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The Genius in the Walls


That elusive, fickle, fiendish angel that all artists seek and grasp for and long to hold on to.

Sometimes we call it the muse. Or inspiration. Sometimes we see it as a benevolent wisp or magic, empowering us and sending the thing we create into a higher, more transcendent space. It is our saving grace, making us brighter and better.

Other times we beat ourselves over the head for our inability to access it. The muse is gone. Our characters aren’t talking to us. The music isn’t flowing from our fingers. Our paintbrush is stilled. The scribbling of our pencil is garbage.

I watched a TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert about the muse concept recently and it got me thinking even more about artists and the expectation that we will be unstable. How many news stories have you read about an artist/singer/actor who committed suicide? Celebrities in self-destructive cycles who land themselves in rehab is a cliche for a reason. It happens. A lot.

Much of the time, artist are seen as nothing but their art. The idea that an actor could also be an activist is often laughed at. Ashton Kutcher got involved in fighting against human trafficking and he was told, “Stay in your own lane.” As if that kind of fight doesn’t need all the help anyone is willing to offer.

We sure do like to put people in boxes. And then we want them to stay there. But an artist of any sort isn’t JUST an artist. The muse comes and goes, and when it’s gone, there is other life to live and other pursuits to chase.

Elizabeth talked about the genius in the walls. It’s the idea from bygone years that a person could not become a genius. Instead, genius was something that would come and go of its own accord. Genius was its own entity. This idea is on par with a literal muse. If your muse isn’t in the room to inspire you, or if your genius isn’t in the walls ready to speak to you, then you’re just fresh out of luck.

Honestly, I’m not sure if I like this idea or not. On the one hand, it’s convenient to just say “My muse isn’t speaking to me.” That leaves me off the hook. But we all know that hard work and discipline are often more than half the battle, so it’s impossible to buy into the idea entirely. 

Still. It’s a thought. And there is certainly something to be said for the very real struggle of creating when you’re not feeling inspired. Sometimes, inspiration truly does hit and the writing just flows, and it’s beautiful. Other times I’ll stare at my computer for an hour and only eek out a sentence or two. Still other times I’ll set aside quiet time, have a goal in mind, and I’ll make myself be productive by sheer force of will. Whether what I force myself to produce will be great or not—that’s a toss up.

Like so many things, it’s not a matter of muse versus self-motivation. It’s not one or the other. It’s not black or white. It’s more complex than that. People are more complex than that. Creativity is more complex than that.

Because this life? It’s complicated.

Weekly Book Highlights

I love Nichole Van’s work. And these first two books in her Brotherhood of the Black Tartan series are on sale for $.99 each today only!

Julie L. Spencer has a YA sports romance series, and the description of this book sounds super cute.

Dylan knew his snarky new tutor was smart, gorgeous and a great basketball player. He just didn’t realize she had a boyfriend, until after he kissed her.
Published inWriting Process

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