The Muse is not a Jerk

People who write or paint or compose may also have a talent for making other people miserable. For some reason, they are given a pass on this behavior, on the grounds that they have an ‘artistic temperament’ and can’t be expected to remember that it’s their turn to do the dishes.

But creativity is not defined by piles of unwashed dishes, unfolded laundry, and overdue bills. All artistic people don’t live on take-out, sleep odd hours (or not at all), or forget mundane things like birthdays and anniversaries.

Creativity is no excuse for making other people pick up after you. Being an artist  doesn’t justify being a jerk.

I would like to be taken seriously as a writer, even though I’m paying my bills on time, getting enough sleep, and holding down a job. Can’t creative people have organized file cabinets and clean desks?

Where did this notion come from – the ‘artistic temperament’?

There is a mythology of creativity that wants us to believe in the disfunctional, hyperthymic, bi-polar artist. Certainly there are many examples of great writers, musicians and artists who were bad-tempered, difficult people.

But I am equally sure that there are even more creative and productive artists who live ordinary lives and don’t expect people to take care of them.

People who make a commitment to any art must make choices – as all other humans must. We have the same twenty-four hour day, the same need to earn a living, and the same obligations to other people.

I am a highly organized person. I make outlines and schedules. I have a method for everything, and always look for a more efficient way to get things done. Finding better ways to do things can be creative. Even if it weren’t, being efficient and organized gives me more time to write.

A story has organization –that’s what a plot is: exposition, rising action, crisis, complications, climax, resolution. While accomplished writers may plan a story without writing an outline, the order is there as they write. They have a vision that guides them.

Good ideas are needed too, of course. But a mind that can generate fresh characters and interesting plots can be an orderly mind as well. The right and left brains don’t have to be at war; they can learn collaboration.

When writers start talking about how they work, I sometimes feel that those who claim that they “just write” without any planning are disingenuous. They say things like, “I know I should write an outline or something, but I’m just too disorganized.”

A humble admission, concealing an indirect boast: I’m disorganized because I’m so creative. They are using the myth of the artistic temperament to excuse their own inability to plan. They may claim that their characters talk to them, tell them what to write, and they just follow the muse where she leads. All of this sounds very creative.

People work in different ways, and I have no doubt that some would find an outline stifling. But to deny that any planning is involved is to belittle the creative process. Artists who make a living from their art cannot afford a haphazard approach.

Chaos is not creative, it’s a mess lacking an organizing principle. The muse loves cosmos.

Creativity is the process of bringing order out of chaos. A plan doesn’t kill spontaneity any more than a map makes a journey dull.

If order seems to silence the muse, it may simply be that what seemed like a great inspiration doesn’t have enough substance to survive the creative process.


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