Muse on Demand – I don’t think so!

Muse on Demand – I don’t think so!

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 Rich

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!

7 thoughts on “Muse on Demand – I don’t think so!

  1. My muses work a bit differently than yours. Most times my story ideas, chapter ideas, character ideas come from me. Where my muses tend to appear is quite by accident somewhere in the pages I wrote. Some unexpected nuance. What I find irritating is that these “nuances” are often invisible to me. Thank goodness for critique partners, who have an easier time with the whole forest for the trees thing. If I had one request of my muses, it would be that they’d be less subtle.

    My Inner Critic – well, she’s a bitch and half! That’s all I have to say about her!

    1. I’m intrigued by your ‘muse’ – you say the idea, the chapters the characters come from you – but where do you get the idea? I get that you do the mechanics of the writing – dividing the chapters, fleshing out the characters – what I would like to know more about is where do these ideas come from? what spark plants a Winter’s Child. What nightmare created Jamal? See what I’m saying?

      1. The idea of my hero was born from a rock song where the male singer crooned that the woman he loved was so far above him. That notion intrigued me. What circumstance might exist that would make a man feel that way? Jamark came into being as such such a man. But the burial ceremony he engages in after he assassinates someone, now that came about as one of those nuances from the Girls. See what I’m saying?

  2. I like to think the Girls are always present and available, and that the only question I need to answer is, Am I paying attention to them or to the Inner Critic?

    But my recent struggles with Evelyn have made clear that I still have a lot of work to do when it comes to hearing the Girls. The story just wasn’t coming together despite my doing everything I knew to do to make space for the Girls to speak — free writing, writing out of order, long walks, meditation. Still, the answer to my problem wasn’t illuminated until the Starfish Conference, which I suppose was the universe ‘splainin’ things to me through Jaye Wells.

    It was a valuable lesson in many ways, not least of which that I can find my teachers in any place and at any time. My job is to stay open and ready to hear something new — or even something old that might be presenting itself in a new way.

    Damn, this writing is hard work.

    1. I liken it to having kids. No one tells you how hard it will be (or if they do, you really don’t hear them). Writing is similar. At first (before you know much of anything) it does seem simple. The words just fly out, and there is a tendency to think it will always be so. Nay-nay. By then, at least for me, I’d built some pretty strong barriers between me and the muses. And maybe, as you mentioned (SKM) it’s learning to find inspiration beyond your inner muse. It’s about learning to see inspiration from often unexpected outside sources.

    2. I love the way you summarize this “my job is to stay open and ready to hear something new – or even something old that might be presenting itself in a new way.” Maybe one of the most important life lessons I’m coming to terms with is that there is never a time when we stop learning. As long as we are engaged with living, we are learning. BUT – and it’s a big but, only if we are open to hearing the lesson! So often, for so many reasons, I approach a situation with the ‘knowledge’ that I’ve nothing to ‘gain’ and yet before I leave I’ve discovered some new truth, maybe about me, or another person or just life in general. I am so inspired by your universe ‘splainin’ things through Jaye Wells. If we are open to learning, there are teachers in every aspect of our world – its the being open that – for me – is often difficult. Thanks Sandra! I always learn so much from you! 🙂

  3. I once had a friend comment on how riduclous it was for popular fiction authors to think they could be creative on a production schedule set by publishing house. At the time, I had two published books under my belt and my premise for book three had been poo-poo’d by my editor, so I agreed with him wholeheartedly, but now that I’m older and hopefully wiser, I’ve changed my stance.

    Yes, creativity comes when it comes. Ideas hit us in the middle of the night, mid-fight with the telephone company, or just as you’re hitting the sale rack at the shoe store — generally moments when capturing those fabulous ideas isn’t the most convenient. I think that’s a test. Are we interested in pursuing our creative juices enough to put aside “real life” long enough to jot them down? If we are, then our must rewards us later, when we’ve set aside time to play with these creative bursts of genius.

    But, like Terri said, sometimes, your optimum timing doesn’t line up with the muse. In that case, write till she gets jealous and shows up.

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