Summoning the Muse
A muse is a lot like that friend you had back in junior high. You know the one. She wore stripes and polka dots and plaid simultaneously and welcomed open-mouthed stares as obvious evidence of jealousy. She yelled “penis” at lunch, causing you to snort milk out your nose. She taught you the real value of compound words: more colorful swearing. She introduced you to punk music, country line dancing and cloudbursting – all on the same day. She smoked cigarettes, but only when doing so might get you in trouble. She was the friend your parents gave polite smiles to, but weren’t so sure about.
And she was totally unreliable.
But you put up with that, because she was the sole source of your “cool.” She sold you substance and mystery for the price of her unpredictability.
A muse is a lot like that.
[Some of you are queueing up to tell me you don't believe in muses. Well, do you believe in yourself? I don't mean in that syrupy inspirational sense. I mean do you believe you exist? We're talking basic sentience here. You do? Then simply presume that when I say "muse" I mean "that part of you where good ideas come from." Okay? Okay.]
A muse is a fickle creature. She’ll promise to stop by, then decide to go to her violin lesson instead. Meanwhile, you just opened your laptop and…nothing. She knew this was your only available writing time! And when did she start playing the violin, anyway?
Perhaps you can still entice her to show up. Try one of these ideas.
Just start writing. Write crappy paragraphs. Write run-on sentences. Write about your summer vacation. Write a shopping list. Just get the fingers moving on the keyboard. Muses have a hard time ignoring the rhythm of writing. It’s like the sound of a passing parade to them and they never miss a parade. When your muse finally does show up, she’ll be wearing a look of casual indifference. Don’t be alarmed by that. She’ll watch you for a few minutes, shake her head at your writing inadequacies and sigh that sigh of hers. But before long she’ll join the finger-tapping dance and make the writing all about her. In a good way.
Read someone else’s brilliance. If you’ve been staring at the blank screen for more than ten minutes, stop it. Grab a book you’ve already enjoyed or one you’re just discovering and start reading. Some muses like to hide in other people’s words. It’s not that they don’t like your work-in-progress, but…well…a complete novel can be so much more compelling. After fifteen minutes or so of reading, close the book and go back to your computer. (Or your yellow legal pad. Really?) Often, your muse will follow, spurred on by the prospect of helping you to finish something as brilliant (or nearly so) as the other author’s book.
Dare to start something new without her. Forget the work-in-progress, start a completely new novel or short story. Just pick one from the hundreds of files on your computer titled “new story idea.” (You really should consolidate those into one file.) But don’t start at the beginning. Pick a particularly difficult scene and start there. If your muse is like mine, she’ll show up just to watch you squirm. And while she may not want t0 help with the new book (yet), she’ll probably feel sorry for you and offer to help with the primary work-in-progress. Muses aren’t entirely without mercy.
Walk away. Tell the muse you don’t need her after all because you’ve decided to catch up on laundry. You like doing the laundry more than writing anyway because the laundry always shows up. Say this out loud as you shuffle to the laundry room. Your muse won’t be fooled by this lie, but she might appear anyway. Not to help with the laundry, just to feed you a few really good ideas during the rinse cycle as a way to affirm her indisputable value.
Borrow someone else’s muse. Call a writing friend. Talk through your work-in-progress and the obstacles you’re facing. If your friend’s muse is generous, she might just give you the push you need to plow through your challenges. Bonus: this will make your muse jealous. Muses respect one another, but they don’t like to be one-upped. She’ll show up with even better ideas.
And if these ideas fail, don’t blame me. I got them from my muse. You know how unpredictable muses can be.