The most important creative collaboration of your life is with your own Muse

Henri Poincaré was one of the most astute observers of the relationship between the conscious and subsconcious mind in creative work, and he developed a pretty high degree of respect for his subconscious mind’s ability to solve problems. As he writes in  The Foundations of Science: Science and Hypothesis, The Value of Science, Science and Method

The unconscious, or, as we say, the subliminal self plays an important rôle in mathematical creation; this follows from what we have said. But usually the subliminal self is considered as purely automatic. Now we have seen that mathematical work is not simply mechanical, that it could not be done by a machine, however perfect. It is not merely a question of applying rules, of making the most combinations possible according to certain fixed laws…. the subliminal self is in no way inferior to the conscious self; it is not purely automatic; it is capable of discernment; it has tact, delicacy; it knows how to choose, to divine. What do I say? It knows better how to divine than the conscious self, since it succeeds where that has failed. In a word, is not the subliminal self superior to the conscious self?

There certainly are times when I feel like my creative mind is an entirely separate entity from me, and I’m little more than its transcriptionist. My subconscious, or unconscious, or whatever you want to call it– I still prefer the old-fashioned term muse— comes up with some of my best ideas, greatest turns of phrase, and most lyrical lines, and I’ve learned that I”m an idiot if I don’t listen to it. Like Scott Adams, I design my morning routine around my unconscious mind’s need for quiet and undisturbed time; I listen closely to what it has to say; I keep a notebook handy so I can write down the turns of phrase or ideas that pop into my head while I’m doing other things.

Of course, my muse isn’t separate from me, and one of the important things I’ve learned while researching and writing REST is that while we can’t teach our muse, it does learn; we can’t direct it, but can nudge it; we can’t dictate to it, but we can listen to it. Learning to do so– learning the preferences of our own muse well enough to be able to support it and listen to it– is something that lots of creative people seem to do.

This is why I believe that the most important creative collaboration of your life is with your own muse. If you can learn how to feed and sustain and draw on that hard-to-control, challenging-to-access, yet incredibly creative part of your mind, you’ll do much better work than if you don’t.

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