The Muse Vs. The Practice

We’ve all had those moments where we can work effortlessly. Where it “comes.” Our creative output is remarkable. The Muse visits. They happen. It’s a thing.

We’re right to embrace those days. We’re right to feel proud and good of being in the flow and producing something great. Emrace anything that helps.

The beginner, though, believes these bursts are the new normal.  We chase the dragon. We use bizarre incantations to recreate conditions which led to the muse’s visit and to “feel it” before we start our work. To require every word to be a masterpiece. That’s the mark of a beginner.

Soon we learn that The Muse isn’t a reliable business partner. It even gets biblical: “Oh, Muse, Oh Muse, why hast thou forsaken me”

Our movies romanticize The Muse. We believe that we should wait on the muse and then produce breathtaking work. We retell the tales that support the “muse” theory. Lady Gaga said that she wrote Poker Face in about 10 minutes. Sly Stallone wrote Rocky in 3 and a half days. Shakespeare In Love was basically about finding our muse.

Even science isn’t immune: Newton had to wait on an apple to fall from the tree. Doc Brown had to get bonked on the head to unlock the secrets of the Flux capacator.

We chase that dragon because we remember when it worked. When everything worked out and we lived in the flow. But that can’t happen, at least not all the time. So we get despondent. “It used to be so easy,” we say. We don’t realize that we were merely lucky. 

So, a little at a time our output suffers. We don’t go on a workout because we don’t “feel it.” We don’t keep up with our promises to ourselves. We insist on perfect conditions for our output. We may say that we only require a weeken. Or other perfect conditions.

But if The Muse is famously fickle, then why do we rely on that to chase our dreams? Why not deliver consistently no matter what?

The opposite of the Muse is The Practice. It’s our daily habit. Showing up with intention. Respecting ourselves enough to develop the habits we need to deliver the work we want. We have to understand that every day can’t be a personal best. We know over time we’ll go more miles. When we respect our talent enough, we develop the habits to support it.

The Practice isn’t sexy. The movies always gloss over it with a montage. Our hero is writing, training, making deals. Moving up the ladder. But that’s really where the magic happens. During the times that we “gloss over.”

We don’t need to wait on The Muse to text us “You Up?”

We’re faithful to The Practice. Married to the work we mean to do. In sickness and in health, which, over time, produces a richer life than The Muse ever can. Because it’s a reliable companion.

The Practice is what we do daily. It’s all the other things that we sacrifice to pursue our vocation, talents and dreams. It’s making #onemorecall with Jeb Blount. It’s writing 1,000 words every day, like Srini. It’s making space for Deep Work. It’s my wife going to the gym, every morning, and getting good enough and strong enough to put in more time.

The Practice makes us better. After spending time in The Practice, we later learn that The Practice and The Muse can even coexist. When the Muse comes, the possibilities are even richer because we’ve raised our whole game. So when we get a lucky opportunity, we’re ready to capitalize on it.

We can seek The Muse.

But we can trust the Practice.

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Christopher Johnson

Christopher Johnson is writing this blog. He's a startup veteran, having built a company called Simplifilm. This blog is about things that he's starting to - but may not actually - think yet. It publishes irregularly.
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