19 February 2014

Writing Wednesday: Stalled, and Practical Musekeeping

Since I started a (hopefully regular) Saturday post called "Stamp Saturday" I figured why not make Wednesday about writing. Since, you know, "writing" and "Wednesday" both start with "w."Or something. Plus, some people come here to read about writing, and some about art/craft, and some about whatever else happens to fall out of my brain. So on Wednesdays, I'll try to say something meaningful about writing.

So. I haven't been writing much lately, except for necessary work things. My fiction writing has been completely stalled. Why? I don't know. I don't actually believe in writer's block; I know all I really need to do is sit down and start typing. But I haven't. Fear, maybe? Loss of enthusiasm because nobody has noticed that I've written anything? Maybe, and maybe. Or maybe it's because I'm a little contrary by nature (subtly -- most people would probably find me accommodating rather than contrary) and the more I berate myself for not writing, the less likely I am to write.

But not writing does weird things to my brain. I feel strange and wrong in ways I can't really describe, and which don't really have a source. Except I only feel this way when I'm not writing. So I obviously need to get writing again. And I find myself remembering an article I wrote a million years ago, when I was in charge of the Creative Writing for Teens website at About.com (don't go looking for it; it no longer exists and you'll be redirected to the Fiction Writing site). I re-published it more recently on one of those content sites (Suite 101 maybe? Associated Content? I can't remember) when I was trying to see if I could get more writing work (I concluded those sites aren't really worth the effort). Apparently, it got picked up by "Yahoo Voices" which I have apparently been part of since 2009, though I don't recall signing up. I might have done, and forgotten. It's the sort of thing I would do. More likely, Yahoo bought out whichever content site it was I had written it for, and transferred me and some of my content over. Anyway, here is "Practical Musekeeping" which may or may not help with writer's block…

Practical Musekeeping

The Role of Inspiration in Writing

You've heard the old saying that something is "one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration" (or, as Marion Zimmer Bradley put it, "ten percent inspiration or talent, and ninety percent hard work"). It's true for writing, too, but that isn't to say that inspiration -- the Muse -- has no role in writing.

Getting inspiration, finding your Muse, is important, but it's even more important to know that you can't just sit around waiting for a Muse to show up. Muses aren't interested in writers who sit around not writing, Muses are interested in working writers, writers struggling to find the words to express their own vision of the world. Become one of those writers and soon enough you'll have a Muse whispering story ideas and perfect phrases into your ear as you write.

Feeding the Muse

As Ray Bradbury pointed out, it is necessary to offer a Muse sustenance before you can expect one to come to you.

It may seem a little silly to feed something you haven't got yet, but it works. If you really are meant to be a creative writer, you've probably already got a Muse hanging around, waiting for an invitation. Offer her something tasty and she may just let you see her.

So what do you feed a Muse? All sorts of things, really, but primarily experience. But before you get dismayed, thinking you're young and haven't got much experience to offer, you should know that experience comes in many forms. You're alive, so you've had experience. You've felt things, done things and learned things. And you've read things.

To provide your Muse with plenty to eat, go places and do things, but most of all, read. Read everything. Read poetry (even if you think you don't like poetry; sometimes you have to do things because they are good for you). Read non-fiction; that's where odd ideas come from. Read fiction. Read in and outside your genre. Read classic literature (it's good for you). Read junk (it's tasty). All these things will be filtered through your own perceptions to feed your Muse.

Enticing Your Muse

Once you've attracted a Muse (or discovered one you already had), you'll need to get her to come out and play now and then, to help you with your writing (exercise is very good for Muses). To do this you must sit down and get to work. Write something, anything. Don't wait for the Muse to tap you on the shoulder and tell you to get working; Muses are basically lazy and won't bother very often. But once you're stringing words together, your Muse will get curious. She'll think, "There's a better way to say that," and then she'll come out and tell you what it is.

Remember also that Muses are shy, so don't try to force her out. Just go about writing that poem or story, and let her venture out on her own. She will, and the more often you entice her out, the more easily she'll arrive next time.

Do Not Neglect Your Muse

The worst thing possible for a Muse is neglect. If you ignore her by ignoring your writing, she'll go away and it can be very difficult to get her to come back (not impossible, though). If you don't keep feeding her with new experiences and new things to read, she'll begin to repeat herself and you find you write the same boring stuff over and over. Be attentive to your Muse, fulfill her needs and she'll help you with your writing for the rest of your life.

Further Reading on Musekeeping

If you don't feel quite ready to accept the responsibility for keeping your own Muse, try reading some of these fine publications. You can never have too much information, though Musekeeping is really quite a simple and natural process.

Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury (Bantam Books, 1990) contains the very useful essay "How to Keep and Feed a Muse (and was the main inspiration for my article). "It isn't easy," Bradbury writes. "Nobody has ever done it consistently. Those who try hardest, scare it off into the woods."

"Waiting for Inspiration?" Ha! is a short but useful commentary on Inspiration (another name for the Muse) by Beth Mende Conny. (Note: this used to be available online, but I can't find it anymore. If anyone finds a link, please send it along and I'll update.)


Sean Cummings said...

Just. Write. The. Book.
Dig in. Visualize what your end game is.
And write the book.

Hang in there. :)

Nicole Silvester said...

You are absolutely correct, of course. And that's what I usually do. The good news is, I'm excited about the next book again. Pretty soon, I shall be zooming through it at top speed.

And thanks for the encouragement. It means a great deal.