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“The Muse visits during the process of creation, not before.”—Roger Ebert
When my children were young and watched the 1997 Disney animated film “Hercules,” I always found myself drawn to the Greek mythology Muses who narrated the film. While the movie only features five of them, there are actually nine. I recently looked up the names of each one, and while refreshing my memory, a question surfaced: “Which muse is with me when I write and manage proposals?”
“All of us — at different times,” the muses responded, or so I imagined as I contemplated my own query.
Known as the goddesses of creative inspiration, Greek mythographers, as noted in the Greek and Roman Mythology Online Dictionary at the University of Pennsylvania, most commonly speak of the muses as the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. For generations, artists, philosophers and writers have appealed to the muses for creative inspiration. In fact, in both “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” Homer asks them to help him tell his story.
Fast forward, and we find that the muses feature prominently in literature, music, film and theater. They appear in Rick Riordan’s mythological series “Percy Jackson & the Olympians” and “The Trials of Apollo.” In 2010, a South Korean singing group debuted under the name Nine Muses. The 1999 film “The Muse” features a struggling writer who seeks the help of a self-proclaimed “muse,” and the 2007 Broadway musical “Xanadu” features a character named Terpsichore. Of course, my personal favorite is still the representation of the five muses who feature prominently in “Hercules,” functioning quite literally as a Greek chorus unfolding the story for us.
It seems fitting that Zeus — god of the sky, lightning and thunder, and ruler of Mount Olympus — and Mnemosyne, goddess of memory, should join to produce the nine muses. We use a combination of leadership, memory and inspiration (the same skills and resources provided by Zeus, Mnemosyne and the nine muses) every day in our proposal writing and management practice.
Perhaps a closer look at each of the muses will help us better understand how they accompany us on our proposal writing and management journey.
Calliope is the muse of epic poetry. Referred to as the superior muse, she protects heroic poems and rhetoric art. She is the one who helps us select the best prose for our proposals, craft client-centric executive summaries, and write proposals our clients want to read. Calliope inspires us to respond to requirements with responsive, coherent language instead of boilerplate text filled with jargon.
Clio is the muse of history. She also celebrates great deeds and accomplishments, and in this capacity, shares news of these deeds. In her role as historian, Clio asks us to record from our proposal history what has worked to date and what has not worked. She teaches us to perform sunset reviews and document lessons learned so we can take them into future proposals. She also records new proposal awards and shouts these accomplishments in celebratory cheer for all to hear.
Erato, the muse of love poetry, challenges us to share our love of proposal management with our teams. That love and enthusiasm can be infectious, leading others to engage more fully in the process.
As the muse of music, Euterpe can be called on to add harmony and grace to poetry, lyrics and prose. She supports our efforts to make our proposal prose poetic and our graphics live in harmony with the text. We call on Euterpe when we perform our quality assurance processes, ensuring that our proposals harmoniously align with the requirements.
Melpomene is the muse of tragedy. She is with us when we learn we did not win a big contract and helps us understand how to improve for the next time. Melpomene teaches us lessons of patience, forgiveness, teamwork and humility.
Polyhymnia is the muse of sacred music and poetry. She accompanies us during serious, pensive and contemplative moments of our proposal writing and management. When we work on case studies that examine the impact of our services on a particular user, Polyhymnia sits beside us, guiding us as we tell the story.
Responsible for the invention of dance, Terpsichore reminds us to dance, or in the case of proposal writing and management, write, like no one is watching. Terpsichore encourages us to release our inhibitions. She makes anything creatively possible.
As the muse of comedy, Thalia wears the theatrical comedy mask. She reminds us to step back from our work when things get too serious. In fact, she reminds us not to take everything so seriously. With Thalia’s help, we can gain a new perspective, which helps us solve some of the thornier issues in our proposals.
Urania is the muse of astronomy. Each time we invent a new proposal process or discover a new tool, Urania sits beside us guiding our way, like the celestial stars she guards.
Reviewing the list of the nine muses, I understand why they might have answered that they all visit with us at various times in our proposal development processes. Just as each member of a proposal team brings a particular capability to the process, so, too, does each muse.
Of course, we each have our favorites who travel with us most often. For me, they are Calliope, Clio, Euterpe, Terpsichore and Melpomene. Melpomene? Isn’t she the tragic one? Like “Sadness” in the animated film “Inside Out,” Melpomene acts as a balance to her happier sisters. Remember that Melpomene, while not as joyous as her sisters, teaches us patience, forgiveness, teamwork and humility, which are important skills that help ground us as project managers.
As for the remaining four sisters — Erato, Polyhymnia, Thalia and Urania — well, they are always close by, ready to help their sisters, and me, when invoked.
Marcia Waldman, CF APMP, is a senior proposal manager for an education services company. Proposal writing and management drive her passion for creativity, connecting people and ideas, telling stories and organizing information. You can reach Marcia on LinkedIn.