Monday, April 20, 2009

Making The Writing Muse Your Bitch.



Okay, I admit it. I’m in a bit of a writing slump, so I’ve decided to take the writing muse by the hair. I’m done asking for her consideration. I’m done sending her pretty invitations. She works for me; I don’t work for her. She needs to be shown who is boss. She needs to bend according to my schedule, my will and my demands. And I’ve decided the success of all this is up to me. I will make her my bitch.

*Note: for those of you offended by my profanity, please think of “bitch” as the proper term for female dog (as opposed to any sort of prison reference). Therefore, I will make the writing muse heel when I need her to and I won’t allow her to sleep on my pillow or poop in my yard.

Speaking of dogs, I always think of Pavlov’s dog--the one conditioned to receive food after the ticking of a metronome. Before long, the dog was habituated to such a degree, he would start salivating to the tick alone, even if there wasn’t a morsel of food present.

I think it’s much the same with the writing muse. So many authors feel she is this separate entity who may or may not grace you with her presence that day.

I say she’s a part of you and as such, you need to train her. Make her yours. Just decide you need her and voila! She’ll show herself. So, like the training of Ivan Pavlov’s poor dogs, you need to condition your muse. Here are a few tips:

1) Schedule Consistent Writing Time: Every morning, at a certain time, I develop an unholy craving for coffee. 7:15 AM. I’m sure I could wait until 8:30 or even 9:00, but since I’ve been reinforcing my coffee addiction at 7:15 for so many years now, I have to have it then. My body and mind are conditioned. It’s the same with writing. If you condition yourself to sit down at your computer at the same time every day, pretty soon you’ve conditioned your brain (the elusive muse, that is) to show up for work. The writing may not always go smoothly, but I guarantee one page of rocky sentences is far better than a page of nothing.

2) Establish Writing Rituals: Like the sound of the metronome to the dog, I’ve conditioned myself with an aromatherapy candle. It sits next to my computer and before booting up, I light it. After doing it for so long, I’ve discovered that something about the smell does some sort of magic to get my brain thinking about plot turns. Other ritualistic devices may include a particular piece of music, wearing a certain item of clothing, etc. Just be rigidly consistent and the rituals will start working for you.

3) Find a Space Dedicated Only to Writing: I walk into the bathroom, I have to pee. I walk into the kitchen, I get hungry. I walk into my writing space, a terrific analogy pops into my head. What’s more, don’t you think your writing dreams deserve the respect of having their own corner in your home? That sends a message, you know--to you, your family and guests. “I value my writing.”

4) Oil the Gears: I edit ONLY the new writing I did the day before to get in the groove of my story. If I go back any further, I’ll get lost in a revising labyrinth and never find my way out again. But I need to do that small bit of editing to get my pace back, and then I go on to the new writing. Decide what gets your writing gears moving—maybe it’s having to write a blog or a writing exercise—but don’t let it take over your entire day.

5) Get Sleep: It seems ridiculous to mention, but it really is rather difficult to find the energy for a sizzling scene when your head is pounding, your nose is swollen, and every time you write “he touched her tender lips” you immediately start thinking about the honking cold sore on your own. Writing takes a lot of energy and concentration. Sleep enough so you can get to it.

6) Don’t Let Perfection Get in the Way of Production: Actually, this one comes from my wonderful critique partner, Cynthia. Some days, you’re just going to suck. You are. Hemingway sucked, Shakespeare had doubts and Jane Austen wallowed in her own inability. It comes with the writing territory. Accept it, embrace it, expect it. Now move on. Don’t let the writing muse flee at every opportunity. Try to write as best you can, of course, but don’t crucify yourself when you don’t. If you do, in the long run you’ll be hurting yourself far more than if you just shrugged and chalked it up to a crap writing day. Everyone writes crap. EVERYONE who writes, writes crap.

Now it’s your turn. What tips do you have for making the writing muse work for you? I have a feeling I’ll be cutting and pasting your suggestions all day long. And, as usual, I’ve forgotten to incorporate this month’s theme. Since the theme is love, consider these tips given with the best of my loving intentions (lame attempt, I know, but still sincere).

43 comments:

Debbie Kaufman said...

I like the ritual idea and dedicated space. My space is to multi-purpose to focus my writing. I may try adding the candle when I'm writing to focus things a little more.

Heel, Muse!

Gannon Carr said...

I need to give you ritual suggestions a try.

You go, girl! Wrestle that bitch, um, I mean Muse to the ground. :-D

J Perry Stone said...

Debbie, thank God for you! I forgot to post this early because I was sitting down stairs staring into my coffee mug.

Oy.

J Perry Stone said...

Hey Gannon! I was sitting downstairs staring into my General Store coffee mug!

And I'm trying.

Kim said...

J-those are excellent suggestions! I'm making notes *G*

Here's hoping I can train my muse much better than I did the dogs.

Cinthia Hamer said...

My original quote to JPerry, was "don't let perfection get in the way of good enough". My wise cousin told me this one day when I was visiting and fretting over some minor flaw in the dish I'd prepared for lunch.

That one quiet little sentence, said so lovingly, has stuck with me for years.

Like so many writers, I have a tendency toward self-flagellation. I write,edit furiously, then get frustrated because in my eyes, it's not "perfect". I have to remember to sit back and tell myself "it's good".

For those of us who don't have regular, dedicated hours in which to write, this practice of continuous self-editing can become a real time suck. You sit down with the intention of writing fresh material and before you know it, an hour or three has gone by and you're still editing. Arrgh!

So, JPerry, I applaud you for advising that we only edit the material that was written in the previous session. Excellent advice!

Okay, off to work.

Hope everyone has a wonderful day.

Stephanie J said...

I like the idea of creating some sort of ritual. Maybe it will help me schedule consistent writing time...cup of tea at 6a = 1 hour of solid, uninterrupted writing?

One other thing I did to get myself out of my slump was to sit down, write out, and acknowledge every little thing that was bothering me or keeping me from being productive in my writing. The list was long and it wasn't pretty but there was something about writing it down that was cathartic and my mind finally felt free to focus on the writing and not my internal editor.

Anna Steffl said...

As usual, a finger-lickin'-good blog from J. I swear I do not have a finger fetish -- you're just that fantastic.

What really gets me motivated is having someone who wants the next chapter. I need to be accountable -- and feeling a little beloved.

Now, off to some craptastic writing.

J Perry Stone said...

Kim, the story you have to tell needs to be heard so get to it, puppy.

Cindy, You do realize i hate your guts, don't you? You're the only person I know who can pull 8 pages out of her nether regions and there isn't a misspelling or awkward sentence in the bunch. What the hell is there for you to revise?

Stephanie, that's a great one. Writing out the stuff that gets in the way. Getting out the stuff in the way. There are so many symbolic layers to that practice, it's a blog post all it's own.

Anna. I hear you! That's why I want a contract. Give me a deadline and I'll show you a writer on her game. It's this self-motivating shit that screws me up. Write 5 pages? Okay, but first let me pluck my eyebrows.

Anonymous said...

I think one of the hardest things—especially for new writers is establishing their own writing niche—know when and how they are the most creative.

In my own personal writing world, I have found that I have a hard time writing without noise.

I sit with a radio and the TV going and I am more creative.

I can't do anything without noise.

That is my niche, but finding what works for the individual is sometimes difficult.

BTW-enjoyed the blog.

John Foxjohn
www.johnfoxjohnhome.com

J Perry Stone said...

John, first of all, many congratulations on winning your latest battle (I perused your website).

Second of all, please tell me how you do that? I know there are authors out there who need the noise in the background (which is why I included it in my ritual list), but I really don't understand it. I keep earplugs in my purse for when I'm writing at the coffee shop.

CiCi Barnes said...

Hey, J. We're somewhat similar in our writing rituals. I have hot tea at 7:30, read the paper with breakfast, and sit my butt in the chair by 9:00 am. After a few - and I do mean 'a few'. I don't let myself lose hours - of emails and PFHT, I get to work and pretty much follow all six of your steps.

One problem I have is with limited time. I need open-ended writing time to produce effectively. If I know I only have one hour and then have to stop, my muse hides, so I usually do rereading, a bit of revision, research, etc. during that time.

I also find my muse by playing appropriate music. When writing love scenes, I put on romantic music, tense scenes get revved up music, but I can't listen to music with words. I start singing.

I won't give you my best ritual today. Tune in Wednesday and I'll clue you in on 'where' my muse lives.

Great post. Glad to know my writing rituals are similar to someone else's.

CiCi

J Perry Stone said...

The other thing I wanted to mention, John, is that you are absolutely correct about finding your niche.

When I first started writing, I remember spending months trolling authors' websites, looking for some mention of their writing routine. For some reason, that helped me figure out my own.

For example, when Lisa Kleypas had really small children, she'd wake up uber early to get some quiet time. That's how I wrote my first book. A series of 5 AM, crusty-eyed writing sessions.

And coffee, of course :)

J Perry Stone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J Perry Stone said...

"One problem I have is with limited time. I need open-ended writing time to produce effectively. If I know I only have one hour and then have to stop, my muse hides, so I usually do rereading, a bit of revision, research, etc. during that time."

We're TWINS, CiCi! Save your music trick, this is exactly what I do.

And now you've got me so terribly curious as to Wednesday, *I'm* Pavlov's salivating dog.

Can you give me hint? Touch, smell, taste, hearing, or sight? Am I going to pester you with questions until you throw a dog a bone? (hmm)

terrio said...

It's frightening that I hear your voice in my head while I read this. Lovely, but frightening all the same.

I'm the odd one out in that I don't believe I have a muse. If I write something good, I wrote it. If I write something bad, I wrote it. Like I said, I'm odd.

I haven't been able to dive into writing full time (July here I come!), but I have learned two things in my part-time attempts. I write better with people around me (finished that 800 word story in a Dunkin' Donuts yesterday) and I have to write sex scenes late at night in the dark. I choose not to over-analyze this one.

That ritual thing sounds really good. I'm going to try the candle thing. And I'm with CiCi on the music bit. If I listen while I write, it has to be instrumental. Anything else and I'll be singing along.

LYG!

Cyrano said...

J, You are this mornings Queen of blogging!!
I bow to your prose, bitch and all.
Once, a few months ago I tried to sit down at a particular time each day and write. But after a few days, I just forgot about that promise I made to myself. I backed down, opting against wrestling my writing muse to the ground. What I should have done was look at the clock and say, "Hey M----- F-----. Get off your lazy ass, and help me write! Right now!
Reading your post has renewed my courage. I plan on wrestling that bitch to the ground everyday at 2:00 (my best writing time) And saying, "Listen ho, you work for me!"
I also love the idea of the candle. I plan on going out today and buying a really special one for that purpose alone.
I don't have any writing rituals to share, but come back to me in a week. I plan on starting a few while I finally finish my f------ WIP. Wish me luck!!
GREAT POST J.
YOU DA BOMB, baby!
Have a lovely, sunshiny day,
Tamara

Susan May said...

I have an office but I have a hard time getting away from email and stuff that needs to be done at home. I do better when I leave the house but what I really need to do is just have some self control. Working on it.

J Perry Stone said...

What do you mean, Ter? You hear my grating voice saying every one of these words? Lucky you. I'm going to call you later and reread it to you.

And actually, I agree with you. We don't have a muse. We have ourselves, who will do what we want or not.

Still don't get the music thing though. That's so hard for me. Maybe I'll it a try, but since both CiCi and you suggest music with no words, I'll start there.

J Perry Stone said...

Tamara, I hear they say it takes 21 times to break a habit. I figure it takes the same amount to start one, no? And while I'm saying this to you, I'm just learning it right now! Holy crap. 21 days. Och, I'm such an idiot.

I wish you luck. Wish ME luck, too.

Of course, after Saturday when I learned my Black Moment was in fact my hero's Ordeal, no wonder I haven't been able to slog forward.

BTW, Deb Dixon is at Romance Writer's Revenge today (see our blog roll).

J Perry Stone said...

Susan, I'm terribly computer dense. My husband got me this little card thingy that made it possible to visit the internet using my laptop.

Well it broke (or needs to be reconfigured??).

Best thing that ever happened to me.

This is also the reason I signed off of Facebook. I just didn't have the self-control to resist.

John Foxjohn said...

LOL, I don't know how I do it--just that it works.

I actually do a lot of writing in IHOP and I don't have ear plugs. The more people around me, the better I am.

Now, that is while I am at the computer that I need noise.

Strange as it may seem, I like to get up about five in the morning and get in the hot tub. There are no sounds--phones, computers, or traffic. I am too deaf to hear the night or morning sounds....:)

I'm old, but I have found that I can block everything out and write entire scenes in my head. While I do it, I talk into a small hand recorder.

Some of the best scenes in all my books have come in the hot tub.

Sandra Elzie said...

Hey, great post.

Let's see. Before I retired, I wrote in the evenings until my eyes blurred...didn't take very long since I worked on a computer all day. After retirement, I flex between early mornings (my best time to write) and just about any other time or all day. I do a lot of marathon writing.

I have a specific office space and write almost entirely in it except when we're traveling. Noise doesn't bother me except the phone ringing and I still manage to make a hot meal...well, most nights. Super woman? Not on your life. I just have a husband who loves to do woodwork, golf, watch movies, etc and so I'm freed up to write for hours at a time. Oh yeah, and Roomba scurries around my handwood floors and chases the dust bunnies.

Now if I can find a way to work without my muse wanting to be fed...chocolate is her favorite thing...I'll lose 20 pounds and be a happier camper. (g)

Sandy Elzie

J Perry Stone said...

John, so your brainstorming must be done in hot water ... while your writing must be done near pancakes.

Sandy, you sound way too productive and I may have to hurt you next time I see you. Oy.

Tell me though. Were you this great at self-motivating before you got published?

terrio said...

J - I recommend searching for soundtrack music. It's the best trick I've found. Find a movie with a similar time period and *tone* of what you're writing. I've found the movie The Holiday is perfect for me and that soundtrack is amazing! No words, just incredible mood, thought inducing music by Hans Zimmer.

If you want some help, I'll be happy to look some up for you. And you know I love your voice, grating, whiney, or cursing a blue streak. LOL!

Julie said...

Great blog, Ms Stone! Full of excellent advice. Advice to which I have “nothing “ to add. ;)

Ami W. said...

Thank you for this post! I've been bemoaning the loss of my writing space since we moved and using that as an excuse for why I'm not productive. But the real reason is I haven't pulled out my 'rituals' from before that signaled 'it's writing time'. And it just hit me when I read this. :) So, I'm off to find that candle..

Cyrano said...

Okee dokee,
21 times a charm. Hopefully it'll kick in before then though.
I wish you all the luck in the world!!!!
tamara

Darcy Crowder said...

Great post!

I finally got the work space, unfortunatly it's not just for my writing, I also have work for my "other" job that I do there. But you really hit the nail on the head, it's all about consistency. One thing I struggle with is putting in the writing time despite my writing schedule getting mucked up for the day. I may have to join the ranks of those who leave home to write...some days it's the only way to stay on track.

Gannon Carr said...

J, I'm sure the inspiration will soon "pour forth" from that coffee mug. ;)

J Perry Stone said...

Terrio, yes. And since you know what my book is about, have at it.

Thanks Jules. You're one of my peops.

Ami. I'm so glad to be able to do anything for you.

Thanks Tamara. xoxo

Darcy, I have to do that too. Like Susan said, it's about the self-control for me. Leaving means there is nothing to do but write.

Gannon, you've already gotten me in enough trouble with my Southern Ladies Under Tremendous Stress cup. My child saw that and said, "What's S.L.U.T.S, mommy?"

Linsey Lanier said...

I love this post. It's a keeper. Lots of good ideas. I hope to put some of your advice into practice tonight. :)

Deb Dixon's workshop this weekend seems to have gotten my creative juices flowing, too.

Linsey

Shelley Munro said...

Great post. I give myself a daily target of 2000 words. It's not huge and it's easily achievable. I don't go to bed until I've completed my wordcount. Some days it's easy and on other days, it's like watching paint dry.

A lot of time writers say they have writer's block when it's really procrastination. Everything looks like fun except the writing. Housework anyone? As you say, I think it's a matter of finding what works for you as a writer and developing good habits that tell you it's time to start writing. And if all else fails (in the words of Nike)- Just Do It!

Nicki Salcedo said...

I like the idea of being joyful about my writing. It should not be an unwanted task. Thanks for the hints. JP, you always kick us into gear.

Carol Burnside said...

I'm not a music person when it comes to writing. For everything else, there should be music! I need either quiet or lots of noise (like a Starbucks). If I do resort to music because too much quiet gets to me, it must be instrumental only. I'll also start thinking the words, then singing ensues. (sigh)

In my office, I have a favorite candle and a small table water fountain that makes the loveliest trickling noise. Fung Shui says it's good to keep the energy going. So far, I'd say that's exactly right. A small flame in the candle, running water and electricity flowing to my computer. All those whip the muse into line.

Marilyn Baron said...

I'm like Darcy. I have an office for writing but I also write for my other job. I haven't listened to music lately but when I was writing about the 1940s I did listen to '40s music all day.

My daughter went to the Deb Dixon workshop Saturday and she is so excited that she and her friend started writing a book! I'm giving her all kinds of advice (last night I loaned her my Stephanie Bond timer, but now I need to take my own advice.

I enjoyed your post especially about not letting perfection get in the way of your writing.

I don't like coffee so that doesn't help but chocolate does!

Thanks.

Marilyn Baron

J Perry Stone said...

Linsey, I hear you on that. She made me realize what I previously thought was my black moment was in fact my hero's ordeal. No wonder I haven't been able to write. I was stuck on p230 and I'm thinking, "I've got 100+ more pages that come after my black moment???"

The funny thing is, I'd instinctively included another black moment that is exceedingly darker.

I could light a Christmas candle with my brights.

J Perry Stone said...

Shelley said: "A lot of time writers say they have writer's block when it's really procrastination."

Absolutely. Although, I'd never pick housecleaning as the substitute ;).

2000 does seem like a lot to me. That's what? About 8 pages?

Carol, my husband has one of those fountain things. I am so going to steal it from him (I hope it doesn't make me want to pee, though).

J Perry Stone said...

Marilyn, I say the "not letting perfection get in the way" thing as advice, but I still have trouble taking it. I've said this before, but when a person writes, it's as if you are imprinting yourself upon the page. It's not just the quality of your prose, but your fashion tastes, preferences in food, etc., that come out through the character's choices. As such, it is really very difficult to let go of the writing ... to accept it when it doesn't always sparkle, especially if you believe you are the omnipresent creator of your characters' lives.

I've ruined books by revising the life right out of them. You can't imagine how horrified I was to hear an agent say, "the first 200 pages really lagged." Those were the first 200 pages on which I did, what I thought, was my very best!

Excruciating lesson.

J Perry Stone said...

Nicki, the day I kick YOU into gear is the day I grow a set.

Tami Brothers said...

Great post, JP!!! Very motivating!!! You definitely took me back to my Psych class and then again to my Human Resource class with the Pavlov picture... I honestly did not like that guy after studying him for two classes!!!

Best of luck with all this. Very funny and also a great motivational post!!!

Tami

J Perry Stone said...
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J Perry Stone said...

I'm not much for Pavlov either, Tami. The horrors he did to those dogs! I realize he made some significant discoveries, but my Buddhist heart can't take the cruelty to living beings in the making of them.