Once a month I sit down to write a blog and every month I struggle to find a subject worthy of your time and my attention. This month is no different. After four or five false starts, I’ve landed here, doing my best to convince The Girls in my Basement (my muse) to come out and play with me. They love to show up at three in the morning, waking me from a sound sleep demanding I leave my comfy, warm covers and stumble to my office to capture the pearls of wisdom they have chosen to share – on their time frame. But show up on demand? Not likely.
However, writing at the muse’s convenience does not a career make!
The Girls are persnickety and often uncooperative, but also vain – they must keep me convinced I can’t write without them. So, what is a writer to do? Fake it until the muse realizes you are going to write with or without them! Granted, it may take several false starts – well, that’s my truth – but The Girls don’t like to be left out, so often just the perseverance of continuing to write, even when you know the words are crap, is enough to entice them to come out and play.
If you want to make a living as an author, you sit down and you write. Every day. Muse or no muse. And yet, there are certainly times when I sit down ready to work, fingers poised over the keyboard and … nothing. Not one word comes to mind. So, maybe I’ll edit. Or there is always a book I wanted to buy calling me from Amazon or my friends and family are waiting for me on Facebook. Maybe I’ll just open the internet and do some research. For me, that’s the kiss of death to the words that will not make it onto the page that day.
How do I continue when words refuse to flow?
- Try writing a scene out of order.
- Write a conversation with no stage directions, just the spoken words with he said, she said.
- Change your point of view character.
- Bring in a secondary character.
I recently read Messy: The Power Of Disorder To Transform Our Lives by Tim Harford. He talks about Brian Eno, a keyboard player who worked with David Bowie and several other top bands, who would show up at the studio with a selection of cards he called Oblique Strategies.
Each had a different instruction, often a gnomic one. Whenever studio sessions were running aground, Eno would draw a card at random and relay its strange orders.
- Be the first not to do what has never not been done before
- Emphasize the flaws
- Only a part, not the whole
- Twist the spine
- Look at the order in which you do things
- Change instrument roles
Those things all sound pretty strange to me – and yet, as I sat trying to find a topic for this post, I remembered those strange cards, pulled the book from the shelf and perused the list. Did it help? I hit upon a topic – the uncooperative muse.
Perhaps I was inspired by remembering that all creative endeavors hit low spots, but the successful artists doesn’t walk away. We find a way to add one more word, one more note, one more stroke with the paint brush … just one more. And one more after that.
Can the muse, The Girls in the Basement, your inspiration wherever it comes from – can it be trained to appear on command? I think the answer is yes. Show up, ready to work and be willing to put those words on the page with or without the assistance of The Girls. Certainly it is easier to write when the muse is feeding us the words faster than fingers can fly across the keyboard, but if you are looking for easy, maybe you should rethink your desire to be an author. It’s fun, it’s rewarding, it can be done in your pajamas, you set your own hours – but it ain’t easy. There are days when every word is a struggle, and often it seems those days far outnumber the flying finger days.
So, what’s a struggling author to do? You find a victory with every word! Every single word is one word closer to the end. Don’t judge yourself based on the end of the journey, celebrate every step along the way.
I’d love to hear what you do when the Inner Critic has The Girls locked in the basement with duct tape over their mouths and chains around their ankles. Ah, the Inner Critic – no discussion of The Girls seems complete without acknowledging the Inner Critic. Mine has several common refrains that come up routinely: your words are flat and unoriginal; your story is pedantic; your characters are too stupid to live. Okay, that’s all the space I’m giving my IC – but, I promise there are dozens more refrains that she unleashes on me frequently.
How do I combat the Inner Critic? Write. Get words on the page, even when every word is written with blood and sweat and tears. Write, because every word helps to empower The Girls and turn the table on the Inner Critic, so it’s the IC that ends up locked in the basement, with duct tape and chains.
There is an Indian legend which I love and it seems to me that The Girls and the Inner Critic fit well within this story:
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Have you written today?
Terri Richison (writing as Terri Rich) lives in Clear Lake City, TX with her husband and a giant Great Dane (giant even by Great Dane standards). She is working on self-publishing women’s fiction and avoiding getting a pie in the face if she doesn’t produce pages for every critique session! PIES OR PAGES! Terri started telling stories almost as soon as she could talk – she learned everything she needed to know about storytelling at her grandmother’s knee. Craft however, is something she is still learning – those damn commas give me nightmares!