Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Working Around Absent Muses

Today I’m welcoming Elizabeth Spann Craig (who also writes as Riley Adams) to Terry’s Place. Have you ever gotten discouraged with your manuscript or hit a slow spot with your writing? Elizabeth shares some tips for working through it.

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.


Mason Canyon said...

Elizabeth, great tips for any type of writing. Sometimes putting too much pressure on yourself to write that certain line or paragraph can cause nothing to come to mind. Taking a step back and trying some of these tips will give inspiration to your work.

Terry, thanks for hosting Elizabeth.

Thoughts in Progress

Heather Wright said...

My muse has been missing in action for ages. Your tips to get back on the writing track are just what I need to read as I grind out a first draft. Another tip that I might add is to know that the "mushy parts" and the "uninspiring days" don't last forever. That thought keeps me going on the blah days.

Malcolm R. Campbell said...

Great advice. Here's an idea that helps me. When I feel totally stuck, I do something that takes my mind off the manuscript. Then, while I'm occupied with the yard project or reading an exciting novel, the muse starts whispering hints. This gets me out of neutral and into DRIVE again.


Mary Aalgaard said...

I like it that you tell us to write, anything, and that will lead to better writing, might even open the doors to something inspirational. The best line, "There's no way to edit a blank page."

Anonymous said...

My favorite tip: Play with toys! Think about it: who are the most creative people on earth? Kids, of course--before the responsibilities of adulthood drum that creativity out of them. By allowing ourselves to play with toys, we tap into that latent creativity of our childhood, and miracles can happen.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

My muse must be hanging out with yours! As always you’ve shared some great tips. I haven’t tried the list idea, but now I'm looking forward to testing it.

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth - These are such good ideas for working around the muse! I think the one that I like best is your advice to keep writing. That daily discipline keeps us "in shape" and you never know when something you write will turn on the proverbial switch. That's one of the things I like about keeping a blog; it's good daily writing practice.

Terry Odell said...

It's always a pleasure to have Elizabeth here at Terry's Place. I'm so glad she's my guest today. Thanks for dropping by, everyone.

Carol Kilgore said...

Yes, ma'am. That's how it works. Great post. Thanks for hosting, Terry.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Mason-- I think you're right--pressure makes me blank out and get panicky. Relaxing can really help me get the creative juices flowing again!

Heather--It's true--we're not *always* uninspired. Usually it's in spurts--and then sometimes the ideas come fast and furious!

Malcolm--Great idea! And, actually, telling myself that if I *don't* write that next page then I'll have to do yard work or clean the house, makes me feel especially inspired! :)

Mary--I think *any*thing on the page helps. Even if you write doodles or make lists for upcoming scenes. That blank page is the worst!

Smoky--When I speak to schools, that's *exactly* what I tell them! And when kids are playing with toys, they're inventing dialogue for both action figures, creating plot, etc. Really, they're screenwriting. We could do the same thing.

Jane--Those muses of ours should be fired. :)

Margot--Blogging is the ultimate writing exercise! And it's for an audience of readers--with instant feedback. What could be better?

Karen--I wait for that special energy and magic, too...but I write in the meantime! It's rare for me to really have flowing inspiration.

Terry--Thanks so much for having me here! I love visiting your blog. :)

Carol--Thanks so much for dropping by!

Terry Stonecrop said...

Great tips! Permission to fail is important. Thank you.

I just checked out your blog. Looks excellent.

Thanks, Terry, for hosting another great guest.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Great advice, Elizabeth!

Dorte H said...

Thank you for reminding us about this, Elizabeth. I must remember to visit your blog the next time I am stuck; you can always make me see the possibilities instead of the obstacles. So instead of staring at the computer screen when my prose is less than brilliant, I just go on writing stubbornly - and sometimes my fingers suddenly write sentences that make me snigger. And if not, I can always delete it again ;)

JournoMich said...

Ahhh...the Muse. The elusive, hungry muse. Seems a bit like those Buddha statues in Thailand stores owners have to feed--and know what they like!

Mine likes...haven't figured it totally out yet--but she seems fickle!

Great post, Elizabeth. Thanks for having such a great guest blogger, Terry!


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Terry--It's hard for the writing perfectionists, but we know we can revise bad text into something great later on.

And thanks so much for popping by my blog! :)


Dorte--I'd say that 4 days out of 5, I'm writing stuff that needs to be *heavily* edited!

Michele--I think mine likes sour apple Jolly Ranchers. :) She and I aren't on speaking terms, or else I'd ask her!

Unknown said...

I found this to be a really helpful post. I often feel frustrated when I can't get the scene right in my head nor on paper. However, your idea of moving onto the next scene or opening up another word document to explore other angles was really inspirational. Great post!!!

Hart Johnson said...

Great list, Elizabeth! I love the permission to take a tangent! Excellent!

I do two additional things--If a scene is really hard, I just give it a rough description... a sentence or two, and come back to it later... Skipping ahead, if you will,

And then my old fallback... MOVE (not location... I mean power walk (or swim)--when my body is busy and my mind doesn't have much to do, I often stir up exactly what I was missing (no music though--that interferes as often as not)

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Chary--And the nice thing is that there's nothing 'official' about that new Word doc--it's just pretend. And then, if the ideas happen to work out, then they can copy/paste in very easily. :)

Hart--These are great ideas! I have to admit that as much as I hate exercising, when I'm on a treadmill and bored to tears, I *do* come up with solid ideas for my plot. Thanks for reminding me...I need to work that into my routine!

Helen Ginger said...

I live on the computer. All day. If I need to change things up, one way is to leave the computer, leave my office. Take a pad and pen and go elsewhere. Outside. The coffee shop. Somewhere new.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Helen--That's a very good idea. It's easy to get stale when we're always writing in the same place. :)

Unknown said...

These are some terrific ideas. Thank you for sharing. Now I know I don't have to hog-tie my Muse and get her to cooperate.