Sometimes writing floods the page, and your fingers can’t keep up with the deluge of content bursting forth. You’re so excited, you’re typing a page every ten minutes, you know it’s not perfect, but it’s something, and probably something good. You tell yourself this is the way it should always be. You finish another page. You finish another paragraph.
Then suddenly all that momentum, all that excitement, all that content just dries up. If a gremlin exists inside your head, he just rigged the floodgates. The last dribble splashes onto the page. You sit there staring at words you hardly remember thinking. You try to trick yourself back into the flood.
But it’s too late. That moment has fled. The page sucked up the words like parched ground drinks the rain after a split-second break from the drought.
You try to force it. You keep going. Nothing is the same. Everything you put down now is polluted compared to the wondrous torrent of just one minute ago.
What happened? What changed? How did you have the Biblical Flood come pouring out of your head one minute, and only bring up dust in the pail the next?
A Muse Approaches; What Do You Do?
A lot of people talk about “being in the mood to write” or “writing when the time is right” or – and this is the big one – “only writing when my muse strikes”. They’re the proverbial opposite of writer’s block.
I have felt these fugues of writing frenzy. They exist. In those brief moments when I am struck by the lightning people call a muse, the words coming out of my head are rich veins of imagination that need no pan to filter out the good stuff. I’ve established a connection and I’m not releasing ‘til the glorious end.
This blog post I explore some of the tactics I have used in the past to get myself motivated and in the frame of mind to start writing. It’s time to talk about:
Accepting The Muse
What’s that, you say? You’re sitting at a Wendy’s drive-thru waiting for your cup of chili (good choice) when the Muse socks you in the gut and you have an amazing idea?
But you’re on your lunch break from work, and you only have twenty more minutes. And you can’t abandon the three dollars you already gave the ironically disaffected twenty-something at the window.
These situations happen. They’re ridiculously annoying and highly unfortunate. I know for a fact that my job responsibilities won’t let me get away with “By the way, I just had a great idea and I need to spend the next hour writing”, and I know most other people’s occupations won’t let that happen either.
But sometimes you’re in just a slightly inconvenient place or time. You just got off work and were heading home for a stay-at-home dinner date with the girlfriend when a wild Muse sits down in your lap and says “Hey there, sexy, what’s shakin’?” You swerve slightly and overcorrect, nearly hitting the curb. A police officer sees this and flashes his lights in warning. Then you run the probabilities.
Do you avert plans and reschedule dinner with the girlfriend? How’d she take it last time? Can you afford not to answer the call AGAIN?
Sometimes you can’t answer. Sometimes you could but you don’t want to deal with the fallout. And sometimes you’re already sitting in a coffee shop with a couple of friends, unwinding after a hard day asking people the same questions over and over again.
If the variables are right, you’ve got yourself a Muse and the time to take advantage of
The problem with this is that if you suddenly excuse yourself from the dinner table, or from the movie theater, or from the Skee Ball tournament, your friends or relatives or lovers are likely to think you’re just a jerk, especially if you do it all the time.
Skee Ball tournaments are a thing.
Like most things in life, if you don’t balance your social and life priorities with your writing frenzies, one or the other will suffer. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to determine which one can suffer, but if you’re a decent human being you’ll feed your children instead of writing about magical children.
Personally speaking as a man who has few real-life social connections (having moved around quite a bit and being slow to make friends), I still have a horrible tendency to blow off plans when the Muse starts seductively whispering in my ear. I’ve managed to retain some very important relationships despite this, because my friends understand the call.
This predicament completely happened to me today. I chose to write up until the very last second, then had to rush to have dinner with co-workers. And I was a couple minutes late as a result, which makes me feel terrible.
Answer the Muse if you can.
Provoking The Muse
Let’s go back for a second and revisit the deluge of content you were spouting all over the place like a broken fountain.
How did you get there? I came to a realization after one of my writing possessions ended.
It didn’t just happen. I had been engaged in another activity, one I often do to unwind or relax. Minute-long
masturbations meditations. Reading a favored passage from a favorite book.
The book in this case was Tex by S.E. Hinton, and the line… well, the passage is a massive spoiler for anyone who’s never read it, and I’m not gonna ruin that. Needless to say it’s an affecting moment in the title character’s life. But in clearing my head and putting myself into that state of emotional camaraderie with Tex, the moment seized me, and a character progression I’d been struggling with dropped into place.
So I proposed to myself an experiment: Is it possible to jump-start the muse?
To save you the trouble of scrolling down: YES.
What started as a small mind-clearing exercise became a ritual I could perform that would, more often than not, open my mind to the muse.
The concept is simple: Find something that you can do for just a few minutes that will relax your mind and let your subconscious do its thing. If you go into this meditation with a writing problem somewhere in the back of your mind, not actively thinking about it, but just letting it float at the edge of your awareness, the answer can find its way to you. The muse tags along for the ride.
So find that something that helps you clear your mind, relax your body, and focus on something else.
She said it, not me.
What works for me? Reading a passage out of a story I know well. Constructing a word problem from scratch. Approaching a familiar logic puzzle that I haven’t solved in so long that it’s almost like solving it fresh. Crafting a Dungeons & Dragons character. Reading a scathing review of something I cherish, and attempting to understand the reviewer’s point of view. Sketch an inanimate object on scrap paper even though I’m a terrible artist. Basically anything that will relax my expectations but still engage my mind.
You can try any number of activities; the important thing is just to get your mind engaged in something mostly trivial. If you have other suggestions, voice ‘em!
Teasing The Muse
This one ties directly into the frustration with trying to force yourself to write. If you ever sit down and just start writing, sometimes you realize no amount of forcing it will get you into the writing zone. This happens to me on a weekly basis. I sit down and try to muster my creative energies, but nothing does the trick. Maybe I had a long day at work and my brain just wants to shut down. Maybe I just want to play video games. Maybe there’s no explaining it.
Other times the Muse quietly slinks in and sits down behind you, and has been watching with avid interest. You can feel
her its breath on the base of your neck. But the Muse is a flighty construct, and may vanish like so much vapor if acknowledged.
This expresses itself in the form of that nagging feeling that you’re on the cusp. That if you just keep going the inspiration will wash over you, and the floodgates will open, and all will be right with the universe. If you stop to think about it, the moment will pass. Just keep on writing as if you can’t feel the presence of inspiration twirling fingers through your hair.
Let the Muse do the Muse’s work.
Comments and opinions are welcome. How do you invoke, provoke, or tease the Muse out of hiding?