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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Opportunities – Sometimes, things have to fall apart so they can fall into place

I had some trouble sleeping last night, and as I chased the pillow, I was reminded of something that upset me a few months ago.  Insomnia driven nights are never good times to contemplate failure, but I’m the kind of person that finds it difficult to get it out of my brain once the thought has popped up.

In one of the writing communities I frequent, I was encouraged by a friend to apply to be one of their volunteer writing mentors.  It seemed like a given I would be able to get the position.  In the past,  I had organized several online writing groups, proofread and edited friends’ writing, and even had a weekly, informal, online writing class I had done to help fellow writers improve their work.  The class involved me picking a topic each week, drafting a short lesson, sharing it and then discussing it with my fellow writers.  It was a thing I really looked forward to each week, so I was excited to possibly do it again.

But I didn’t get the gig.  I was told that it was not based on my experience or ability, that outside factors had taken me out of the running.  For some reason, that only made things worse.  I had thought I was a shoe-in, that it was a given that anyone would want my skills and experience.  Though I was rather disappointed about the whole thing, I did my best to suck it up and soldier on.

It was as if the universe knew I needed a bit of validation, as well as a pick-me-up.  Within two weeks, I found out that I had gotten a freelance job I had applied for around the same time as the volunteer gig, a job that would pay me for my time and efforts.  The job entailed working as a mentor to a budding writer, which was very similar to the volunteer position I had not gotten.  It was vindicating and helped to remind me that my skills and hard work were valued.

If I had gotten the volunteer position, I might have ended up taking a step back from the sorts of jobs I want, rather than a step forward.  I might have had less time to work on projects that took me closer to my goals.  While I’m still working on how bummed I felt about not getting that position, I’m also learning the value of realizing sometimes you miss out on one opportunity, so that another more fitting opportunity can swing your way.  

I know that “Sometimes things fall apart so they can fall into place,” shoulds horribly cliche, but in this instance, it was definitely true for me.  Now, I get to continue to work on my skills as an editor and writing mentor, while placing myself even closer to my goals. I think we all have moments where our confidence is shaken, but if we don’t give up, we never know what might be around the corner.  Failure happens to all successful people, sometimes many times, before they finally hit their stride.  So I won’t give up, and I hope you won’t either.

Who Tells Your Story? Women in Media

As a writer, I spend a lot of time studying storytelling.  One of the main takeaways I’ve always gotten from many things I’ve read on storytelling, is that stories have to tell the truth in some way.  Usually, these truths feel very personal to the author, which means they also have the chance of feeling personal to the reader.

While our stories may be unique, our pain, our joy, generally isn’t.  That is why we love stories, because they often remind us we are not alone, while allowing us the chance to escape the mundane.  They make us feel like we are apart of something bigger, that we are not alone.

One problem we have in our current state of movies and media, often women don’t get to tell their own stories.  A recent study by the Sundance Institute found that only about 29% of filmmakers are women.  This includes writers, directors, producers, cinematographers; and editors.

You may be wondering why this matters?  Hollywood tends to have a bad reputation for underwritten or poorly written female characters.  In many movies, even very popular ones, there may not even be more than one female character, and if there is more than one, it may be rather rare to see her speak to another female character on screen.  This can be gaged using the Bechdel Test, which is admittedly a low bar for female representation.

I recently watched Dr. Strange and though I enjoyed the film, the female characters in it felt either stereotypical or underdeveloped.  While I liked Rachel McAdams’ performance as Dr. Christine Palmer, the character felt more like an accessory for Strange’s breakdown, rather than an independent and interesting character of her own. For those that know of characters like Clea Strange in the comics, Marvel may have missed an opportunity to include a dynamic and layered female character in their story.  Arguably, Dr. Strange is Stephen Strange’s story so it is expected that he would be the central figure in it.  But when Marvel has yet to have a movie led by a woman, and still only has one movie planned to be led by a woman, I think it’s probably okay to look at their female leads with a critical eye.

To me, this problem seems to be systemic.  If women aren’t there to write and tell their stories, then it seems to follow reason that we lack diverse and interesting female characters.  I am a firm believer that women have just as interesting and complicated inner lives as their male counterparts, but it is likely we don’t often see this portrayed because women are not allowed to tell their own stories.

The upcoming Wonder Woman film will be directed by a woman, but the writers are male.  It seems somewhat odd to not have a female writer involved in developing the story of one of the strongest feminist icons of the last century.  This is not to say that some men can’t write amazing, complicated and full female characters, there are many male writers that can and do.  There is still a certain authenticity when women are allowed to tell their own stories.  I think this goes for all people, that we are the ones most uniquely qualified to tell our own stories, in and out of fiction.  The problem is that women do not have an equal opportunity to do so.  I also believe that everyone can benefit from interesting, authentic and diverse stories.

 

 

Ways to Quiet Your Inner Editor

It generally takes me about a week to quiet my inner editor during NaNoWriMo.  For the first week, I fight with her a lot.  She tends to want me to go back and fix plot ideas, weird sentences and anything else she can think of.  I have learned one thing from her, listening to her is the quickest way to stop myself from getting my writing done.  I’ve also watched a lot of friends become crippled by their inner editor, so they don’t make their daily word counts and end up quitting before they make that one week mark in NaNoWriMo.

So I decided to share a few handy tools to circumvent your inner editor.

ILYS

Ilys is a great website that even lets you test drive their software. When using their software, you set a word count goal and then it brings you to a screen where you can only see single letters as you type them.  You cannot see if you have made errors and you cannot go back and fix them if you did until you hit your word count goal.  This is a great way to set a word count goal and just go for it.   It basically forces you to complete your writing without any sort of editing.  You also cannot see the errors, so it may make you less anxious about making them.

The trial account allows you to write up to 10,000 words before signing up for a member account.  When I looked into a paid account, it was only about 10 dollars a month.

Write or Die

Write or die is a program that sometimes scares me.  When I first used it, the program would actually delete everything you had written if you waited too long to keep writing.  Write or die now comes with several different options, and you can also try out the service to see if it is the kind of app that will motivate you.

You can still set the app to erase your writing if you pause for too long.  You can also ask it to provide negative reinforcement.  When I stopped writing, the app played horrible, off-key violin music until I started writing again.  You can also set it to reward you, if you buy the program, and it will provide positive feedback as you hit your writing goals.

Both of the apps are great ways to break things up and force yourself to write!  Are there any other tools you use to get yourself writing?

 

 

Flash Fiction Friday: Ghosts

Prompt: Ghosts

Word Count: 286

Kara wasn’t sure she believed in ghosts, until her favorite uncle, Robert, died.  He had been the person in her life to encourage her love of reading and the first person to tell her she should try to be a writer.  He gave her a copy of Frank Herbert’s Dune, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and Octavia Butler’s Kindred.  Books are precious gifts, because it is not only words and paper that are given, but entire worlds.  And Kara dove into those worlds, head first, traveling and teleporting between them.  Returning to the books she loved now and then, to visit the old friends and old enemies she had made in their pages.

Though Uncle Robert had never written a book, Kara still felt his spirit in her library or at the bookstore.  A book would fall from the shelf, or remind her of something she had read before, given to her by Uncle Robert. After awhile it became so commonplace, that Kara was certain it was still him, giving her books from the great beyond.

It was not quite the same, she still longed to call him up and tell him how much she had enjoyed his selections.  Sure, she could say the words aloud, but it was not the same without his own opinions and thoughts being said back to her.

Eventually, Kara decided she would make Uncle Robert immortal.  As she crafted her first novel she wrote a familiar character into the pages.  Now, Uncle Robert could share his wisdom and heart with anyone who flipped through the pages of her book.  He could be the friend of many other budding writers and novelists, a kind ghost of the written word.

Flash fiction is short fiction, often under 500 words and often written in a short space of time.  If you would like to do your own piece of flash fiction, feel free to put it in the comments or link me to the place you post it.  I would love to see what you come up with for the prompt.

 

Flash Fiction Friday: Refresh

Prompt: Refresh

Word Count: 197

 

“Come on.  Load.”  James said, as he jammed his finger down on the mouse, hitting the refresh button over and over.  He had spent months saving up, but he also knew this moment would come.  The servers were overloaded, everyone else that wanted tickets was probably doing the same thing he was right now.  Still, his brain did not want to believe that it was some technical error or too much stress on a machine somewhere.  He needed those tickets.

After the 27th hit of the refresh button, the page loaded.  James scrambled to fill out all of his information, checked his credit card number twice, and hit the “Purchase” button.  For a moment, the blue wheel at the top of his page spun, indicating the page was trying to load.  He resisted the urge to click his mouse again, for fear he would end up ordering 10 tickets instead of just 2.

James held his breath, waiting for the feared page that would tell him that his browser was unable to load the confirmation page…

And then it worked.  James had done it.  He was going to Comic Con for the first time in his life.

 

Flash fiction is short fiction, often under 500 words and often written in a short space of time.  If you would like to do your own piece of flash fiction, feel free to put it in the comments or link me to the place you post it.  I would love to see what you come up with for the prompt.

Establishing a Daily Writing Habit

When people find out I’m a writer, I often have people tell me that they want to write a book too.  A lot of them don’t, but I think it is partially because they are not sure how to set goals that will help them get closer.  Setting small, but achievable goals is a great way to make progress when writing.

In the past, I have made the mistake of setting high daily word count goals, usually something like 3k or more.  The problem with setting a high goal, is if you don’t make that goal, it’s easy to give up.  I’ve found that 500 words a day is something I can achieve, and when I hit that goal, it’s actually easy to keep writing.  This means that I generally write more than 500 words.

I think 500-1000 words is doable for most people.  Many professional writers actually write between 1000-2500 words a day, and consider themselves accomplished for the day.

When my goal was high, if I didn’t make my daily word count, I felt discouraged.

But, here’s the thing.  If you hit your goal every day and your goal is small, it still builds up.  In a month, 500 words a day becomes 15,000 words total.  That’s 180,000 words a year.  It may not be fast, but you also have to consider your time constraints.  A lot writers have many other jobs they fulfill.  I’m a fast typist, so I can usually write 700-1000 words in a single writing sprint.

500 words will usually take anywhere from a half hour to an hour for most people, especially if you quiet your inner editor and just write.  Doing so daily, you will often find you write more than your prescribed word count and that after a few days have passed, you’ve made some real progress on your writing project.

What are your writing goals?  What is your daily writing habit?  Do you often make your goals or do you struggle with them?  I’d love to hear more about it in the comments.