Creative Writing Writing 101 2017-09-21 00:00

Why You Need to Break Up With Your Muse

Fiction writers have two modes:

  1. Writing
  2. Thinking about their writing

To think something as insubstantial as a muse could keep you from writing is self-indulgent. It allows you to be lazy. And not writing because your muse isn't talking to you is the biggest cop out I've ever heard.

Here's the truth:

  1. Your muse is not the reason you write.
  2. It's time to break up with your muse.
  3. How to write without a muse.
  4. That's the hard truth.

Your muse is not the reason you write.

Writing isn't magic. There's no fairy godmother called "Muse" who comes to you and waves her magic pen to fill your head with ideas and words. It's hard work, and you must sit in front of the computer or grab pen and paper and get your work done.

Plenty of prolific writers don't believe in muses. Nora Roberts said it best:

"It's a job. Do your job. Every time I hear writers talk about 'the muse,' I just want to bitch-slap them."

Jodi Picoult offers a less violent opinion:

"Writing is total grunt work. A lot of people think it's all about sitting and waiting for the muse. I don't buy that. It's a job. There are days when I really want to write, days when I don't. Every day I sit down and write."

Are you still convinced you have a muse? Try this:

It's time to break up with your muse.

Kick her to the curb. If she's holding you back from writing, she doesn't have your best interests at heart. It's time to break up and move on to something better.

Refusing to write until your muse shows up so you feel inspired is like staying with an indifferent partner. Why would you want to be with someone who couldn't care less if you're fulfilled? You don't need that. Move on.

How to write without a muse.

If you're freezing up when it's time to write, don't blame the muse. You just need some self-discipline. Put your butt in the seat and try these tips:

1. Do some planning

This doesn't mean you must plan out your novel in its entirety. But if you're having a hard time getting started, you can work instead on planning documents like creating character sketches or capturing ideas for scenes. A great way to prime the pump is to ask "What if" questions. What if your protagonist doesn't get what she wants, or what if someone close to your main character dies suddenly?

2. Write every day

As with any habit, sit down to write each day at the same time and for the same length. You'll form a writing habit in about 21 days. Part of writing every day is forming muscle memory so your body knows what to do when you sit in front of your computer or at your desk.

Some days you may write about not having anything to write about. But you're still at your desk, writing.

3. Try other writers' techniques

Do a Google search for writing processes or techniques, and try a few. You could start with Julie Cameron's Morning Pages, a fantastic habit to cultivate. Or you could try stream of consciousness writing where you dump everything in your brain onto the page.

Keep trying different things until something clicks. Then keep doing it day after day. You don't want to clone someone's writing process in totality; a combination of your favorites will work better.

4. Stop your writing session before the end

Always stop your writing session before the end of a chapter or a scene. Then, when you sit down the next day, you can pick up where you left off.

Or at the end of a writing session, jot a few notes about what comes next. When you're at your desk for the next session, you have some idea of what to write.

5. Use strict deadlines

Start with the date you want to finish your novel. Now work backwards. Find the dates each chapter needs written by, when rewrites need completed, and when you should send a clean copy to your beta readers and editor.

Make each deadline set in stone. The best way to do that is to create a serious consequence for missing a deadline. Whatever is most painful to you, that's what you want to shoot for. Personally, if I miss a deadline, I send a donation to a politician I despise. I've not missed a deadline yet.

6. Get a reality check

If you're still blaming the muse for not getting work done, it's time for a reality check. You need to hire a productivity coach or a mentor, someone who will kick your butt or strap you to your chair and make you work.

Frankly, if you're at this point, do some soul searching. Do you really want to be a writer and do the hard, grubby, day-to-day work? Or are you romanticizing writing into something that doesn't exist?

That's the hard truth.

Some people glamorize the writing life. They love telling people they're writing a book, but they never get to the writing part. The hard truth is writing, editing, and completing a book is real work. There's no magic Ouija board or divining rod that will spell things out for you. You have to sit in the seat and do the work. There's no other way around it.

But there are moments when you're so involved in what you're writing that the walls and everything around you dissolve and you're laser focused on the words. And the words seem to come through your fingertips from somewhere; you're not sure where.

Those are the times you're most likely late picking up the kids from school, but boy, did you get some great writing done that day.

Let us know in the comments below what you think about your muse. Do you stand by her, or have you kicked her to the curb?

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