I got a puppy a few months ago. It was super cute and snugly and all kinds of adorable. Then we brought it home and the first thing I did was hook on its leash and take it outside to do its business, and I watched this sweet little puppy turn into a manic monster, flailing against the leash to be free, whimpering, barking and causing general mayhem instead of walking nicely along with me. It was then that it occurred to me that this may have been an awful mistake.
But it wasn’t. My puppy and I just needed to set some ground rules and adjust to our new situation. I trained her. Now that she knows what’s expected of her, she’s much more manageable and we can enjoy each other’s company.
Many artists and other creatives struggle with unruly muses—they demand your attention just as you’re trying to sleep, tease you in the shower when your hands are covered in shampoo and you can’t reach a piece of paper, and then are nowhere to be found when you carve out the time, leaving you to face a blank page alone.
Good news, artists—you can train your muse and minimize the disruptions they cause you very much the way you would train a dog. Here’s how:
1. Stick to a schedule.
When you have a puppy, you quickly observe how much they count on a schedule for going outside, getting exercise, and eating. Similarly, if you establish a routine for when you work on your art, your muse will catch on and start showing up with you.
2. Set clear expectations and boundaries.
If you don’t want your puppy to jump into your lap and right into your omelette (happened), you have to set a clear expectation that if you have food, you are not going to play. If you want your muse to bring you awesome ideas, you need to be prepared to capture them. Keep pen and paper with you at all times. Or load your smartphone with apps to help you capture them, like Evernote.
3. Use positive reinforcement.
How do you housebreak a puppy? It’s not by yelling or hitting or rubbing its nose in its messes. You give it treats when it does it right, along with heaping amounts of petting and praise. The same is true for luring your muse out. Don’t guilt yourself if you have a bad creative day. Don’t abuse yourself with overwork. Don’t trash your work as you try to create. These behaviours will only upset your muse. Instead, treat your muse with care. Celebrate victories, large and small. Allow it to create without judgement. And yes, give yourself treats when you earn them.
4. Stick to it.
Five months in, my puppy is generally very good, but we still have the occasional accident. Some days will still be maddening. Likewise, you will always have off days with your muse. You will have days where you simply can’t stick to your routine, or where your muse is unruly. It happens. Don’t beat yourself up. Just get back to it.
Your muse can be your greatest ally and your worst enemy. As artists, we both thrive on and go mad from muses’ give and take, the gusts of inspiration and the dry spells. But by training your muse, you can start to create expectations that you both can count on, leading to a smoother relationship and better creative results.