Monday, September 2, 2013

# Mild-Mannered Mondays # Monday Musings

The Proper Care and Feeding of Your Writing Muse

You may have seen my recent blog series on setting up a unique writing schedule. Those posts were as much for my own benefit as they were for other writers. I was sort of “talking out loud” to myself about getting back on track with writing.

Fickle creatures, muses. They require proper care and feeding in order to function. If you’re like me, you may find that you’ve been neglectful of your muse from time to time—typically when you’ve got a lot of other things going on. Sometimes, a sharp mental kick is enough to get back in line. Other times, one must go into serious fix-it mode. (That’s where I’ve been at the past couple of weeks.)

One thing’s for sure, muses will never be career soldiers. Oh, they prove themselves capable of battling through the toughest plot twists and continuity issues. But at the first sign of stress or trouble in your personal life, they’re off like a prom dress and nowhere to be found. I swear, muses take more days off than a government office.

Here’s how to coax those muses off the beach in Cabo and back into the salt mines where they belong. Start with the first and make your way down the list. Your muse might appear after only doing the first, but if they’re quite stubborn, keep pressing on. They’ll be around before long.

Clean the House /Writing Area

Despite the fact that my muse leaves his workout towel lying around and has never heard of putting down a toilet seat, he cannot perform in a messy space. (Yes, my muse is a guy—and a real hunk at that.) This is true of many muses. When you can’t seem to get into the writing zone, look around your, well, writing zone. Dust, clutter, unpaid bills, and workout towels strewn about in view of your writing chair does not a bestselling novel make. Set a timer for a reasonable time (ten to thirty minutes is all I’m asking here) and give the place a spit-shine. Then vow to spend ten minutes (max) on upkeep every morning. See this post for an easy writer’s guide to cleaning that talks about how to do that.

Revise That Pesky Writing Schedule

If you find yourself spinning your wheels with no time for writing, it’s possible your schedule no longer fits your life. Evaluate your current plan objectively and decide what’s not working. Is an obligation clashing with your writing time? Did you not schedule enough writing time? Too much?

Go To the Library
Stephen King talks about how if one wants to be a writer, one must also be a reader. Muses need regular infusions of literature to keep their creativity jumping. Yet it’s all too easy to shove aside reading for pleasure when we’re busy conjuring the next book.

I say go to the library because it’s free and it gets you out of the house, two things that writers often need in combination. You can also stop by your favorite coffee-and-books store or sit at the park with your reading device. The point is to stop the world and make deliberate time for reading. It’ll help refill your literary cup.

Go To the Movies

Movies are books come to life, and I find this approach to storytelling of particular use in inspiring my muse. Don’t go with any ulterior motives, like seeking out book ideas. Just go for the simple enjoyment of a story.

When I’m in need of a quick jump start, Netflix or my DVD collection can help me out. However, when my muse is really digging in his heels, it’s time to head out to the Cineplex to really immerse myself in another world for a while.

I can’t stress enough the value of Getting Out Of The House when your muse is missing in action. Lure them back by playing hard to get! It’s a bizarre yin and yang thing—if you’re just sitting around at home waiting for inspiration, your muse may blow you a strawberry and skip off on an adventure. But leave the house yourself and your muse may well pop back in to find out what the heck you’re doing. I’ve come home to find my muse sitting alone in my writing chair, tapping his foot with that impatient “Where have you been?” look on his face. Mission accomplished.

Eat Your Favorite Food

When I’ve been in full writing mania for a while, I can get burned out. Part of this is just too much work and not enough play, but I also find I don’t eat properly when I’m acting like a crazed writer. I talk to enough fellow writers to know I’m hardly alone in this. But if we aren’t feeding our brains well, we can’t expect them to spit out endless streams of brilliance.

What’s your favorite food? Tiramasu? Prime rib? Homemade mac-n-cheese? Get a hold of some and devour without guilt. (Bonus points if it has chocolate.) After that treat, make a concerted effort to eat regular and reasonably decent meals. No living off Top Ramen and Starbucks for weeks on end. I find keeping a food diary extremely helpful—if I have to hold myself accountable by writing down what I’ve eaten, I tend to think more carefully about what I’ll have to write.

At some point while applying these care-and-feeding tips, most muses will show up with souvenirs, suntans, and ready-to-go attitudes. (Some are more stubborn, and there are other tips out there for how to lure them out of hiding). I’m happy to say mine showed up right around library time, although I persisted with a movie day and am planning a favorite food day soon.

What are your favorite tricks for getting your muse back to work?

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