Writers get a lot of terrible advice. Among the worst are phrases like “follow your passion” and “believe in yourself.” This type of advice sounds inspirational—in reality it’s just nonsense. Meaningless platitudes won’t make you a better writer or increase your word count.
Another equally useless piece of advice is “find your muse.” I’m all for seeking inspiration, but there’s a glaring problem with this advice. Most people don’t know who the muses are. Worse, they have no idea how each of their domains aligns with the different genres.
The word muse originates from the Greek moũsai (put in mind/have in mind). Before the reverence of the nine Olympian muses, there was only the trio of Boeotian Muses: Aoide (song), Melete (practice), and Mneme (memory).
In Greek mythology, the nine Olympian muses are the personifications of knowledge, art, literature, and sciences. They are the daughters of Zeus (King of gods) and Mnemosyne (Goddess of memory). After laying together for nine nights, Mnemosyne bore him nine daughters. Each was lovely, graceful, alluring, and gifted with a specific artistic talent.
Worship of the muses was not limited to Greece. Unlike other deities integrated into Roman culture from across the Roman Empire, the muses and their symbolism remained largely intact. Temples and shrines flourished throughout the Mediterranean and festivals were held annually in their honor, replete with theatrical performances, songs, and dance.
Those seeking a muse’s favor often brought offerings or objects for dedication. The muses made heroes of common men by granting them the gifts of eloquence, intelligence, curiosity, and lyrical prowess. As such, they have inspired artists and writers for centuries. And, while beautiful to behold and immensely talented, their gifts were not to be mocked. Those foolhardy enough to challenge a muse inevitably suffered a terrible fate.
The Olympian Muses
The muses fuel creativity and inspiration. Without them, the world would lack innovation, storytelling, and artistic expression. Each muse and her domain is listed below:
Domain: Epic Poetry, Sagas, and Eloquence
Symbol: Wax Tablet, Scroll, or Codex
Genre: Fantasy, Action and Adventure
As the eldest, she is also the undisputed head of the Muses. Her name literally means “beautiful voice,” being comprised of the Greek words kallos (beauty) and ops (voice). As a symbol of her status, she wears a diadem and is typically depicted holding a writing tablet at her breast or carrying a scroll or codex. Calliope is able to bestow the gift of eloquence and her domain is all things heroic. She is credited with inspiring Homer to write his epics, Iliad and Odyssey. If you write epic adventures and exploits of heroes, kings, or the gods themselves, she’s your muse.
Symbol: Trumpet, Scroll or Chest of Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Known as “The Proclaimer,” Clio’s name comes from the Greek verb kleô, which means “to make famous.” She records heroic deeds and historical accomplishments. The trumpet in her left hand emphasizes her role as a herald and the scrolls captures her position as the divine chronicler.
Clio dose more than just record history; she promotes the heroes. There’s even an advertising award named after her–The Clio. Basically, she’s all about PR and marketing. If you’re trying to generate buzz for your book, Clio’s your muse—especially if that book happens to be historical fiction!
Domain: Love, Lust, and Eroticism
Symbol: Lyre and Heart-Shaped “Love” Arrows
Genre: Romance, Erotica
Erato is many things, but she’s not subtle. Her name derives from the Greek word eros (love). In addition to her lyre and arrows, Erato wears a crown of myrtle and is often accompanied by cupid, holding a literal flaming torch. Erato is the go-to goddess for romance writers. Her influence is seen in the poem, Rhadine, about star-crossed lovers that may have inspired Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. If you’re hoping to write the next great Harlequin novel or just need to add a steamy sex-scenes to your manuscript, call on Erato for inspiration.
Symbol: Aulos (The double flute frequently depicted with Pan.)
Genre: Songs, Musicals
Euterpe’s name comes from the words eu (well) and terpein (to delight, please), thus she is the “giver of many delights.” She is often depicted in a blue and gold gown, bearing a flute, and adorned with a crown of laurel leaves. As the inventor of the double flute known as the aulos, wind instruments are her specialty, though she is reputed to have invented a variety of other instruments as well. As the muse of music, Euterpe is the one to call on for all things melodious.
Symbol: Tragic mask, ivy wreath
Genre: Horror, Crime, Mystery, and Thrillers
Melpomene’s name derives from the word melpein, which means to celebrate with song and dance. Dressed in a tragic actor’s ensemble, Melpomene wears a patterned, long-sleeved robe and high-heeled boots known as a cothurnus. Her head is adorned with a crown of grapevine. She holds the tragic half of the theater’s iconic mask in her right hand. (The other half belongs to her sister, Thalia.) Her left bears a sword, club, knife, or other weapon typically wielded by the tragic hero.
Originally muse of song, Melpomene was downgraded to muse of tragedy, and she’s touchy about it. She’s easily the most emo muse. If melancholy flows from your fingertips and tragedy fills your novel’s pages, your muse is Melpomene. She is also the muse of angsty poets and playwrights.
Domain: Sacred Songs, Hymns, Agriculture, Grammar, and Geometry
Genre: Religion/Spirituality, Creative Nonfiction
Polyhymnia’s name originates from the combination of the Greek words poly (many) and hymn (praise); thus, she is the “One of Many Praises.” Ever practical, she’s an ideal muse for geometry and grammar, in addition be being credited as the inventor of farming. Unlike her sisters, she’s seldom jovial. Often veiled and always modestly dressed, she wears contemplative expression. As a lover of silence, she’s given to shushing people.
Today, Polyhymnia would be the strictest librarian you’ve ever met. She’d be wearing rubber boots, packing a slide rule, the MLA and AP style guides, and pitchfork. This makes her an ideal muse for multi-disciplinary renaissance women, librarians, copyeditors, mathematicians, agrarians, and people who just really love silence.
Derived from the Greek words terpein (to delight) and khoros (dance), her name literally means “enjoyment of dance.” Despite having invented dance, she is usually depicted seated, playing the lyre. If you’re constantly worried about the “tempo,” “flow,” and “pacing” of your writing, Terpsichore is your muse.
Symbol: Comic Mask, Ivy Wreath, Shepherd’s Staff
Genre: Humor, Satire, Plays
Thalia is derived from the Greek word thallein (to bloom) and means “the blooming one.” In one hand, she carries the comedic half of modern theater’s most iconic symbol and either a trumpet or shepherds crook in the other. Unlike her agrarian sister, she uses the staff to yank people off stage, like the guy who is clearly bombing on improv night. She is usually portrayed seated, in humorous or erotic poses. Thalia is almost always light, airy, and youthful, so if you like to make people laugh, she’s your muse.
Symbol: Celestial Globe and Compass
Genre: Science Fiction, Christian Fiction
Urania’s name derives from the Greek ourania (heavenly). That may be
why she, and not Polyhymnia, was adopted by Christian writers during the Renaissance. That’s lovely bit irony since Urania was seeress who divined the future from the stars—an act forbidden in the Bible under penalty of death.
Dressed in a star-studded cloak and holding the celestial globe and compass, Urania literally rules the night sky. Many observatories bear her name and her likeness appears on the seals of both the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) the U.S. Naval Observatory (USNO) and of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC). So, if your writing is set in space or tends to be science heavy, she’s your muse.
3 Steps to Finding Your Muse
Below are three simple steps to finding your muse and awakening your creativity.
- Quiet Your Inner Critic—Sit for 15 minutes. Relax and meditate on the aspects of writing where you excel. This small bit of self-love nurtures your creativity and makes you more receptive to the muses.
- Set Your Intention and Call Your Muse—When you’ve discovered the muse that most resonates with you and your writing, mentally ask for her support, guidance, and inspiration.
- Write for Your Muse—Create a ritual around your writing process. When you write with specific inspiration “in mind,” you will create better work.
Remember: The original three muses were Aoide (song), Melete (practice), and Mneme (memory). Creativity comes from what’s already embedded in our memory and is honed through practice. So, reeve up your playlist and start writing—because practice makes perfect!