Don’t Flatter a Fickle Muse

I bet a lot of us have had a conversation about our “muse” or the “muse.”  I recently was in one of those conversations myself, and it sort of surprised me what kind of advice was bandied about.

Many professionals don’t wait for “the muse” or “flow” when they write, mostly because they can’t due to deadlines.   Yet, I watched another writer, one who I admire, claim that one should “wait for the flow” to write.  This person is a mentor within their writing community and the writing was more for fun than for work, but the advice didn’t jive with me, even though I definitely respect the writer that gave it.

The muse is not the writer.  You are the writer.  She doesn’t have to show up and do the work, you do.

I’ve watched too many friends who “wait for the muse” and never write a single thing.  They have amazing ideas, they have stories I want to read, but they don’t buckle down and write it.  When this happens, the muse becomes an excuse.  She is being uppity and refusing to join you, so oh well, you just can’t write without her.  Gotta wait for that flow of inspiration, right?

Sure, for some that flow comes regularly, but for the most part, a lot of writers have to show up and write whether they like it or not.  Writers who work professionally, either in fiction, journalism or content creation, have deadlines.  There are times I am not in the mood to write, but if I have a deadline, I write anyways.  Generally, it isn’t a joyful process but it is a productive one.  And 9 times out of 10, when I come back to revise that piece of writing, it is nowhere near as bad or lacking in flow as I thought it would be when I plunked those words down.

And honestly?  It amazes every time when I come back to a piece of work and it is not half as bad as I thought it would be.  There are certainly times where that is not the case, where the work needs a lot of editing and improvement, but if the writing has been done that still puts me one step ahead of someone who is waiting for inspiration.

Please note:  I’m not talking about moments when you are stuck or unsure of a direction for a story.  There are times where thinking too hard on a project, and lacking flow because of it, is certainly more detrimental than helpful.  Those moments, I find it’s best to take a step back.  You usually only get to those moments if you’re doing the work, though, whether your muse has shown up or not.

So I think the best advice I can give you is this:  Don’t flatter the muse.  She isn’t the one putting in all the hard work.  If you keep giving her all the credit, she just gets a more inflated ego and then she won’t work at all.  Show up, do the work, and she’ll probably get all jealous and want to work with you more.

 

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Capturing the Muse – Writing for the uninspired

With the advent of the internet, it’s easier than ever for writers to connect with one another.  Because of this, I have met lots of writers who have very active muses, those that do not wait for the muse, and those that can only write when their lazy muse feels like it.  I consider myself to fall in the second camp, I don’t wait for my muse or for inspiration, to write.  If you’re like me, this can mean tricking yourself to producing.

Okay, tricking sounds simple.  It’s not really a trick, it’s a series of carefully planned habits and practices that help me make sure I show up to write even when my muse doesn’t.  Here are some tips to get you started down that path:

  1.  Create a daily writing habit – Stephen King and several other professionals will give you this advice.  Whether it’s setting a word count goal, or setting aside 20 minutes a day to write, create a goal and stick to it.  Even if you write just 200 words a day, that’s 73,000 words a year.  That’s a small novel.  That’s several short stories.  This writing may not feel inspired at first, but if you show up to do the work, you’ll be surprised how often it starts to feel inspired.
  2. Find a process that works for you – I have several work sheets for story planning.  When I start writing a story, especially short stories. I pull one out and start the very fundamental process of character building on them.  I usually start with 3-4 characters, give them names, 4 personality traits (at least one negative trait).  From there I add a setting if I didn’t already have one in mind and I build from there.  I am the sort of writing that likes plot that stems from character, so that is why I start with characters.  Once I have plot, I work on world building and theme.   The worksheet I use the most is here, which I based off a story workshop I attended taught by comics author Kelly Sue Deconnick.  It gives me a great building block to start with, whether my muse had chosen to show up or not.  Sometimes the traits I choose are literally random ones.  Other times I have an idea of the characters and they come naturally.
  3. Writing prompts – Find a prompt you like, set a timer (15-30 minutes is usually the best) and write.  The scene can be random or with characters you’ve already created, but write and see what happens.

If you want advice beyond what I can recommend in the space of this small blog post, I have a few books to recommend.  They are as much about creating a writing practice as finding inspiration, but they have helped me immensely over the last few years.

Both of Pressfield’s books are relatively quick reads, but they shine a good light on the practices of a “Professional” even when you don’t feel like one yet.  He also just released a another book, Nobody wants to read your Sh*t, which he released for free to start out, so you might still be able to grab a free copy.  I’ll be reading and reviewing that book, in a couple weeks.

  • On Writing – Stephen King

I’m not a fan of horror, but I’m smart enough to know that Mr. King has some amazing advice on writing.  I listened to the audiobook, which he reads, and it’s one I’ve gone back to time and time again.

  • Fantastic Mistakes – Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art” Speech

I own the hardcover book, but you can also watch Gaiman give the speech here.  This is something that is great to read or listen to when you feel like you can’t do this.  His voice is kind and encouraging, which makes it seem almost like his advice is coming from a dear friend.

 

 

 

Capturing the Muse: Writing for the uninspired


When I first started writing, I thought I had to be “in the zone” for my work to be truly good.  The muse had to be talking to me and the words had to flow from my fingers like water in a stream in spring.  Now, don’t get me wrong, when things flow it feels amazing, but if you wait for the muse there is a good chance you could be waiting a while.  My perspective on this didn’t change on its own, but thankfully I found something that helped me realize why waiting for the muse was a bit futile.

I went to a writing workshop and the teacher recommended the book “The War of Art” by Robert Pressfield.  In his book, Pressfield talks about how the professional shows up for work and does their work.  Even though we as writers often think of ourselves as artists or creative minds, we still need to treat writing or creating like a job, if we expect to make money off it.  Don’t get me wrong, I know people who can’t wait to write, who spend their day fully inspired and mill out thousands upon thousands of words a day and make it look very easy.

I am not one of those people.  I have to fight to make myself sit down and do my work.  I have to fight my mind to stay away from all the distractions of the world.  But I’m good at getting organized and keeping to a schedule when I’m committed.

So now, every Monday I make a list of my goals for the week.  I also know what I need to get accomplished by Friday, and I know when I’m going to work.  I’m lucky enough to be able to commit myself full time to writing, but if you’re working another job while you try to build a writing career, it’s still important to set goals and set aside time to get your “work” done.  Even if it’s just a half hour a day, that half hour will get closer each week to where you want to be.

So don’t wait for the muse.  Get to that desk, kitchen table, notebook at the library, and do your writing.  If you do it regularly and show up, you’ll be surprised how often the muse decides to join you.  When you’re regular, she’s more likely to be as well.

And go back and read work you wrote when you weren’t necessarily “in the zone,”  there’s a good chance it’s just as good as when things are flowing.  The zone really is just perception.

So get out there, and keep writing.  Muse be damned.

photo credit: _______ ____ _ via photopin (license)