Creative people such as writers, musicians, directors, and designers like to talk about “the muse.” This entity hearkens back to Greek mythology to represent the mystic force that overtakes the artist at the peak of his or her creative force. The muse is the spirit that possesses the artist when inspiration strikes. Guided by this mysterious power, creative people produce their best work.
However, just as sure as they never fail to invoke the muse while doing their work, the most creative people never endeavor to wait for the muse to show up before starting their work. In his book On Writing, author Stephen King has this to say:
Don’t wait for the muse. As I’ve said, he’s a hardheaded guy who’s not susceptible to a lot of creative fluttering. This isn’t the Ouija board or the spirit-world we’re talking about here, but just another job like laying pipe or driving long-haul trucks. Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’til noon. or seven ’til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up.
Another writer, Steven Pressfield, echoes this sentiment in his book, The War of Art:
This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.
The muse shows up when your hands are dirty; when you’re in the trenches; when you’re feeling uninspired. In other words, inspiration strikes when you are doing the work–even though its boring.
The Muse for Curiosity
I believe this principle applies, not only to making things, but also to experiencing things. Just as there is a muse for creativity, there is also a muse for curiosity. When you’re exploring your world, there is a mystic force that shows up to fill your encounters with excitement. But, just like the muse of creative people shows up only after they start creating, the muse of curious people only shows up only after they start searching. If you’re waiting on the muse to make you interested in things, it simply isn’t going to come. You have to summon it.
“This job is so boring; I think I’ll look for something else.” “This show is so boring; I think I’ll change the channel.” This relationship is so boring; I wonder if So-and-So is still single?” Have you found yourself saying these things? In a variety of contexts, we seem to be far too easily-bored. We want to be entertained. We want to be stimulated without any effort. We expect the muse to be our lap dog, waiting to please us at the drop of a hat. Instead of taking an interest in things, we look only for those things which are already “interesting” to us.
The Power of Imagination
I believe this posture is a one-way ticket to an unfulfilling life. Life becomes exhilarating, not when we do those things which are interesting, but rather when we find interest in things we once considered boring. In their book Nurture Shock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman recount a study that conveys the power of imagination. A group of children were given a simple, albeit monotonous, task: they were asked to stand still for as long as they could. The children lasted, on average, 2 minutes. A second group of children were asked to the same exact thing, with one slight addition: they were also asked to pretend that they were soldiers standing guard. This group of children lasted, on average, 11 minutes. Both groups were asked to perform the exact same task; the only difference is how they perceived it. “Boring” is a state of mind.
Much of what we do in life will be, by default, tedious and inspiring. Our natural tendency may be to avoid it or get through it as quickly as possible. I am suggesting to do the opposite. I am suggesting to investigate it. I am suggesting that you take an interest in it. I am suggesting that you fight boredom with curiosity.
The next time you are tempted to be bored with a task, try being curious instead. Don’t ask, “Is this interesting?” Ask instead, “How is this interesting?” Assume interest. Assume that there is something exhilarating about the task and you simply need to dig a little deeper to find it. And it’s right there, in that moment when you least expect it, with your shovel in hand and your eyes searching for the treasure, that the muse will show up and fill your mind with wonder. The muse always favors the curious.
Douglas E. Rice is a writer, marketer, and researcher who blogs regularly at douglaserice.com. He is the author of The Curiosity Manifesto: A Call to Live the Curious Life.