UnknownI was listening to an NPR interview of a woman writer explaining how she keeps her muse happy by talking to it. After a while I realized the woman being interviewed was Eat Pray Love’s author Elizabeth Gilbert, whom I consider to be a writer’s writer, one of my favorites because she crafts her words so beautifully.

I loved this notion, that you need to talk nicely to your muse or it might not treat you so nice in return. In the interview Gilbert (or should I call her “Liz” as she referred to herself in the interview?) explains how she talks to a book if she’s going to be away from a project a while. “I talk to it every day,” she says. “I say, ‘Listen, in April I will be with you. I want you to stay. Don’t let me wake up and read in the New York Times that someone else wrote you.’”

This is another idea I resonate with—that ideas are there to catch, and if you’re open you can catch them and run. But if you don’t act on them, but let them wither in the dust, they might just pick themselves up and turn to another, more alert writer.

These are all reasons for a professional writer like me to sit down at my computer and write every day, to treat my job with respect, to keep slogging through the dry spells as well as flying with the highs. Because you never know when your muse is going to give you a perfect ending to your story, or a great idea.

It’s also a reason to cultivate your mind to catch the big ideas, to be open to your muse, as filmmaker David Lynch says in his book, Catching the Big Fish. For me, the most effective way I know to heighten my receptivity to the cauldron of creative ideas that bubble up from within, is to experience the silence of my own mind through daily meditation. Lynch, too, recommends Transcendental Meditation—it’s such an important part of his creative life that he’s never skipped it for 40 years.

And I guess that’s a different way to look at your muse—as a part of yourself that needs to be nourished and cared for. As my mentor Kristi Holl writes in Writer’s First Aid, when you’re a writer, your own mind and body are your tools. So you need to take care of yourself. And you know how to do that—eat well, sleep well and stay fit—to keep your creative mind at its peak.

So either way—whether you believe your muse is outside you or inside you—this Valentine’s Day, give your muse a hug.

Listen to NPR’s Radiolab interview of Elizabeth Gilbert and Oliver Sachs, Me, Myself, and Muse, here. The Elizabeth Gilbert part starts about two minutes in. 

Listen to Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk on Your Elusive Creative Genius here.