Chasing the Muse

by Tess Adair

I just watched the dumbest movie. Wait, let me clarify--I just watched a movie that could have easily been half-decent, but for whatever reason chose not to be.


It’s called Adult World, and it showcases Emma Roberts’ ability to play a deeply terrible, annoying character. In an inscrutable move, the filmmakers decided to give their secondary characters interesting personalities and likeable quirks, but went ahead and made their film’s central focus the world’s whiniest graduated poetry major, who possesses the maturity of a particularly tantrum-prone toddler.


People make weird choices in art, sometimes.

Weird way to draw a dick. What? What do you think it is?

Weird way to draw a dick. What? What do you think it is?

But, obnoxious little turd that she is, Roberts’ Amy is, in the end, a writer. And the film is, sort of, about writing--about what it takes to be a writer, if not so much the process of writing. (Uh, honestly, all it seems to say about the process of writing is...that some of your best stuff should be written on trashy-looking napkins, I guess.)


Of course, like almost every film I’ve ever seen about artistic geniuses or the people who want to be them, it...doesn’t quite get it right.


This film, like so many before it, lives under the delusion that writing is about talent. You know, that mythical idea that the brilliant among us are simply born with a little extra something, a little piece of special. The belief in talent is almost religious. (Superstitious, depending on your point of view.)



Protagonist Amy keeps asking her unwilling “mentor” (John Cusack) whether or not she has what it takes to be a great poet. She harbors a deep, abiding need to be special, and it haunts her that she’s already older than her mentor was when he got famous.


This is, perhaps, the most convincing thing about her character: the twinning of her obsessions with talent and fame, both under the umbrella of specialness. In my experience, anyone obsessed with one is often also obsessed with the other.


And in my opinion, both are a little pointless. Which is to say they are beside the point.

I was going to put a picture of Justin Bieber here as an example of something pointless, but it turns out I can't look at picture of him for more than a few seconds without wanting to vom, so... 

I was going to put a picture of Justin Bieber here as an example of something pointless, but it turns out I can't look at picture of him for more than a few seconds without wanting to vom, so... 

Writing isn’t about talent, and if you go into it wanting to be famous, you’re kind of an idiot. I’m not saying you can’t be a famous writer. You can; it is a possible thing. But there are easier ways to be famous. And if you’re approaching any kind of art form, you should be doing for the sake of what you want to create, not what else you want to get out of it.


Writing is a skill, like anything else. Getting good at it takes work. Hours and hours and hours and hours of practice.


I’m not saying that talent doesn’t play into it at all, but I am saying that, in the end, it just doesn’t matter very much. Far more important than talent are endurance and willpower. I stand by the Gladwell rule of 10,000 hours: your ability to do most things, your skill, is dependent entirely on the work you put into it. I was a pretty terrible writer at 12, but I kept at it. I wrote throughout middle school, high school, college, and beyond. And I got better at every step.


As a matter of fact, I did stand out in the first writing class I took in college. The teacher praised me heavily, despite her clear desire not to (she was the kind of professor who liked to tear everybody down, so they could build themselves back better.) But this had nothing to do with talent. I’d simply been practicing longer than anybody else. It’s all about work, always.


Of course, a little bit of inspiration helps, too.

Inspiration. The Greeks attributed it to the muses. I like the idea of muses. Inspiration certainly seems mercurial enough; I can easily accept, metaphorically at least, the idea of a person pulling the strings.


I have kind of a complicated relationship with my muse. I read a writer once who said that in his experience, there are two kinds of writers: the kind who can generate a new idea a week, and the kind who are lucky if they churn out a new idea in over a year. He reported himself as the second kind, and seemed to think most writers he’d met were the same.


I’m more the first kind. I have a ton of ideas, all the time. The problem is finding an idea I can commit to.


I guess I’m just as mercurial as my own muse. Every computer, flash drive, notebook, or cloud drive I’ve ever owned is littered with ideas I have since abandoned. I see my ideas a little bit like brief romantic flings: I met a new idea, and I felt a rush of excitement for it, and maybe that rush was powerful enough or sustained enough to produce a few paragraphs or character sketches, or maybe even up to a dozen solid pages. But then I faltered. Something happened, something else caught my attention, and I fell out of love. I moved on. And the only trace of evidence that I ever cared lies in a lonely little word file somewhere, or on a scrap of paper in a box under my bed.

I’m weirdly sentimental about these forgotten ideas--I never delete the file, never throw away the scrap. If I get to the point that I have too many files lying around and I’m getting confused, then I make a folder and call it Old and throw them in there.


See, I can’t throw them away. What if I open one some day in the future and it gives me a new idea? I can’t risk accidentally deleting ideas that haven’t formed yet.

I suppose I have some sort of inspiration ADD. I’m having a particular attack of it now--I’m working on about 4 story ideas, and I’m not sure what my level of interest is in any of them anymore. I worked on two of these ideas over the weekend, and I actually got a fair amount done on one of them. But...since I’m not terribly excited about the idea, it feels like I didn’t get anything done.


It shouldn’t feel that way. I wish I could will myself to be happy about getting any writing done, whether it’s exactly what I want right now or not. Well, on some level, I am. But it doesn’t satisfy my soul the same way.


It doesn’t satisfy my muse.


Of course, aside from these projects I’m fiddling with, I do have Novel Number 2 still brewing, and I’m madly in love with that one. But for some reason, it’s a little stalled. I couldn’t get anything done on it this weekend, or the weekend before that. I’m not entirely sure why.


It happens to me sometimes, especially when I love something so much. It’s like my excitement for it intimidates me or something. I’m afraid that if I work on it in a sub-optimal state, I’ll end up disappointing myself, or possibly even tainting the idea.


Which is probably about as close to a religious belief as the whole talent thing is, I guess. It’s all superstition and stalling.

Muses are tricky things. I’ve always found that a serious change of pace, like taking a trip somewhere, or even just trying something new, is the best way to breathe new life into the muse. I think I’ll try that as soon as I can.


In the meantime, I’ll keep plugging away at everything I’ve got, even if I don’t dote on it like a mythical soul mate. I’m going to keep working. And working and working.


That’s all that matters. Always.