Tag Archives: the muse

The Importance of Something

Writing advice!

It’s mostly garbage. It’s almost always situational. What works for one may not work for another. These things are known.

But I want to remind myself, and all of us involved in these creative endeavors, of one of my favorite aphorisms: “Inspiration exists, but it has to catch you working.”


It’s this wonderful, terrible, magic, not-magic thing. In that it feels like magic, but somehow it only seems to show its face when you’re already working. The work creates the inspiration, and then the fleeting sparks of inspiration set the work on fire.

If you’re not putting words on the page (or paint on the canvas or whatever choose-your-metaphor), then the words have nowhere to go even if your brain has one of those legendary waves. And the best way to push through a problem in your story is often to just keep writing, keep giving the characters something to do, keep flinging their bodies against the wall until you pile up enough pieces to step over.

And that’s true! Grinding away at your story is the only way to get through it.

But the funny thing is, inspiration doesn’t care what you’re working on. Inspiration strikes when it strikes and it says what it says and it says no more, and it won’t be forced and it won’t be guided.

And the funny thing is, sometimes it strikes in ways that are not immediately useful. Case-in-point: today I’m grinding out edits for my superhero story and bang, crash, the lightning flashes and provides me with the answer to a problem that had my other story thoroughly and entirely mud-stuck. And because I was sitting at the computer anyway, working on the first story, it was easy for me to tab over, write out some notes on the other idea so it didn’t flitter away into the screaming chasm of my inadequate brain to be forgot forever, and get back to what I needed to be working on.

Which is to say that when you’re not feeling the inspiration, you have to work on something Do something, anything to keep the juices flowing and the soil fertile, because you have no way to know when the lightning is going to strike.
But you darn sure want to be ready when it does.

The Weekly Re-Motivator: To Business

If I could go back and give my previous self any advice about this whole writing thing, it’d be: treat your writing like a business.

See, I always thought I was the creative sort. And I guess I was, but for pretty much my entire twenties, I thought that creativity was this gift; this mystical, un-pin-down-able thing that I was just lucky to have. Now, I still believe that’s true — to a point — but I’m learning that there’s a lot more to creativity than the occasional kiss from the muse.

Because the problem with thinking that creativity is magic — that some people “just have it”, and others “just don’t” — is that one of two things happen. One: you don’t appreciate it, because, like a pile of cash from a wealthy uncle, it just fell in your lap, so you don’t really know its worth. Or two: if (but actually, when) it deserts you, you have no idea how to get it back. And while the muse may in fact carry a cell phone (she does in my as-yet-unpublished first novel), she certainly doesn’t give out her number.

But creativity isn’t magic. Or at least, it isn’t all magic. Creativity is like that kid who wanders around the neighborhood looking for other kids to play with. He doesn’t call in advance. He doesn’t send you a note to say he’s coming around. He just tools around on his bike looking for places to play and people to hang out with. And if you happen to be out in your yard playing when he shows up? Well, you’ll have the craziest afternoon of playing space baseball and ninja cowboys and Calvinball, until the kid has to go home and you have to go in to eat dinner. But if you aren’t out in your yard? That kid rolls right on by. He won’t knock on your door, he won’t peek in the window to see if you’re waiting for him — he’s got places to be and hell to raise with the other kids who are already outside.

Which is why, if you want to encourage him to visit, you have to spend some time playing in the yard, even when he’s not around.

This seems counter-intuitive. There’s no point playing in the yard by yourself, after all. The fun is in playing with a friend, in tapping into your collective imaginations and adventuring together through the boundless reaches of the imaginations of little kids. Playing by yourself is boring; what’s the fun in doing a backflip off a tree branch if nobody else is around to see it, or in throwing a ball over the house if you have to walk around the back to retrieve it?

But if the neighborhood kid doesn’t see you out there playing already, he isn’t taking time out of his day to see if you want to play. And creativity is just like that: if it doesn’t see you already working, already flexing your creative muscle, it’s not going to waste its time knocking on your brain to see if you want to make something awesome. The muse has places to be, novels and poems and stories and paintings and interpretive dances to inspire.

And that’s why we have to treat writing like a business.

mrw hd galaxy guide hitchhikers

You don’t do business when you feel like it: business needs doing with consistency, and pretty much all the time, or else the business dries up. When you treat writing like a business, you make time for it every day. You set aside time for it, and you protect that time like a mother bear protecting her young. You do the writing even when you don’t really feel like it, because if you don’t handle your business even when you don’t feel like it, you lose your business.

The unfortunate fact is, we don’t always feel creative. And it can be hard to force ourselves out into the yard to play when we’re just not feeling it.

But if this is a thing that matters — and I would argue that if you’re writing at all, or thinking about writing, then it matters to you at least a little bit — then we have to get out there anyway.

Because if we don’t? Well, the muse has plenty of other house calls she can make.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


Often, I rail against the mortal writing sin of “waiting for inspiration.” The fact is, you can’t count on inspiration. The muses are busy little bees, and if they only turn their divinely inspiring faces your way even every few months, well, you should consider yourself lucky. But you don’t get things done by sitting around, waiting for that to happen. Novels are not written with a muse perched over your shoulder, hmming and ahhing as you get to the good bits, putting whiskey into your hand just when you need it, and yanking you out of your stuffy crapsack apartment every now and then for the fresh air you so desperately need to keep the creative juices flowing. The muses have better things to do, and you should have better things to do than to sit around waiting for them.

Still, though, on some days the car just won’t start. Some days, you’re in between projects, and your routine is shattered, and you’re unsure what to do, and even the thought of opening up that blank document and screwing it up with your words is enough to send you into an existential spiral of doubt and dread and you go binge-watch Orphan Black instead. Some days, it’s hard to believe that you ever thought of yourself as a writer at all. Who does that, anyway? Who has the time or the creativity to turn out stories day after day, to think up new characters and conflicts, to flesh out entire worlds? It can’t be done. The authors who’ve done it are either fake people — computer-simulated AI programs that analyze market trends and tailor the storylines to what people really want to read. Or maybe they’re just independently wealthy people who don’t have to hold down jobs or families or any other inconveniences of living in modern society. That must be it.

These are the days that break a lot of folks down. They’re the days that broke me down in the past. “I just don’t feel like writing today, so I’ll start the new project tomorrow.” “I’m not sure what to do with this scene; I’ll just ponder on it until I figure it out.” “The story’s kind of up a tree. Maybe I just need to let it be for a while.” The problem is, momentum matters. “Tomorrow” turns into the next day, then a week, and so on until the novel you are writing turns into the novel you were writing, once upon a time. “Until I figure it out” becomes “until I feel like it,” which becomes the trash fire of “maybe I’ll get back to it one day.” “Letting it be for a while” likewise becomes “dust on the shelf.” You’re writing, you’re writing, you’re writing, and then poof, you lose the spark, and all of a sudden, you’re not writing anymore. You’re waiting.

For what? For the magic to happen?

Keep waiting. There is no magic in this world outside of the magic we create, so if you want inspiration, you have to seize it where it comes and drive it in front of you like a herd of goats when it doesn’t.

It shames me to admit (though I must) that I’ve been waiting for a while. Sitting back, letting my tomorrows turn into one days, letting my until I figure it outs turn into until I feel like its. I’ve had excuses. Good excuses, even! It was the end of the year; I was focused on wrapping up at school. I had just finished the AI edit, I needed some time to decompress before the next project. I wasn’t even certain what the next project wanted to be; how could I just start working on something with no guidance, no map?

Well, valid excuses turn into crap ones the longer you stretch them out, and I’ve stretched mine for about a month. And I wish I could say that I have seized gumption by the scruffy nethers and started shaping my creative expression like a sculptor with a particularly pliable bit of clay. That I hoisted myself by the bootstraps and threw myself back into the habit and started crotchpunching the sharks out of my way.

But the sad fact is, it took a visit from the muse to kickstart me into motion again.

Lightning, Thunderstorm, Storm, Weather, Clouds, Nature

Somewhere between trolling the internet, not thinking about writing too much, and mowing the lawn, lightning struck, and all of a sudden my brain is like a pack of jackals scrabbling against the inside of my skull. All of a sudden, the story demands to be written.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t have gotten started up again, but there’s no telling how long it might have taken. That scares me. More than a little bit. It’s humbling, this thought that for all I preach about the virtues of sticktoitiveness, of writing through every day even when the writing sucks, I got mired in the morass myself.

But you know what?

I’m writing again. And you know that thing they say about gift horses.

Jump on and ride them till they throw you.

Rookie Move (or, why writers should keep pens and paper handy all the time, even when it’s impractical to do so)

One of the sort of take-it-for-granted bits of writing advice I once heard was, “make sure you’re always able to write something down.”  It makes sense.  If you believe in inspiration as I do (for the most part) then you know that it can strike you at any moment, without the slightest provocation, and that it can depart again with as little warning as it gave you when it arrived.  This is why, in my work bag, I keep a composition book and two pens at all times, no matter where I’m going or for how long.  It’s why I keep a stack of note cards binder-clipped in my back pocket and a pencil on my ear just about everywhere I go.  It’s why I keep a pocketknife ready to carve strips of flesh from my arm in the semblance of words I can later affix to a page, though I’m happy to announce I’ve not yet been reduced to that particular method of transcription yet.

Still, ideas sometimes slip through.  Occasionally I’ll have a brilliant idea strike my cerebellum only to bounce off like so many hailstones on the pavement.  Or, more often, something will seem earth-shatteringly clever to me as the thought strikes, but then when I try to articulate it, I realize it’s so foolish it doesn’t bear further thought.  Then there are the days when the fountain seems to dry up entirely and no amount of coaxing, cajoling, pondering or preening will make the ideas come forth.  It’s a crap shoot, in other words, whether the good ideas will get through or not, which is why it’s doubly important to always have the net ready to catch them before they crater in the vast depths of the ideas I will never write.

Let me back up.

The wife and kids and some extended family and I were all on vacation in a fairly swanky condo in Florida over the weekend.  I mentioned it last time, and then in a dutiful showing of a man on vacation, I didn’t write again until today.  Anyway, I had to come back for work, but my wife and kids stayed on and are staying on for a few more days of sun and surf (NOT THAT I’M JEALOUS OR ANYTHING), which means I’m at home by myself for a few days.  No kids.  No wife.  No distractions.  Perfect conditions to get some writing done.  And I did, and I plan to, and night one was brilliant and night two is shaping up just fine so far.

But at night the monsters come out.

Routine is a powerful thing, and when your routine is shattered, it tends to snowball out of control, like a tiny crack in your windshield spiderwebbing like a mutant octopus every time you hit a bump in the pavement.  With no kids, there is no bedtime.  With no wife, there is no meditative glass of wine before the bedtime I don’t have.  I found myself in bed at the appropriate time last night but unable to get to sleep for lack of the vague comforts that knowing your children are asleep in the next room can bring.  No warm backside to press my cold, bony toes into.  The actual night part of last night was, in short, all wrong.  In addition to staying awake for an hour and a half before sleep took me, I woke up of my own volition several times in the night: something I never do (if only because the kids will make noise and wake me up before I ever have the chance to wake myself).  But something else happened unexpectedly in the night: inspiration struck.

It struck with the illumination and voltage of a 1.21 gigawatt lightning strike direct to my cortex, and unfortunately departed just as quickly.  Because for all my various preparations and eventualities for capturing the most fleeting of writerly ideas during my waking hours, I’ve somehow never had the good sense to stash pen and paper next to the bed.  I just don’t get great ideas at night (or if I have, I’ve forgotten them).  But inspiration struck hard and fast enough to wake me and make me think, “gosh golly, I should really write that down,” which lasted me roughly until I remembered that I didn’t have pen and paper at bedside, and I’m sorry, but I’m not one of those writers who is going to huddle over and mash my latest screenplay snippet into my phone with my mutant monkey thumbs.  I’m just not.  No, the inspiration struck, and I realized I had no way to write it down, and I assured myself that this idea was so good, so inescapably awesome, that I would surely remember it in the morning.

So here I am, grasping at the straws that may once have stuffed its scarecrow, but which more likely were the bed for some flea-bitten ox with a penchant for pooping literal poop rather than the brilliant story ideas I might prefer it to poop.  I know it involved either Sherlock Holmes or some Holmesian character.  I’m pretty sure there was genetic modification involved.  There may have been a jetpack.  Also a rhinoceros on a train.  But it’s all one big useless jumble.  No more good to me than the vague idea that I really should have gotten up early and gone for a run today.

Lesson learned.  Paper is going on the bedside table tonight, where it will probably lie untouched until, months from now, I wonder what the hell I put paper on the bedside table for, and move it back downstairs where it belongs.

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