Working Around Absent Muses—Tips for Completing Your Manuscript
My muse and I haven’t been on speaking terms for years. She’s high-maintenance, easily offended, and rarely shows up for our writing sessions at all.
I’ve learned to work around her.
Most of writing is, after all, perspiration instead of inspiration. Yes, you need the original brainstorm to kick off your project—then you really just need a lot of dedication to get it finished and polished.
What if you’ve reached a spot in your story where you’re floundering? Lots of story middles are mushy because writers are um-ing and uh-ing their way through while looking for ideas.
Here are some tips to keep writing through the mushy parts…and uninspiring days:
One way to keep inspired when your muse is AWOL is just to plan for writing. This doesn’t mean that you have to have a special room set aside for writing or a special time for it. It just means that you plan ahead to make writing a part of your day. Carry a notebook in your car in case you get an idea. Learning how to use your phone’s voice recording function is another way to plan for sudden brainstorms. Keep thinking about how to integrate writing into your day as your day changes and activities are added or changed.
Permission to fail (temporarily). Go ahead and tell yourself you’re going to write pure drivel for the next page. Then do it. Even bad writing can produce good ideas for the story, later on.
Write something every day. On those days where you really couldn’t write, plan the next scene in your head or think about the plot—playing it in your head like a movie.
Go off on a tangent. Open a new Word document and tell yourself it’s not really part of your manuscript—you just want to see what happens if you experiment and do XYZ with your story. If it works, you can incorporate it into the story.
Set a deadline. I’m big on deadlines. Usually mine are imposed by my agent or editor, but I also set small deadlines for myself each day. They help me stay on track.
Write in a different location. Sometimes keeping ourselves fresh means shaking up our writing routine a little. Do you usually write at home? Try writing at a library, park, or coffeehouse.
Make a list. Sometimes, for me anyway, the thought of writing a lot of narrative on a particularly uninspiring day is really daunting. For those days, I’ll make lists of things relating to my story—it’s amazing how it can get my creative juices going. One list could be “protagonist characteristics,” another could be “setting details—restaurant,” etc.
Know you’re not alone. I don’t know any writer who’s kissed by the muse every day. In fact, I believe most of us are just plugging ahead with our stories with sheer grit. The important thing is to just keep at it—you can always revise your story later. There’s no way to edit a blank page.
Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin as Riley Adams, the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink (under her own name), and blogs daily at Mystery Writing Is Murder , which was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers for 2010. Delicious and Suspicious released July 6, 2010. You can also find Elizabeth on Twitter @ElizabethSCraig.