered and improvised song and stage, writing, traditional music, and dance.”

But, in my world, is it a person, place or thing? If not a person, does it have a personality? (For some reason it conjures up memories of some movie with Sharon Stone or some other blonde actress who was supposed to be a sexy muse….but I digress.) Would a muse help one with creativity in writing—even a historian? I’m just not sure I ever had one (or many). And if I didn’t know I had one in the first place, maybe I’ve lost mine without my knowing it. And if I didn’t know I lost my muse, it may have been gone for a long, long time.


“I’d rather work on my dissertation, than work on this conference paper,” I told another amiga a couple weeks ago. I wasn’t kidding. I’d reached a point where I felt that writing my dissertation would somehow be easier—because there wouldn’t be the pressure of writing a concise and interesting narrative in 10 pages or less. Or maybe it was because I kept psyching myself out by focusing on the larger project instead of focusing on the 10 pages. Either way, it was not a good situation.

Later on, a third amiga popped up on my gchat to see how my paper had gone and whether I’d submitted it in to the commenter. I had. “How do you feel about it?” she asked. “It’s not my best work…but then again, maybe it is—and that’s the scary thing.”

The thing about being in the dissertation stage is that I know a whole heck of a lot of stuff. I also know good writing when I see it. The process of making my writing good? That’s a whole other story—yet to be realized. At the same time, I know my thinking is so much sharper than it was in years past—I’ve worked hard at that I’m pretty sure that my writing has improved too. But because now it’s my turn to write new stuff, this process has become a bit overwhelming.


The last few weeks have been a writing disaster. But not for lack of inspiration–I like my dissertation topic. For that reason, luckily, I have not stopped writing. And I have not become paralyzed by the academic banter—I refuse to. But I have potentially, unknowingly lost my muse. And if this is the case, then I need to find one (or more than one). So, queridos readers, do you have a muse? Have you ever lost your muse? How did you find it again or keep it from leaving?

5 Comments to “got muses?”

  1. rbd!

    been a muse but not sure if i have had one…

    except for love- it drives me to write good and bad poetry :)

    btw i just submitted a conference proposal this week also- a friend and i came up with an idea over drinks and between the two of us managed to make the midnight deadline :)

  2. What do you mean? Your voice is all over this blog! Which is what makes it so important, right…to not get all stagnant with the academic writing but still be able to write interesting, funny, thoughtful prose. I always look forward to your posts.

  3. yah, i don’t think i’ve ever had a muse. in fact, i have never been quite clear on the definition, even after reading the wiki one. huh.

    oh, and totally laughed when i read how you would write a poem, pressing return, that is so me.

  4. This is so beautifully written. And it gets at what I am feeling too. Maybe finding your muse is starting here–right where you are in this blog. Your blog posts are so narrative and interesting. If you were going to write your chapter as a blog post, what would it look like? Maybe just try to tell a story–without secondary sources, without overloading on the primary ones either. You already know how to tell stories.

  5. i’m a “creative writer” (fiction, poetry, theater) and i have never had a muse. at least not a person as a muse. i find that insulting. it feels like the ultimate form of objectification to make someone a muse.

    re: quality of writing
    we are pressed to write a lot as scholars and working artists. the thing we have to trust is that each time we write the sheer quantity of it heightens the quality. that the fact you’ve been writing for so long means that even when you write “bad” work, it is still pretty good. know what i mean?

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