Monday, April 20, 2009
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).