Marge: The Just-Get-Started Muse

from The Nine Modern Day Muses (and a Bodyguard)

By Jill Badonsky, MEd | Posted 8/4/06 | Updated 5/14/23

"Even if you are on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." —Will Rogers

Next in the line-up of Modern Day Muse introductions is Marge. She is the Muse of "Okay-Now-Let's-Get-Started." As her name implies, she is all about beginning the creative process — often the hardest part.

Marge is named after the sheriff in the movie Fargo. Marge's no nonsense mid-western attitude gets the job started, and without moodiness, complaints or drama, gets the job done. The Muse Marge says (in a mid-western accent long on o's): "Ya know, if you haven't finished anything, maybe it's because you haven't started anything."

Did you know reading about the creative process is another way of avoiding it? If my column usually takes about 5 to 10 minutes to read, what if instead of reading another article right now you took that 5 to 10 minutes and used it to take one small step on your writing, art or living-an-artful life endeavor? You would be experiencing the creative principle behind Marge: breaking the process down to the smallest step possible to avoid the fear/overwhelm/resistance that leads to procrastination or the leap toward success that triggers self sabotage. Small steps repeated over and over create the mental circuitry that makes creativity a habit even after the enthusiasm that fuel initial action wanes.

"Creativity is an organ that improves with use and when fully engaged is difficult to wear out ..." — Robert Genn, Painter's Keys

So I'll stop now, so that you can start — and remember: daydreaming for 2 minutes about what you might do next in your creative world is creative foreplay and anything that can get you more excited about starting, counts. Following is part two, so if you end up not starting today, you'll have some more tools to make beginning easier.

"It does not matter how slowly you go, so long as you do not stop." —Confucius

Marge Reloaded

Marge is the modern day Muse of Okay-Now-Let's-Get-Started. In part one you were encouraged to make a start with a creative call you have or continue an "in progress" endeavor in real time. How did you do?

If you avoided, procrastinated, denied, cleaned your keyboards, checked your email or kept reading on the Internet (which counts as avoidance), or just have trouble beginning or staying with a project here are some tips to consider. Starting a creative endeavor can be the hardest part, which you probably know but much of the staying-in-the-creative-flow-game is about reminders. The mind loves questions and the creative process is propelled forward by asking ourselves small questions but not expecting immediate answers. Our subconscious plays, incubates, percolates, associates and connects these questions. And thinking about questions is fairly easy but you must be diligent about it because you pretty much look the same whatever it is you are thinking, so I'm just going to have to trust that you'll ask yourself small questions because it IS easy, and most of us mortals like "easy." Wow, having that sentence make sense wasn't that easy.

ANYWAY. Asking yourself questions is a valid first step in the creative process because the mind creates and percolates answers including questions like:

  • What has worked to get me started in the past?
  • How can I remember what works?
  • What would it feel like to be engaged in the process?
  • What small step in a period of one to five minutes can I take right now?
  • What is one small way I can make this next minute a moment of creative joy?

"Success is how you collect your minutes. You spend millions of minutes to reach one triumph, one moment, then you spend maybe a thousand minutes enjoying it…. If you were unhappy through those millions of minutes, what good are those few minutes of triumph?" —Norman Lear

The brain doesn't operate too efficiently with fear. The amygdala (the flight or fight center) supersedes the cortex (the center for creativity). Creativity brings up fear... I probably do not need to remind you but here's just a few of the fears entering the creative process brings up: fear of wasting time and money, of not being good enough, of success, of giving up a comfortable rut, of alienating others, of failure, and of going berserk. That is just to name a few. These fears alert the amygdala to turn off the cortex so we are left blank and watching TV feels easier. Creativity is a spiritual process comprised of overcoming demons in the name of tapping into our divine source of originality. Demons are uncomfortable... procrastination is more comfortable from a lower self point of view, but, alas for most of you reading this column, not from a higher self one. SOOOO, to avoid the brain dysfunction and self loathing, Marge's biggest advice is to break the beginning of a process down so far that fear is not triggered and to repeat this step over and over with patience and persistence and imperfection permission until your process becomes a desirable, pleasurable habit and resistance becomes an oil and vinegar phenomenon not a creative one.

All of this small step theory is explained with clarity and brilliance in my partner in Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching Training, Dr. Bob Maurer's One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way. The whole book is ever so Marge but spelled out from the brains point of view. It changed my life… and I suspect that if you have problems getting started or finishing projects, it will change yours too. By small step we are talking one to five minutes at a time, one small step, one small question:

  • What is one small step I can take in this minute that will feel good from the standpoint of my higher purpose?
  • Why not just face the direction of my desk, studio, piano as my first small step?
  • What small questions can I ask to entice connections in my subconscious?

Interview with Marge

By Molly Anderson

Q: Tell us Marge, how were you chosen as one of the nine upgrades?

A: In 1996, the Muses went to see the movie Fargo, in which an unflappable sheriff named Marge Gundersen resolves the gnarly crimes that happen in North Dakota despite her challenges of pregnancy, snow, dense deputies and an uncooperative car salesman. Marge's no nonsense Midwestern attitude gets the job started, and without moodiness, complaints or drama, gets the job done. The Muses feel they ended up going to that movie because the Marge character was a good inspiration for a Muse.

Q: Marge, how can your no-nonsense inspirational style help artists navigate the swamps of procrastination?

A: The modern day mortal is constantly caught in crimes of the creative process: procrastination and avoidance. My approach is definitive but nonjudgmental. Quit giving into feelings. If you just do things when you FEEL like it, nothing will get done. Action begets inspiration. If you have fears, moods, insecurities, distractions, habits, addictions, over-responsibility, or the illusion of not having enough time, respond as I do. Say, "Thanks a bunch for sharing, but I've got a date with my creativity. So, I appreciate the offer, but I'm gonna have to turn you down." Take action. Do not look back. Do not dust the top of your refrigerator. You are here for a divinely creative plan.

There are oodles of things that can steal you from creative expression and yet, you can choose to engage in your creative passion. The discipline to engage in your passions can be made easy with routine, reasonable goals, small steps and focus. The result is that the magnificence you are meant to create and the joy you were meant to experience comes to life.

Q: What is your favorite way to motivate a creatively stuck mortal?

A: According to 11 out of 10 Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaches, my idea of taking really small steps, is a resounding success in the realm of unstucking. The trick is to remember that the steps don't stay small. They are easy, and take only five to fifteen minutes, so you get started, and then momentum builds. Five minutes three times a week gets someone a lot further than an hour that never gets done because it's too overwhelming. Taking small steps makes creating a habit easier, and a habit makes the getting started part comfortable.

Q: Do you ever have days when you want to slack off, put all of your projects on hold, and just relax? How do you fight the urge to snooze away the hot summer days in a hammock, sipping umbrella drinks and reading trashy novels? (That seems to be the only thing I want to do this summer…)

A: Maybe that's what you need. Go back two spaces, and hang with the Muse, Lull. Breaks are important. However, if you truly have a desire to use summer for creative endeavors, there are a number of ways to make it summer-fied and easy. While you're in the hammock, engage in creative foreplay…play with ideas about your next step in your head. Ask yourself small questions like, "What would be fun to do with this idea?" "How can I make this different?" "What quality would I like to feel as I engage in this activity? Mischievousness? Lightness? Discovery?" Questions and directed daydreaming are vital and valid aspects of the creative process.

Q: Sometimes I feel overwhelmed, when I think of all the things I need to do to make my creative dreams real. In working with other writers, I have found that this is a common experience. I know you can help — what's your best advice for making a mountain look like a molehill?

A: Break the steps down so small that the next step is so easy you can't not do it. Starting is often the hardest part and just getting engaged can be the hurdle that leads to the flow. Lowered expectations, and telling the self, "I don't have to do this perfectly, in fact I think I'll start off purposely with no expectations at all or with wild abandon," dissolves some of the overwhelm.

Mortals have a tendency to make small steps too big even when they are asked to break things down to tiny weeny steps…so exaggerate the way you break things down. I love Eric Maisel's advice to turn and face the desk as your first step in writing. You all can do that even as you read this. It counts.

Q: Discuss the importance of regular, disciplined work towards creative goals, and how this can impact the lives of creative folks who feel they're too busy to write, paint, sing, or play the guitar.

A: Creating a habit is often more important than the talent itself. With a habit, regular practice and participation creates quality. Showing up over and over makes not showing up feel awkward…this is desired. Showing up to your creative work could become as automatic and mindless as brushing your teeth.

Remembering that your creative talent is one of your higher purposes, and one of the blessed reasons why you are here, may help you make it more of a priority. Some mortals feel more pressure with that thought so, just showing up and engaging is the important part. Ask yourself: What has worked in the past? How can I lower the pressure I put on myself? Apply the memory of a creative flow's bliss to the present and have it entice you into action.

Q: How can we mortals break the procrastination habit and replace it with something healthier and juicier?

A: Creative individuals are often rebellious and frequently resistant against even their own to-do list.

Two suggestions:

  1. Write on your to-do list: Clean the fridge, watch reruns of Two and a Half Men…and then REBEL, sneak away, and have an affair with your art, your writing, your orchid garden.
  2. Make your To-do list an "I-Get-To-Do" list and notice the shift from dread to eagerness.

Q: What's your favorite way to spoil yourself after a hard day's work?

A: A good book, a cup of tea, and a breeze.

Q: Any last words of inspiration and motivation for us?

A: This quote, from my friend Igor Stravinsky:

"Just as appetite comes by eating so work brings inspiration, if inspiration is not discernible at the beginning."

And, from Bob Moawad:

"You can't make footprints in the sands of time if you're sitting on your butt, and who wants to make butt-prints in the sands of time?"

Self-Sabotage: How to Overcome Creative Neglect

Telegram from a Muse:

Hi -stop-
When will you stop your self-sabotage? -stop- When will you stop doing the -stop- stuff that stops you from getting to your -stop- creative call? Not -stop- participating in activities that -stop- bring you joy -stop- is a mistake. -stop- -stop- -stop- Stop doing that. Engage… engage in the things that bring you joy so you're not-doing-enough-creative-stuff-crankiness will stop -stop- So enough of these stops. Start! -stop- Get going, but don't forget to -stop- smell the lilies you paint, the roses you write about, the tulips you kiss and the aroma of fresh baked ideas that -stop- emerge from your creative bakery.

Signed —Marge, The Muse of Okay-Now-Let's-Get-Started, a muse from The Nine Modern Day Muses (and a Bodyguard)*

Quote from a Book:

"I am incessantly summoned by myriad flowering creative ideas. Alas… those fragile seedlings wilt with the cruelty of neglect, self- sabotage and rendezvous with refrigerators. Frustration, I know thee intimately. I am weighed down by the heaviness of furrowed displeasure for I procrastinate frequently and without hesitation." —From the book, A Voice in My Head: Disturbances in the Creative Force* *

Mortal Exclamation:

"Why do I have so many great ideas and do none of them, gosh darn it?"

Ah yes, the neglect of creative ideas. Believe me, I have wrestled with that affliction myself once or 286 times. But study in Muse Laboratories for the last 25 years, as well as a hyper-self consciousness similar to a hovering camera crew following around my every creative move — has helped me discover what works versus what results in highly impressive creative procrastination.

And procrastination, my mortals, I tell you without shilly-shallying, pause or dithering — results in unadulterated frustration.

What is evident from spending time chatting with enlightened Muses is that when mortals do not follow their creative call they get rude and uselessly melancholy. We were born with certain innate tendencies and talents BECAUSE WE ARE SUPPOSED TO USE THEM. We have a TV, computer, and a plethora of other luring distractions to test our commitment to follow-through with a mission greater than ourselves — creation. So unless you enjoy the feel of a malignant frustration that eats the away at your very core, read on.

8 Ways to stop creative neglect:

Realize that patterns like procrastination, self-sabotage, and fondling your remote control are not often broken with the initial enthusiasm and infatuation you experience when you embark upon a creative endeavor. They are foiled with the following:

  1. Have patience and persistence in showing up and not expecting to be perfect.

  2. Know the difference between not getting to something because of overwhelm and fear and not getting to it because you have a pattern of self sabotage.

  3. If you're in fear or overwhelm, breaking down your task down to 15 minutes at a time will get you to it. Done over a period of time — small steps lead to a habit that makes getting to your creativity easier. Book recommendation: The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp.

  4. Making it fun, giving yourself permission to practice imperfectly, doing it with a friend or in a class HELPS A LOT.

  5. If you are self-sabotaging yourself it may be due to growing up in a family where nothing was ever good enough and disappointment was role modeled. You still will not get to your creative passion even if you break it down. In this case, you need to change your tapes.

  6. Now that you are grown up, you get to take that part of you that died a long time ago and breathe some life back into it. Know that the patterns of disappointment you learned in childhood are about to be changed.

  7. Practice patiently (see number one) over time the feeling of success 15 seconds at a time the same time every day. Pairing it up with a shower, driving, a walk or something else you do regularly helps. Soon self sabotage will not feel so comfortable.

  8. Enlist a Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coach — they specialize in getting you through self-sabotage.

Keep reading for more on busting through immobilizing creative blocks.

* A real book by Jill Badonsky

* * This is not a real book. I made it up because I could not find a real quote I was keen on. But I like the title so I think I'll write that book — if I don't sabotage myself.

From Snakes to Delight

You are on a mountain path. You come to a dark place. The sun is obscured by a tunnel of vines, tundra and sloping stone. You see a snake just ahead on the path. You stand back, your heart races, adrenaline pumps and you act impulsively and instinctively to avoid the danger of potential harm. Fear overtakes you. You turn and go back cutting short the bliss of your journey to the anticipated view, a pinnacle, a peak experience. Progressing forward does not seem worth the risk.

A few steps back you remember you have a flashlight in your backpack. Turning to go back to the tunnel you shine the light on the threat only to find that it is a stick. Walking over to examine it, you see engraved upon the stick a statement: "You are so on the right path and booty-fullness beyond your wildest dreams is in store for you, keep going friend!" (It's a long stick).

In that instance your inner reality changes. There was no change in the outer world whatsoever. The stick was always a sign of encouragement and never a danger. The illusion of fear masked the beauty of the journey. The illusion of fear stops us from our creative call. That snake is fear of failure, of success, of wasting precious time and resources on something that may go nowhere. It is fear of change — of more responsibility and sacrificing a comfortable rut. These are some of the many fears that keep us from embarking upon our creative trail with exalted curiosity and openness to the wonder that is gifted to us at every turn.

The illusion of fear is banished with the light that comes when you trust the process enough to embark upon it with wild abandon at the beginning. Give yourself permission to start from the nine muses who award you with inspiration just because you take a step in a direction that is true to you. Fear of failure is replaced by skills that develop with practice and awareness that first attempts sometimes require ninth ones. Fear of success gives way to self respect for following your creative dream a little at a time and acclimating to each new level of illustrious responsibility. Fear of sacrificing a comfortable rut is swapped with the delight of fulfilling discovery and fear of wasting your time on something that goes nowhere pales to the fringe benefits of the creative process: enhanced authenticity, flexibility, resourcefulness, becoming more colorful creatures, loving life more… in addition to any product or result that arises from our effort.

Marge, The Muse of Okay Now Let's Get Started once again surfaces to remind you that if you begin a creative call in increments so small that fear is not summoned, you will soon build a momentum that fear cannot stop. Five minutes of writing, collaging or painting at a time … 30 seconds of daydreaming, thinking about your idea on the commute, in the shower. Fear does not suspect these small steps as anything significant or serious and is fooled. Yet these small steps build and create habits, action and creative routines. Albert, the Muse of Ingenuity and Imagination says reframe the fear as an affirmation of growth and Bea Silly says "Lighten up, it is only a stick pretending to be a snake in the darkness, with illumination… it is delight."

©2001-2009 Jill Badonsky. All rights reserved.

Jill BadonskyJill Badonsky is a creativity coaching pioneer, inspirational humorist, artist, and founder of the Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching™ model. ...

Modern Day Muses

Based on Jill Badonsky's book The Nine Modern Day Muses (and a Bodyguard).

Marge's symbol


Midwestern, no-nonsense approach to getting started and staying with it

Knowing that just getting to the work will get it done

In 1996, the Muses went to see the movie Fargo. In the movie an unflappable sheriff named Marge Gundersen resolves the gnarly crimes that happen in North Dakota despite her challenges of pregnancy, snow, dense deputies and an uncooperative car salesman. Marge's no nonsense mid-western attitude gets the job started, and without moodiness, complaints or drama, gets the job done. The Muses feel they ended up going to that movie because the Marge character was a good inspiration for a Muse. Especially because the modern day mortal is constantly caught in crimes of the creative process: procrastination and avoidance.

We are here for a divinely creative plan. There are oodles of things that can steal us from creative expression and we have the choice to do our work anyway. The discipline to engage in our passions can be made easy with routine, reasonable goals, small steps and focus. The result is that the magnificence we are meant to create comes to life.