Some Writing Inspiration and Thoughts on Lazy Muses
I am deep in Revison Land. It’s a lot like those Tilt-a-Whirl rides that make you lose all concept with reality. Or all control of your lunch…
Actually, it’s a LOT like this poor guy, and all I wan to do is beg Janice to make it STOP.
Actually, that’s not true. I hit a few breakthroughs last week that inspired me to keep going. Those breakthroughs inspired me to not screech curses at Janice or the Tilt-a-Whirl attendant and demand they get me off this demented purveyor of hell…
But, I’m gonna be really honest with you guys: in the last 2 years–since I sold my book–most days have left me feeling like this poor girl.
All the other authors can “make a letter V”. So why am I the only one who finds it tricky? More than tricky–tortuous. Impossible.
Except…most writers feel this way. I am not the only who can’t make a letter V. Because the simple fact of the matter is that writing is hard.
All creative endeavors are. You never know when your Muse will cooperate, and most days, she is really lazy and ought to be fired. I show up every freakin’ day at my computer, and she comes maybe…two days a week. For an hour each time. Then she’s back out, partying, inspiring other artists, and pretending I don’t exist.
And yes, I totally yoinked that analogy from Elizabeth Gilbert, who I show in a video below. Thing is, it’s TRUE. There is without a doubt something very mystical and inexplicable about the creative process. You can BICHOK all you want, but if you’re not BICHOKing with the Right Idea, then you’re work won’t be quality…And worse, you won’t enjoy what you’re doing.
There’s a quote from Neil Gaiman’s amazing commencement speech:
I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure, and to stop when it felt like work, which meant that life did not feel like work.
This used to bother me because I thought that it could make people lazy–encourage them to only work when they felt “inspired”.
But then I realized I was wrong, wrong, wrong.
Neil Gaiman got his best advice from Stephen King–“You should enjoy it.” But Gaiman didn’t enjoy it. He worried and stressed and forgot what it felt like to love creating.
Yet that love for creation–that incredible explosion of ideas and passion–is something we all feel when we first start. It’s what made us become artists in the first place…yet it’s so easy to lose.
It’s so easy to forget what Good Ideas feel like. You stop working in sync with your Muse, and you hammer out words that end up lackluster. Words that aren’t fun to get out.
And that there IS a difference between inspired writing and…all the rest of what you write. Readers can sense it, and you can certainly sense it. Either you enjoy what you’re doing…or you don’t.
And there IS a Muse. There IS a flighty coworker who comes into work a few hours a week and showers you with brilliance. And all the sentences she helps you with have this extra spark–a glimmer of fairy dust–that all the other sentences lack.
And WOW, guys. When your Muse cooperates, it’s like being on fire. It’s like the best food and the warmest cuddle and the fastest roller coaster all rolled into one.
It’s not a Tilt-a-Whirl–it’s a freaking free fall and you have wings.
You feel this wrenching in your gut and the ideas explode from your mind faster than your fingers can fly over the keyboard.
Neil Gaiman has another quote that sums it up perfectly:
The best thing about writing fiction is that moment where the story catches fire and comes to life on the page, and suddenly it all makes sense and you know what it’s about and why you’re doing it and what these people are saying and doing, and you get to feel like both the creator and the audience. Everything is suddenly both obvious and surprising (“but of course that’s why he was doing that, and that means that…”) and it’s magic and wonderful and strange.
My author friends (a.k.a. the only reason I am still sane) and I frequently talk about this SURGE of story. Sometimes it happens before you start writing a new story. Sometimes it’ll hit halfway through a draft…or while you’re revising.
Sadly, it is almost impossible to call up on demand. There are only two solutions I know of for getting the Muse to drop by–and I talked about them in my Writing Constipation post.
- Show up. Write every day. Keep on typing despite your lack of enthusiasm until ye olde Muse returns.
- Step away from your story/creative endeavor for a while and let the ideas simmer. Think, think, think and think some more until your Muse finally gets intrigued enough by all your idea-churning to come barreling back.
Solution #1 is usually what I do. I write every day…and wind up with dreadful first drafts. Dreadful second, fifth, twelfth drafts. But each new drafts tends circle closer and closer to the Right Story until eventually my Muse shows up and gets me on the right track.
But I think people forget about solution #2. I know too many writers who get into a routine. Who copy/paste the same things they wrote before, just package it a bit different. They’re bored; they aren’t having fun; they’re worried they might lose their success at any moment; and their writing becomes flatter and flatter, worse and worse.
They’ve forgotten that a Right Story ever existed. They know the mechanics, and they use the mechanics to produce…but they don’t feel that full-body click that tells them the Right Story has just come into being. They don’t even remember they were ever supposed to feel it.
So, just as Stephen King said to Neil Gaiman, I am going to say it to you. It’s the same thing I’ve had to learn over the last 2 years–and that I only recently started to really understand.
You should enjoy this.
And whenever it starts to feel wrong–to feel forced–then it’s time for you to stop. Don’t be lazy, but don’t let your Muse be lazy either. She will come out eventually, and the more you learn to call on her, the easier it becomes every time.
So, I’ll leave you with Neil Gaiman’s brilliant speech and Elizabeth Gilbert’s amazing lecture. Maybe their words will resonate with you as much as they did with me. And maybe they can help you stop the crazy Tilt-a-Whirl and instead grow wings.
December 10, 2012 @ 3:29 pm
I feel like you just summed up everything you, me, and Sarah have been chatting about these last few days. I want to hug this post. <3
December 10, 2012 @ 7:11 pm
I know. I started writing this, and then we chatted on Friday and I had about 25 million more things to add to the post. In other words, my Muse was ON for this post. 😉
December 10, 2012 @ 4:09 pm
I think I know what you mean by the “surge”. Some days I don’t feel this but keep writing to get the story moving… and the days when I do feel it make every other day still mean something 🙂
And btw, that video of the kid on the ride had me rolling… I know the point was to sympathise with the kid, but I couldn’t stop freaking laughing at Janice laughing. That is HILARIOUS 😉 (but I could certainly relate to the poor kid as well…)
December 10, 2012 @ 7:11 pm
Omg, the Janice video KILLS me every time. My husband and I must have watched it ten times now–and we’re crying with laughter after time. That poor, poor kid…but omg, how funny.
December 10, 2012 @ 6:08 pm
Great post as always! 🙂 I’m in middle of the first draft of my latest book but I can totally identify with the inspirational surge I feel sometimes compared to the tripe I write othertimes when I sit down and force myself to write (particularly after an exhausting brain-draining day at work).
I try to trudge on though because sometimes (even when I’m knackered) I get an idea or a wave of inspiration which makes it worth it and if I get out of the habit of writing it can take me a while to get back to it.
You post makes me feel better about the days I just can’t seem to write anything good, when it’s not working. I just need to know when I’m ‘forcing’ it (i.e. to take a break) and when I’m just being plain lazy… 🙂
BTW I loved the videos! So funny!
December 10, 2012 @ 7:13 pm
That’s the key–knowing when you’re just “being lazy” or “forcing something”. The only way to find out is to just DO IT…but sometimes laziness still wins. 😉
Also, I find my Muse ALWAYS kicks in right as I’m falling asleep and floods me with ten million ideas. Or in the shower. So I have a waterproof pad in the shower (not kidding) and a pad by my bed. I never thought I would be That Person, but it turns out I am… Hahaha.
December 10, 2012 @ 9:11 pm
Waterproof pad? That’s hilarious! I always seem to have my best ideas in the shower! Must check out that waterproof pad as I usually have to repeat the idea over and over in my head until I can write it down! 😉
Just re-watched the videos. So so funny!
December 11, 2012 @ 11:55 pm
This post is SO GOOD. I agree with the two ideas you put forth – sometimes, it’s good to keep on trucking, and sometimes, it’s good to step back and let things simmer. I’m in the middle of working on my unfinished WIP from NaNo, but I’ve decided to take a break since things are starting to feel like “work”. Hopefully, I’ll be able to jump back into it soon (so I can send you and Sarah my stuff!) 🙂
December 17, 2012 @ 9:30 pm
Simmering is so important (which is why I think you see so many third books with lag time >1 year. The author realizes they can’t hammer it all out in 1 year, so they ask for extra time. This happens so often!! And I totally relate!). And no rush on sending me and Sarah your stuff–whenever you’re ready. 🙂
December 12, 2012 @ 6:51 am
Love this post…and not just because I worship the crap out of Neil Gaiman (though…I did have the same first reaction you did to that quote). I’m going to just take a moment and fangirl over his writing: The man is a true bard. What he does with words and the way he does it, it’s so freaking inspiring. At least the stories of his I’ve read (his blog doesn’t count, sorry, Neil) have always had those sentences that I read over several times, because they are just so beautiful. Anyway. That said, excellent post, yet again. 🙂
I tend to show up every day, too. Even if I don’t write, I always think about the story and try to figure stuff out. Reading or watching other stories sometimes is the only way to give my brain a break, because it’s something to get immersed and lost in. Often, when I read a great story and I come out feeling all fuzzy after going through a roller coaster with the character, I’m more inspired just because it brings back why I do what I do. That feeling I get from reading a great story, that’s what I want to bring to others, and just being reminded of what it’s like as a reader sometimes helps tremendously.
Also, I used my little sister as a sounding board on skype the other day and it completely got rid of my “muse block”. Sometimes it’s just good to bounce it off someone, even if they don’t say much at all, thinking out loud at someone other than the wall can be sooo helpful, I’ve found. Now when I am in a complete inspiration rut, I’ll drop her a line and get her on skype, so I can talk my story at her, and if nothing else, it’s always nice spending time.
Thanks as always for the inspiring words. 🙂
December 17, 2012 @ 9:31 pm
SUCH A GOOD POINT! Sounding boards are critical–I have bounced so many ideas off Sarah Maas and Erin Bowman (and vice versa). Often times, they/we suggest things…that are terrible, but it gets the right gears turning. By the end of a conversation I/they will have all the ideas we need!!
Also, Neil Gaiman. <3 Agreed. Man is amazing.
December 12, 2012 @ 1:02 pm
A much needed post! Thanks Sooz! 🙂 I’ve been pushing myself a little too hard in revision land. Every day is BICHOK, but I’m not getting very far besides measly line edits – it’s been driving me nuts because there’s more important (and larger) problems at hand! It’s leading to all kinds of self-doubt. So we’re going with #2 – though never keeping me too far away because I just can’t do that. Real pen, real paper, time to free write with my characters. Like you said, sometimes you need to get your muse re-interested. It’ll be like simmering, but also stirring the pot.
I think one of the hardest lessons I’ve learned has been that it’s okay to push back deadlines. Taking more time to create something of quality is better than passing the finish line when you have to go back AGAIN to fix stuff. I just hate that I felt like I was on a very clear trajectory, and I can’t meet that goal.
Last thought – Been reading SS&D – IN LOVE. I can’t wait until July! (On the plus side…it’s going on my bday list) I’ve also been mapping your plot for my own literary mapping skills to keep in mind while lost in the revision land. I’m about half way through, Mama is catching on…uh oh! Something that really caught my eye in the beginning was the way you used the rising action to show how her everyday world has changed (rather than showing the everyday world and then the conflict). I’m currently doing the latter, but doing it your way is much more succinct! Something to think about.
December 17, 2012 @ 9:34 pm
AWWWWW. I am so flattered you’re enjoying SS&D. Huzzah! <3 I am glad I did something well. 😀
And yessss, I know that feeling of self-doubt and guilt well. It has taken me years to finally come to terms with it. And there are still days when I am just "simmering" and I hate myself for being "lazy"…when I know, deep down, that this simmering/thinking is still WORK and totally critical for the story. But it can be frustrating…
Keep at it!! BICHOK away until that flighty Muse of yours returns. 😀