7 Reasons Your Muse Isn’t Talking to You

by Joe Bunting | 72 comments

“…as immediately I stopped disciplining the muse,” said F. Scott Fitzgerald, “she trotted obediently around and became and erratic mistress if not a steady wife.”

Most writers either over discipline their muse or ignore her (or him).

The key to solving your discipline problem is to realize you don't have a discipline problem. You have a relational problem.

You can either be a good lover or a failed one, a committed wooer or someone who makes lots of promises but doesn't deliver.

Muse Rembrandt

Photo by Carul Mare.

Misguided Ways We Often Treat Our Muses

We demand a novel from her in thirty days during NaNoWriMo.

We refuse to sit down and start typing unless she shows up on time.

We demand that she produces perfect first drafts for us.

We don't give her credit when we create something amazing.

We check email, go on Facebook, and do “research” during the time we've committed to spending with her.

We ignore her all day, and don't write down the excellent phrases or ideas she whispers in our ears, and then when we finally sit down to “work,” we get mad at her for not helping us.

We follow her every whimsy and don't lead her toward the projects that need to get finished.

Better Ways to Treat Your Muse

Don't focus so much on creating a finished product. Enjoy the creative process.

Create a safe, comfortable routine so when she shows up she will feel welcome.

Realize that her main job, like infants, is to create messes. Therefore, give her space to make big ones. You can clean them up later.

Avoid distraction while you're spending time with her. No email and no Facebook, please.

If something turns out well, say, “Oh well, I can't take all the credit. The muse, you know.” If something turns out poorly, say, “Oh well, I can't take all the blame. The muse, you know.”

If she says something, write it down, even if you're in the shower. If she said something in the shower and you didn't take notes, don't blame her if she doesn't show up to “work” on time, later.

Your muse is great, but just because she gives you a great idea for a new novel, it doesn't mean you should quit the one you're working on to go write that one instead.

Any of those sound familiar? Any you'd like to add?

I recently wrote a short manifesto about this subject. If you'd like to read a (very rough) draft and help me edit it, send me an email. Make the subject “Muse Manifesto.” Thanks!

PRACTICE

Today, spend some time working on your work in progress.

Write for fifteen minutes, making a special effort to enjoy the process and not worry so much about creating a finished product.

When you're finished, feel free to post your practice in the comments section (250 words max, please). And if you post, make sure to comment on a few other Practioners' posts. In this community, we help each other.

Enjoy it!

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Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

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72 Comments

  1. Annie McMahon

    Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: “Writer’s block: when your imaginary friends won’t talk to you.” Great post! Food for thought.

    Reply
    • Stephanie Hilliard

      I love it!!

    • Yvette Carol

      Yes! Never heard it put so perfectly 🙂

  2. Christelle Hobby

    It can be so easy to mistreat our muse. At the end of the day, it’s a disservice we do to ourselves. Watching TV, over/under researching, giving up too quickly are all avoidable and yet difficult to overcome. This was a solid reminder that taking for granted the times when our muse appears is only keeping us from what we really want. Thanks Joe!

    Reply
  3. Bethany Suckrow

    Love the powerful symmetry you create between writing and relationships, Joe. Great food for thought. 🙂

    Reply
  4. Jim Woods

    I don’t know if I believe in the muse. I’m kind of on the fence. I think the “muse” talking is just when you are ignoring the resistance. At least that’s my theory (at this moment). If you ask me tomorrow, I might have a different answer 😉

    Reply
    • Marianne Vest

      That could very well be, the muse and resistance could just be two sides of the matter of being able to write, or not being able.

    • Jim Woods

      Kind of a yin and yang, or the glass is half empty or half full depending on how you look at it. I didn’t know I was so deep and theological 🙂 ha!

    • Joe Bunting

      If you read War of Art, Pressfield mentions the muse frequently. He says the reason why you discipline yourself is to show the muse your serious.

      Jeff told me a great story about June Cash when she was still June Carter. She had had a bestselling record and was doing great when she got this dream of three women sitting around (I might be getting some of this wrong so don’t quote me). When she came into the room they looked up at her and said, “We don’t accept dilettantes.” It rocked her. She realized, despite her success, she was only giving her art half of herself, and so she devoted her whole being to it. She learned to play the guitar (and a couple other instruments, I think). She worked harder on her singing and song writing. She became an artist, in other words, not just a performer. All to make her muse(s) happy.

    • Jim Woods

      Interesting story. I’d say that is also the difference between a pro and an amateur. (Again in the War of Art.) There was really interesting TED talk with Elizabeth Gilbert about the muse I’m sure many have seen but I thought I’d share in case you haven’t seen it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86x-u-tz0MA

    • Joe Bunting

      Yep. This post is definitely a meditation on her ideas.

    • Marianne Vest

      I know that muses are often real people. Some of the great painters, and I can only think of Picasso and Marie Therese and Dora Mayer (is that right – I’m not researching anymore (it makes my muse jealous ; )) so I’m sort of afraid to say things like this in case I get a name wrong). Anyway Picasso and some of the other great painters had muses that were real people and I think some writers did to – William Blake and his wife Catherine for instance. I find that there are some people whom I visit or talk to and I always feel invigorated by their conversation. They don’t talk to me about writing, but just about life, and they both live dramatically, and love things, plants, people, land with abandon. They give me so many ideas that in one case I always carry a notebook and a journal to draw in when I visit. Those are a kind of muse too.

    • Joe Bunting

      Picasso’s “muse” was usually the woman he was sleeping with at the time. That definition of the muse exasperates me. I don’t disagree with you that a person can provide inspiration, but since I define the muse as an encounter with the Divine, a person is only a muse insomuch as her or she is a carrier of the Divine. Perhaps that allows anyone to be a kind of muse, at some level. It reminds me of the Protestant belief in the priesthood of all believers. Maybe anyone mediate God.

    • Marianne Vest

      I think a human may point to the divine or maybe it is seeing the divine in each human that makes a human a muse.

    • Joe Bunting

      Yes, I think you might be right, Marianne. As long as we admit that humans can be “anti-muses” as well.

  5. Lia London

    LOVE this one, Joe. Absolutely needed to hear it right now because I just put myself on a deadline to finish a book I’m writing, and it didn’t feel right. Everything you say is right on–especially the bit about writing down things in the shower. (I want a waterproof writing board.) THANK YOU!

    Reply
  6. Geekinacardigan

    Sometimes Muse only gives us snippets, too. A sound, an image. Just because it’s not a complete thought, don’t think you can’t use it somehow.

    Reply
  7. Tom Wideman

    CRAP! I absolutely loathe the stark whiteness of a blank sheet of paper. It just screams out to me, “This is the content of your brain! Empty. White. Noise.”

    It’s been a while since I sat down to face my nemesis. I hate his mocking tone, his self-righteous purity. Normally, I don’t face him alone. I am usually accompanied by my Muse, who helps me deal with Whitey like any good writer. She arms me with my sword so that I can fend off his blank stares with cutting sarcasm and powerful prose.

    But it’s been a while since my Muse and I hooked up. Not because she went to Panama Beach for spring break. She may or may not have, but I wouldn’t know. You see, I’ve actually been avoiding her. I’m the one who took a leave of absence, not her. I’ve been running around from activity to activity and extra-long “to do” lists, so I haven’t taken the time to face the page. Then, when I wasn’t stressed with long lists of things to do, I filled my down time with brainless activities like television and, yes, Facebook. Maybe we need a support group for writers who are addicted to Facebook, or other tools of avoidance. Right now, I’m tempted to pause and check my email…voicemail…text messages…twitter…my weather app.

    I know what you’re thinking, “That bastard! He just paused and looked at Facebook!” But I didn’t. Really, I didn’t. I just broke for a new paragraph. And this paragraph has a curse word in it! My muse loves to cuss. She has a potty mouth that would make Chelsea Handler blush. But I digress.

    Reply
    • Marianne Vest

      I’m glad you’re fighting your way back Tom. I miss seeing your writing.

    • Joe Bunting

      I got a big grin on my face reading this, especially that last paragraph. It’s good to see you (read you, I mean), Tom.

    • Casey

      I’ve actually considered deleting my facebook account, Tom. I haven’t yet, because I have managed to convince myself that it’s the only way I can keep in touch. Haha. I am really trying to talk myself into it. All the free time I would have if it weren’t for facebook.

    • Alisha @ Unusual Passions

      The ability to plan events with friends and school clubs is my rationalization for sticking with Facebook. That and my own vanity.

    • CherylRWrites

      I just deleted FB from my phone because I felt like it was always nagging at me with notifications. Even when I turned OFF notifications, they continued. I’m debating whether to reinstall it, but it is a good way to stay connected….

    • Yvette Carol

      You Bastard! There, that feel better Tom? The rest of us do it too you know 🙂 By the way, you going to be the President of our Facebook Addicts group???

  8. Missaralee

    Writing with my eyes closed with no regard for punctuation, formatting or spelling usually yields some pretty interesting stream-of-consciousness style results.

    “My heart is a flower with petals softly blowing and falling as the dry touch of death caresses them one by one. It is a ship on the ocean’s waves, battered by storms as a happy banner flies in the gallant breezes. Lightning and thunder rage outside. I am safe and dry inside these walls. I seek a direction in which to gallop. I want to run and yet I walk. I run under cover of night where eyes cannot see. I pretend to be someone who wears shoes while others’ eyes are on me, but I kick them off under my desk or at the forest’s door. I am a writer, but I doubt myself and I pretend that I am only pretending. I see both my career and my dreams and feel I can have both even as one drips into the other, bleeding across the lines of time. What time is mine? Does it belong to the highest bidder or to me? Am I selling skills and effort or minutes and hours? Freedom is itching in my spine. My soul gallops and whineys, but the barn door is shut against me. It is safe in the barn and the corral is familiar. I fear the rain and the flame, though, if freed, my hooves would kick up clods of mud, tearing up the prairie sod.”

    It goes on for another 500 words or so. Once I give her an inch, my muse takes a mile. 🙂

    Reply
    • Stephanie Hilliard

      But it is a very visual and interesting mile.

    • Marianne Vest

      I like the image of the heart as a ship battered by the waves but flying a happy banner. That sounds so medieval. I also like the part about selling skills and effort or minutes and hours. I was listening to a song today that had lyrics about trading in time, spending what was left.

  9. Stephanie Hilliard

    My muse once showed up in the middle of an intimate moment…I made her at least wait until after before I wrote it down! The spouse, however, was still a bit miffed. What can I say? I don’t control when the ideas pop into my head!

    Reply
  10. Alisha @ Unusual Passions

    Hmm, it sounds a bit strange to think of writing and creating in terms of a muse’s inspiration. I usually think of my work as mine, you know? The inspiration comes from nature, experiences I’ve had, other works of literature or art… But I did find the relationship metaphor interesting.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Hi Alisha,

      Yes, you’re right. it’s very strange. Especially since the whole flow of Western culture has been teaching us artists that we are the geniuses, the creative visionaries, for the last four hundred or five hundred years. Check out this TED talk from Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love):

      http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html

      You’ll like it.

      The hard part of thinking that your work is yours, she says, is that when it succeeds, you become a narcissist, thinking that your are a genius. And when it fails, you get depressed, become an alcoholic, and kill yourself. It sounds dramatic, but a lot of artists have done just that. Check out the video.

    • Yvette Carol

      I just watched it too. Thanks for the heads up Joe! You know what my main feeling is? RELIEF. Thank goodness it’s not just me who experiences the creative process this way. Now I know that dating right back to the times of the Greek philosophers it’s always come down to that ‘little voice’ coming unbidden. Wow! I feel so much better….My entire writing life I’ve felt it was ‘never me’ and yet our culture, doesn’t really permit one to say such a thing. So I really did think I may be veering towards the nutty side of life…until now. Thank you again 🙂

    • Alisha @ Unusual Passions

      Thanks for sharing that video, Joe. I did like it.
      I see this idea of muses taking the credit and the blame for writing successes and failures similar to the way Christians treat their work (in theory): give glory to God in success, and don’t think that you are inherently failed when something doesn’t pan out.

      _____

    • Joe Bunting

      Yes, Alisha. I think that’s a fair comparison.

  11. Yvette Carol

    I found the way to have give & take with my muse when writing the rough draft for my trilogy was to have a set time and place and never waver from it. I sat every night at my desk at 9.30 p.m. Sometimes I would only eke out half a page and fall asleep on my hand. Other times I would write for four pages and be unable to drag myself away. However I have to say, that for all the editing and rewriting that has come since then, I don’t have a set time & place. Things have become rather haywire! Must make mental note….
    Also, when the cogs of my creative machine are oiled and rolling I have to say that I get woken up at all times of the night by words. I do keep a flashlight and notepaper by the bed in case. But I have been known to be a grumpy partner in the process. Yes I have been known to snap out a terse, ‘leave me alone, I need to sleep!’ on occasion. And let’s face it, what partner wants to hear that when they’re tapping on your shoulder in the middle of the night?

    Reply
    • Marianne Vest

      It’s great that you have a schedule. I need to assign myself a time, and I think I’m going to have to get up an hour or two early to do it.

    • Yvette Carol

      It does work to ritualise it, like Joe says, to get a schedule and stick to it.

  12. Marianne Vest

    I’ll buy the flowers myself, Elizabeth thought. She left the dorm and headed, on foot, for downtown. I hate going downtown, and I hate going alone she thought as she approached the brick buildings that comprised Main Street in the historical downtown section of Early Virginia. But then she thought about her friend Daphne, about how sad Daphne was, about how flowers cheered people up, and she continued walking toward the florist. She walked facing the late winter wind, with her shoulders hunched up and her hands balled into fists in her pockets. She walked past a window with a pair of red leather gloves on display. She needed gloves, She didn’t want to enter an extra shop though. I hate meeting people. They don’t like me as soon as they see me, she thought. She was stiff with the cold when she got to the florist. She put her face to the windows and peered in.

    Mrs. Tyree, the florist, saw the girl hesitate outside the shop, and then look in, holding her face close to the glass and circling her eyes with her hands. Mrs Tyree thought about how bright it was outside, on winter days when the light slants in at a sharp angle, and when there are no trees to deflect or dilute the glare. Mrs. Tyree watched the short girl with glasses and a knit cap, as she turned from the window and opened the door, rattling the cowbells that were attached to the knob.

    Reply
    • Missaralee

      Such an interesting, child-like character, an outcast maybe? She has that skiddishness of youth, where going places alone and meeting new people are uncomfortable, but also the innocent hopefulness that buying something pretty, like flowers, might fix her friend’s sadness. The way she thinks about flowers cheering people up is almost like she has only heard that they do and has never received any herself. I like her introspection about people disliking her on sight; she must not have many friends aside from Daphne. I think Mrs. Tyree might just like Elizabeth on sight and prove her wrong.

    • Marianne Vest

      I’m very very happy that you can see that she has never received flowers herself, but thinks they will be just the thing for her friend, even if she has to brave an interaction with a stranger to get them. Thank you for reading this and commenting.

  13. Angelo Dalpiaz

    Hi Joe…great post.

    I had been avoiding my muse for a couple of weeks because I’ve had a huge project going around my house that has me too busy to write very much. But I did learn something that might help.

    As I’ve been building cabinets, tearing our tile floors, and then putting it all back together again, I find my muse dropping little phrases and ideas into my ear. It’s difficult to just stop what I’m doing, especially if I’m halfway through a cut on the power saw.

    My wife gifted me with a pocket recorder. All I do now is flip the switch and repeat what my muse has told me. I actually prefer the small notebook I’ve always used because I find that as I write down the little thoughts, they usually grow in length as I write. That doesn’t happen as often with the recorder, but since I can’t get to my notebook, the recorder is a great second best method.

    When life is normal I set my schedule to write for a while mid-morning, then again mid-afternoon, and then again in the evening after dinner. However, and I bet this has happened to many of you, I have had those experiences when an idea pops up in the middle of the night, apparantly my muse has terrible sleeping habits. When that happens I get out of bed and follow the idea.

    My project is nearing an end, so I’ll be around more now. I’m glad to be back.

    Reply
    • Marianne Vest

      I’m glad your back and i like the idea of a voice recorder. Sometimes at night by the time I get my stuff together write, I’ve already forgotten my original idea. I get a lot of ideas while I’m driving too and it would be good for that.

    • letmein

      Especially while you’re driving.
      If I don’t capture the idea about story, setting, or character when I think of it, I usually forget it by the time I sit down to write. I prefer a notebook but the recorder works very well when you can’t write…like while driving.

    • Joe Bunting

      I used to write newspaper articles while driving… woops.

    • Joe Bunting

      Agreed. I used to have one then lost it. But it’s great for driving and running/hiking/exercising and anything where your attention is mostly otherwise occupied, which is when the Muse often likes to strike—pernicious creature that she is.

    • Yvette Carol

      Yeah walking is the worst. She likes to download screes to me then. I’ve had to resort to learning memory techniques, and sometimes I end up ‘typing’ lines of words then hanging them over hooks in my imagination numbered 1-10. Then the trick is seeing those lines of laundry-like words again later and jotting them down. Phew. The things we do

    • Joe Bunting

      Ha! I love that, Yvette!

    • Yvette Carol

      Happy to see you again Angelo. Yeah the recorder is a good idea. I had a tiny dictaphone that had survived since my journalism days in the 80’s right through until my youngest son got his hands on it…sigh! Now I rely on dozens of little pads and mini-pens around the house, in handbags, shoulder bags, in the car etc.

  14. Adriana Wiley

    hi, i’m still here. just the silent stalkerish type that doesn’t write but reads, reads, reads. and learns, learns, learns. but i do have question that i don’t think will be answered without me asking straight out. i gather that this “muse” thing is very important in the life of a writer – or creative at large. but what in the world IS IT?! it’s like the black smoke thing in LOST – i don’t quite know what it is.

    and ps joe, your writing is fabulous and your blog even better. way to go, sticking with it!!!

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Hi Adriana,

      Good question. Different people will say different things to answer this question depending on their framework for the world. The way I understand Her is that She is the Breath of the world. She is the essence of life that lives in all of us and allows us to move and have our being. I often tell people to breathe deeply if they want to tap into their creativity because when you breathe deep you actually tap into your life. Breath is the only thing that separates us from the dead, and in my framework for understanding the world, when God formed man out of the dirt, the thing he animated man with was Breath.

      That may not explain it enough for you, but that could just be because you need to wrestle with “the muse” yourself.

      Stalk on 🙂

    • Yvette Carol

      Really wonderful way of putting it Joe. I like that!

    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks Yvette. 🙂

  15. Casey

    I’ve been training my muse to show up during the daytime when the people that I’m related to are awake. She has been reluctant, but she’s agreed to work with me on this. It hasn’t been easy, but I think she understand that at this stage in my life, this is the only way I can get to the page.

    The beginning of a new story:

    At first I thought they were people, when they moved in–people like me. They looked like normal every day people. They walked on two legs, and they had eyes that could tolerate the daylight. The woman worked in her garden every day, pulling myrtle spruge with her rubber gloves, and planting strange hybrids of allium that I’d never seen before. Her husband washed the car in the drive way and wore a boonie hat on his blond head and a white streak of sunblock on his nose. They had a Labrador retriever, too. They were quite normal.

    Reply
    • Marianne Vest

      This is nice Casey. There are lots of good details.

    • Brian

      I’m intrigued by this opening…

    • Debra johnson

      Same here, it sounds interesting.. I’ll add mine at the end.

  16. JB Lacaden

    I can relate. Now I feel like a jerk in terms of how I’ve been treating my muse lately. Have to do my best to make it up.

    Reply
  17. Nona King

    OMG! I was laughing and nodding through the entire post. 🙂 So true so true, and I do my best to follow most of these suggestions. The one I suffer at is the better use of my time, which is on my challenge list to work on this year. So far so good.

    Reply
  18. Amanda Sue Duggins

    “You will have time to get use to your new room later tonight.” Missus Davies said walking into the hallway “You are going to have a long day while you are staying here. Every morning before you begin your duties down in the kitchen you are to clean out the Chamber pots of the other mains as well as your own.”
    Missus Davies led Sophie back down all four flights of stairs to the basement. No wood floors with warm rugs or wood floors just cold stone. Missus Davies stopped in front of the kitchen range. “Now every morning after you empty out the chamber pots of all the other maids you are to come down here and see to the range.” Missus Davies picked up the heavy metal poker and opened the little door on the range. She shoved the poker in, stirring up the embers of the fire. “You have to stoke the fire as well before adding more wood and lighting the kindling. You will then need to fetch enough water to fill up the three tea pots.”
    Just then a pretty young woman in a long black dress and apron walked into the kitchen. Her skin had a slight tan to it, almost as if she had grown up in the country but she had the posture of a woman born and raised in the city.

    Reply
  19. kateoldkate

    so true! am printing this and tacking it above my desk. i didn’t realize what a shitty and selfish ‘lover’ or ‘caregiver’ i was until i read this.
    ‘Realize that her main job, like infants, is to cre­ate messes. Therefore, give her space to make big ones. You can clean them up later.’ beautifully put, i think i would like to picture my muse that way, as a fat thighed baby with bright eyes and bent on destruction.

    Reply
  20. CherylRWrites

    I love this, and it definitely resonates with where I am right now. When I “court” the Muse with writing exercises and word play, she suddenly shows up when it’s time for me to work on that WIP. Thanks for a great post!

    Reply
  21. Marina Sofia

    Guilty as charged. My muse is right to accuse me of cruel and unusual treatment: expecting the impossible, blaming her for everything, neglecting her for Twitter, cheating on her with other people’s blogs… But I promise to treat her right (write?) if only she will come back….

    Reply
  22. Daniel Martin

    Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: “Writer’s block: when your imaginary friends won’t talk to you.” Great post! Food for thought.

    Reply
  23. JP

    Aw man! But what if your muse is an actual person who doesn’t talk to you??!!? :/

    Reply
  24. Debra johnson

    As she
    looked at her secret Santa name she smiled. She pulled Rosa’s name and while
    everyone was struggling with their gift ideas she knew exactly what she was
    going to get Rosa.

    After work
    she went to her favorite store and began her hunt for the perfect gift or gifts.
    The interior was beautifully decorated for the season and it smelled of spice
    and pumpkin. Just to inhale I couldn’t wait to get home and make a cup of my
    favorite cappuccino. I went to the stationary isle and straight to the index
    cards and grabbed two packs one for her and one for me.

    Then I went
    to the dish isle and looked over all the cool coffee cups and designs. One can
    never have to many cups especially writers. I found two with an inscription on
    them. The first one said Writers are never alone and the other said Imagination
    makes anything possible. Before long she had the things she wanted and quickly
    looked at the clock. Everything bought in under an hour. Perfect and with time
    to spare, plenty of time to wrap the gifts. The party the gifts were for was
    less than an two hours away.

    Reply
  25. Anthony Wells

    Treat that muse right and she will take care of you. Nice Article, shared a link on my blog.

    Reply
  26. Mimadeline

    The goal is to find the muse that exists within yourself… with no need for external sources to drive it. We all hold that hate, that fury, that passion, love and that resentment that we hold others responsible for creating in us. It is all there within us already. Channel that, it will never fail you, never leave you and it will certainly never run short of things to write about.

    Reply
  27. Janice Thorn

    The pine needles crunched underfoot like tiny bombs. The doting tree spoiled over its hours, its ruminating roots pulsing through the earth like old crisp beetles running through sand. Eyes burst overhead and died, stars in the night-shrouded evening. Her footsteps had gone, trampled through those pine needles, leaving little lines of halting blood drops. She had gone, and I had not gone with her. The tree would remember her, drink the blood of her passing from the ground, into its roots. New needles would thread the undergrass, flavored by her going. And I would watch new lovers pass beneath its boughs.

    I have ADD. I bet this is all over the place, but I don’t have the capacity right now to understand that and apply that knowledge within my own writing, because I also have a reading comprehension problem and a processing deficit. Ha! I bet this sucks, doesn’t it? people always ask me ‘Why do you write like that?’ and get all sad puppy dog face when I say I need to stop for a while, but they never tell me why. Writers Digest is so negative… I hate going there.

    Reply
  28. Haruo C.

    My muse decided to go to Tahiti…I don’t think she even left a card saying when she’ll be back. ~sigh~

    Reply
  29. devid brayen

    you know everybody her is already talking to his or her muse
    come to think of it how do someone make his or her muse to visit

    Reply

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