By: Michelle Gunnin
Muse-(n.) The source of inspiration for a writer or an artist. (v.)- to think upon deeply. Origin- in Greek Mythology there was a set of goddesses who embodied the arts. They inspired creativity with their presence using remembered and improvised song, writing, art, music, and dance. They were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory.
As writers, we all have experienced moments of complete genius where the flow is happening, and the words practically write themselves. We have also experienced moments where the words are stuck, unmoving, like concrete blocks tied to our pens. These are the two extremes between which writers vacillate. We long for the first experience when our Muse is present and dancing across the pages. We dread the second experience when a root canal seems a better choice than sitting idle at our computers watching the cursor blink.
On a good day, our Muse provides us with a glorious river of words that bring with them an energy that stirs us to action. They spill out onto the page in the correct order the first time. Time flies and so do our hands, as they craft a piece that sings. Sitting for hours is no problem. Working doesn’t feel like work, and the idea of being a professional writer seems like a dream job where you can motivate the masses with a writing style that brings revelation, knowledge, and inspiration.
The opposite experience, when it seems our Muse has abandoned us, is equally felt. One word at a time comes, and one word at a time is erased as we fumble for the right nuance. Suddenly, the laundry needs to be done, the trash taken out, or the dogs walked. Anything to keep from sitting in that chair staring at a blank page. When there are finally words to review, reading our work and rereading it over and over again becomes the measure of our days. Time drags by as the trash can fills up with aborted ideas that never make it past the first paragraph. It is excruciating. It causes doubt to rise up, and many throw up their hands with a sigh that says, “Who am I kidding? I will never be a real writer.” Somehow we have it in our heads that “real” writers never have writer’s block. They never struggle to find the right word or to create a sentence that flows. That could not be further from the truth. The fact is they have their own ways of dealing with the downside of writing – the Missing Muse.
So what do we do while we are waiting on our Muse to show up?
- Write anyway. I have heard some writers who have a specific number of words they write each day no matter what. I don’t really think it matters how many, just as long as you write something. The idea is that if you get into a habit of writing every day, eventually you will find your Muse, because the more you write, the better you get. When your word count goes up the probability that at least some of the words you write will be good goes up as well.
- Go to an inspirational place. Art museums inspire me. Really, anywhere that creativity is flowing can make me want to be creative too. A good concert or theater performance can be the spark that ignites ideas. A church service or choir performance is life giving. For some, going to a writer’s workshop can do the trick. If you want to find your Muse, you have to go out and look for her in the places she hangs out.
- Write down random ideas. I cannot tell you how many times I have pulled out a pen and written an idea down on a napkin. Seriously, ideas for writing are everywhere, but sometimes we overlook them or forget to write them down. It doesn’t have to be a complete sentence even, just get the topic down somewhere so you can revisit the idea when you are in your writing chair. Those scraps of paper are like invitations for your Muse to show up.
- Set a specific time. Are you fresher in the mornings? Do you do better mid-morning after your coffee has kicked in? If you have regular work hours for your “real” job, it is tricky to set a time to write. Ideally, your time will be when you are most focused, but it may not always work that way. I have found that I need to get up before my regular job to do my writing, and now that I am writing for more than one blog; I am working on a schedule for what days I will work on which thing. I am not sure my Muse likes schedules, but I intend to find out.
- Take a break. There are days where I take a hike. Nature is inspiring to me, and the physical activity gets my heart pumping which delivers oxygen to my brain. Oxygen to the brain is like fuel for the Muse. You don’t have to hike, you can ride a bike, take a walk, or go shopping. Anything that gets you moving and in a different environment. Just make sure you are not using your activity break to procrastinate. While you are out you might find ideas along the way, so take your napkin and a pen…just in case.
- Read other writers. Most writers are voracious readers. Reading may have been what got us started as writers in the first place because we thought we would enjoy writing like something we have read. When you read another author, it stimulates thoughts. Thoughts turn into stories or articles. Characters develop in our imaginations. Settings pop up. Plot twists come into our minds. Paying attention to how someone else uses words causes us to think our how we use ours. Our Muse loves it when we expand our ideas.
- Check your list. You should keep a running list of ideas. (like the ones you write on the napkin) I always have an ongoing list. When one topic bores me or I cannot get moving on it, I switch to another one on my list. I might have more than one piece going at a time, maybe even more than one genre. I don’t think you can ever run out of ideas if you are intentional in cultivating them. Your Muse will thank you when she arrives.
- Try a new place. When I say that, I mean a new writing place. If sitting at your desk isn’t working, try the front porch. If you don’t ever write outside, go to a park. It doesn’t have to be far, even a different room or different chair can change things up enough to refocus your thoughts. In a life that is cluttered with activity, finding a spot can be tricky. I have four children, and when they were young, the only place I had to write was the kitchen table. Like I said, tricky. However, I got good at tuning them out, and they learned when mom had that “writing look” it meant unless there was blood to leave her alone. Now they are grown, and I sometimes can’t write for the silence! I am sure my Muse gets a chuckle out of that.
- Set a deadline. Nothing like a deadline to keep you writing. I set my own for my blog of how often I want to post. If you write for different places like magazines, or newspapers the deadlines are not movable. Muse or not, you have to have your piece in on time. If nothing else, having a deadline forces you to learn to write even when your Muse is on holiday.
- Do writing exercises. Such as, asking someone to tell you their story. Sometimes when my own story is stuck, I have better luck telling someone else’s. Go to a retirement community to ask for stories, and you will strike gold. Get one of your kids to tell you about their day and then write it down. Have them read it back to you and ask them how you did. Write the sunset. Describe the street you live on in vivid detail. Write a whole piece without using adjectives to increase your awareness of strong verb use. Improving your craft, while waiting on your Muse is never a bad idea. That way, when she arrives your tools are sharp.
Inspiration is sometimes elusive. That is no reason to stop writing or to convince yourself that you don’t have what it takes. It simply proves you are NORMAL. All writers experience the ebbs and flows of a Muse that can be fickle. Never knowing when she will show up is the mystery that keeps us writing, because when she does, it is a magical thing that is worth the wait.