Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Care and Feeding of a Muse

First of all, let me say I don't believe in Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy either. A Muse is a romantic idea, of course. Who doesn't like the thought of a tortured artist struggling to find the embodiment of their inspiration a la SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE?

But there is no Muse, no mystical, magical component in a writer's psyche that enables them to create their fictive dream. Remember the Muse is an idea brought to you by people who like to make things up.

And people who like to pretend not just anyone can do what they do.

The truth is fiction comes from inside the writer's mind and heart. And there are ways to make that creative side we all possess more lively in its expression. Here are a few things I do to stay motivated and inspired to write:

Tickle your imagination. I surround myself with art and music. I take walks by the river and let the natural beauty of our world wash over me. I'd rather travel than have a new sofa because it feeds my psyche with new experiences and ideas. Do whatever excites your mind and turns your thoughts in new directions.

Set a deadline to finish your work. Doesn't sound very romantic, but it works. Whether I'm under contract or not, a deadline looming lights a fire under me. Pick a date and figure out what it will take to meet that goal. The unconscious mind is a powerful thing. It finds a way to do what you tell it to. Tell yours to finish the book by (fill in the date) and see what happens.

BITCHOK. This stands for Bottom in the Chair, Hands on Keyboard. Writing is a muscle. You get stronger each time you exercise. Don’t wait till you “feel like writing.” That time may never come until you lose yourself in your story. Jump in with both feet.

Getting Unstuck. Every writer has moments where they've written themselves into a corner or find their plot hits a wall. To get moving again I do a couple of things. I'll decide only to write dialogue for a couple of pages. My characters will often show me the way out as they ping back and forth. I tend to write and revise as I go (one step forward, two steps back). As a variation on the deadline idea, I set a time for 20 minutes and promise myself I will only go forward. No revisions, not even to fix typos.

Professional practices. Lots of writers have day jobs. I used to be a banker, enslaving people to debt by day and scribbling snippets on my WIP during lunch and breaks so I wouldn't have to face a blank screen by night. I planned my writing with as much thoroughness as I brought to my 9-5. Writing is a business. Treat it like one. If you want a hobby, you can loiter around waiting for the Muse to show up.

Writing is an art and a craft, but mostly a craft. Of course you need a fabulous idea (which of us doesn't wish she'd thought up vegetarian vampires?) but you also need the sticktuitiveness to see that idea through to a completed manuscript.

Work hard and your Muse will find you hunched over the keyboard, creating without her magical touch. Because YOU are the magic.

What do you think? Do you have a pet muse and think I'm all wet?


Nynke said...

"the Muse is an idea brought to you by people who like to make things up" - LOL!

Sticktuitiveness, BICHOK, deadline - yes. All of those go into the production of my PhD thesis as well. Must go offline and get back to work!

Janell said...

I enjoyed your blog today-especially the comment that "You are the magic"! Sometimes I don't think I realize how amazing it is to have stories inside me. I think too often I fall into the trap of taking myself for granted. You shook me out of that a little this morning. Thanks...now back to the keyboard on the WIP!

EmilyBryan said...

Nynke--A deadline for a PhD thesis! That'll turn the stoutest-hearted writer's bowels to water! I tip my hat to you.

EmilyBryan said...

I'm so glad my words helped you, Janell. That was kind of the point.

Nynke said...

Janell, I agree - you writers of fiction truly are amazing. Thanks for sharing the stories!

Emily, I'm now almost two years past my original thesis deadline - please tip your hat to me when I've actually finished it. That should be somewhere this summer... I'll send you a copy when it's printed :).

Jen said...
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Jen said...

My day job is helping people get out of debt. :D

People often ask me how to write a book or tell me they want to write a book. Your response is exactly the same as mine: sit your butt in the chair and start writing. There isn't any magic formula to it. However, doing the writing means a serious commitment, and I'm not sure most people are ready for that.

Writing calls to my soul like a siren song, and I couldn't ignore it even if I tried. I've had "breaks" from it for years at a time, but it always calls me back.

Nynke said...

Emily: hahaah... no, it's in English! And I don't expect you to read all of it, it'll be fairly technical linguistic stuff, but I'd be honoured if you could find it a spot on a bookshelf somewhere :).

I probably shouldn't check your blog every hour if I want to finish, though, should I? Bye for now!

Glynis Peters said...

I am going to try your dialogue tip tomorrow. I have bricked myself up on one chapter, it is driving me insane. I am in such a positive frame of mind at the moment,I had some exciting news this morning and it has really motivated me. Working to a deadline will do me good. BICHOK most definately.

Interesting post, very useful thanks Emily.

EmilyBryan said...

Jen--Actually, I tried to keep people from taking on more debt than they had to. No one should ever buy a house at the extreme edge of what they "qualify" for unless they want to live for their house!

I know what you mean about writing calling to you. Ink flows in our veins.

Jen said...

Debt really does enslave people. The DH and I want to pay off our house as quickly as possible, but most people don't think that way. Instead, they think there's a tax write-off. Reality is that most people don't itemize, which is where the deduction comes in. If you don't have enough to itemize, you don't get the deduction. So you're paying thousands in interest to the bank for what?

But I digress. Sorry for that. I work for Dave Ramsey, so I'm passionate about finances. :)

Anyway, yes, I think if you're a writer, you will always be a writer. People toy with the idea because it seems glamorous. But I think it's far from glamorous: the hours spent alone at a keyboard, the tears from rejection, the incredible highs from one tiny positive comment, and the lowest of lows from a bad review. It isn't for everyone, and there's no shame in admitting that.

EmilyBryan said...

Nynke--You've found a place for so many of my books on your shelf. I would be totally honored to find room for your thesis!

EmilyBryan said...

Glynis--Care to share your exciting news? I'm all ears. Oh! Did you see that you won Miranda Neville's book? Or is that the exciting news?

EmilyBryan said...

Jen-I'm a total Dave Ramsey fan, except for one thing. In 2007, I was driving through a wintry mix of snow and ice, listening to Dave Ramsey on the radio. He was talking about paying cash for cars and we'd done that on the car we were driving. Feeling incredibly virtuous, I turned to my DH and said, "Isn't it great not to have a car payment?"

It's not a good idea to taunt the car gods. Within 5 miles, I was sliding across 4 lanes of traffic, hurtling down an embankment and into a light pole.

Sadly, we've had a car payment ever since.

Glynis Peters said...

Oh Emily and Miranda, thank you. No I had not seen that news. Boy what a day! I posted my news on today's blog post.

EmilyBryan said...

Glynis--Congrats on hitting the Poet's Blog list! Be sure to contact Miranda through her website with your mailing info.

librarypat said...

Actually I think you have a muse. You just realized it needed to be trained and constantly worked with. Your inspiration comes from somewhere and is channeled through the well disciplined you to produce the stories you write. It is the muse's job to produce the spark. It is the writer's job to produce the story. Without hard work and discipline on the writer's part, it doesn't matter how many sparks there are.
Of course there is also the matter of talent. No matter how disciplined your are, without talent, the good stories won't be there.

EmilyBryan said...

Pat--My main problem with the idea of a muse is that so many people use it as an excuse not to write. There is nothing outside a writer that enables or keeps him/her from putting pen to paper. It may not always flow with the same ease, but if I can get something on the screen, no matter how flawed, I can fix it. Waiting for words to flow like water is a mistake.