Death of a Muse: A Cautionary Tale

Do you have a writing muse? All writers draw upon LIFE in some way as fodder for our stories, whether it be from an everyday or extraordinary experience, from a certain moment or an emotion, from a direct observation or a daydream for a happily-ever-after, or from an interaction or interlude. But what about an actual muse? Do you have a very specific inspiration for a story? A real-life person “pinned” to your mental inspiration board that drives the story for you?

I’ve always viewed my stories as character-driven. I write in first-person, with my character’s internal struggles largely serving as the guiding force of my stories. For my first four completed manuscripts, I created characters partly from experiences and from my sense of what I wanted this character to be armed with and needing to build as they battled through their challenges. These characters came to life from my “floaty brain,” the part of my creative brain that soars beyond what I know in real life. These characters were unlike anyone I knew, but they spoke to me and worked well for me. And then something happened that made me switch to a real-life muse.

It was an innocent and seemingly small thing. I was starting a new story at the time, and one day was perusing “suggested” Instagram posts. I hit upon a picture of a model that struck me because this person looked exactly like how I envisioned my main character. We’ve probably all done this before as writers: selected a celebrity or some other person readily available in social media to pin to our character inspiration boards. With this single picture as my inspiration, I wrote over 75K of this story.

I deliberately challenged myself with this particular project. I wanted my main character to be a “grey guy,” neither a hero nor a villain but someone who would possess very few scruples in his life unless they involved one other person (the love interest of his story). I struggled with this character and this story, rewriting the beginning seven times during the process in an attempt to get it (and him) just right. Somewhere in the middle of the rewrites, I met this real-life muse, the model.

How would I describe this experience? CONTRADICTORY. On once hand, meeting this muse was exciting and exhilarating because this was my character (I mean, character inspiration). However, from the moment I met this muse, my floaty brain (my creative part that soars above what I know in real life) came crashing down to earth. It was akin to a time travel paradox or stepping into an anti-parallel universe – where I crossed dimensions and met a different version of my floaty-brain muse. I now could hear what this “character” sounded like and experience his mannerisms and learn a little bit more about him as a person. And while this muse was in fact very nice…. he wasn’t my character. Duh. Of course he wasn’t (I’m not that delusional). Nevertheless, my character inspiration began to die that day and I never got my floaty-version back.


My muse died over two years ago. I have never finished writing that story, and I don’t know if I ever will. I don’t in any way blame my once-real-life muse for my writing struggles that occurred after meeting the muse in real life, but this experience has allowed me to understand more about my own creative process and how I best develop and allow my characters to thrive — and how I need to keep them in their own dimensions.

I have worked on other projects since this unfinished story, but I haven’t been able to channel my floaty brain as well as of late. Various life events have made it necessary for me to step away from writing, and for now, I’ve given myself permission to go on an extended writing hiatus. But I will find my floaty-brain again some day, and when I do, I will be back.

Thank you to all of my lovely sisters and brothers at Thinking Through Our Fingers. While I will visit you all daily and read your posts, this is my last post for a while.  ❤




Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves. She is the author of the upper YA MYTHOLOGY trilogy and new adult contemporary romances. You can find out more about her books at

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