Monday, March 5, 2012

WSG 4: Fire Your Muse

Writer's Survival Guide 4: Fire Your Muse

Last week, to prepare for major revisions, I began reading through the draft I finished in January. Can I say it stunk? It did. It was like rotten garbage with flies and maggots. Okay, maybe not that bad, but at least moldy oranges bad. By the end of chapter three I wanted to set the project aside indefinitely and move on to my next book.

Instead of shutting my laptop down and wallowing in self-pity for an afternoon, I forged through and continued reading, all the while leaving comment balloons and remarks to myself with track changes. By the end of the first day, I was discouraged, but I wouldn't allow myself to plunge into "I'm the worst writer ever; this book can't be fixed!" mode.

Every time a negative thought entered, I replaced it with a positive one. Not a false positive. I simply assured myself I would find a way to make the book better.

Writers talk about our muse (which I consider the inspiration for a fabulous idea). Usually we're referring to the writing stage. But we can blame our muse for every level of a project.

Revising is hard? We'll put it aside until we "feel" better about it. The new idea we haven't fleshed out? We'll wait until "inspiration" strikes before we pursue it further. The platform we know we need to get started on? We'll wait until it's easier/we're less busy/a publisher offers us a contract.

Guess what? The muse is a myth. It's a convenient scapegoat to avoid whatever we are too afraid to tackle.

So I say fire your muse.

Yeah. Fire it. You don't need it.

Writing doesn't always bring the warm fuzzies. Revising can be incredibly painful. Platform building? Not for the faint of heart.

The real magic happens, not when we wait for inspiration or when we're in the mood for whatever task we're avoiding, but when we sit down and live in the discomfort.

We move beyond fear. That's where strength is built. That's where writers are made.

After that first painful session of my read-through last week, I picked up the blanket I'm crocheting and, as I added several rows, idea after idea came to me on how to fix the opening chapters.

I quickly jotted them all in my "revision notes" section of my book's OneNote folder.

If you decide to fire your muse, you'll need three tools:

1. Belief in yourself as a writer.
2. Willingness to sit in discomfort.
3. A system to capture your ideas and track your progress.

You must believe you are capable of writing a good book. It doesn't have to be great in the first draft stage or even the fifth draft. Just trust in your ability to make it good.

If you aren't willing to sit in discomfort, it will take a long, long time to finish a project--if it ever gets finished. Writing, revising, submitting--each brings joy and challenges, and you're NOT going to be equally excited and upbeat about every book or every stage of writing. It doesn't matter. What matters is that you finish. You do your best.

Finally, without a system to track your ideas and progress, you'll lose steam, or worse, you'll lose those fabulous ideas that assault you at inconvenient times.

The system I use is OneNote for all of my writing projects. I have a virtual folder for each of my projects. In it are a myriad of tabs for different aspects of the manuscript. It does me no good to jot notes on a random piece of paper only to lose it the next week. I must have all of the information for a book in one spot.

So when you're having a fabulous writing day, rejoice! When you're having a rotten writing day, push through. You don't have to feel good to write well. Fire that muse!

A quick thank you to all of the new followers. My Google Friend Connect hasn't allowed me to e-mail contacts in quite some time so I wanted to thank you here. Your support means so much to me. Thank you!

Does fear ever hold you back? How do you man-handle your muse?

Enjoy your Monday!


  1. Jill, this is FABULOUS, and so true! And you know what? I had no idea about OneNote until you talked about it here - and my computer has OneNote, woo-hoo! I am definitely going to try it: with all the computer time and internet searches I do, my old method of printing stuff and putting it in a 3-ring binder is just not cutting it.

    Thank you SO much!
    And good for you for pushing through. "Living in the discomfort" is a phrase I'll keep repeating to myself!


  2. Oops, it's "sit in discomfort" LOL. It's still early, haha. ;)

  3. Excellent post, Jill! You're so right - sometimes, whether it's writing a scene from scratch or revising (something I tend to enjoy), often you have to sit yourself down and force it out. It's not the flowing stream of words some think it is.

    I've tried all sorts of things for organizing. I do like Scrivener for organizing scenes, but for me, nothing works like just having a notebook handy and writing it out by hand. But OneNote sounds very interesting. I'm going to have to check it out.


  4. The thing I love about writing? There is always some way to improve our story. It takes hard work but is so worth it in the end.

    Love this post! Hope you are having a good Monday. My weekend was gloriously Jaws-free. ;)

  5. I truly think everyone who has ever attempted to write a book needs to read this. Such wisdom!

    Yes, fear has held me back. I had to take a step of faith last week that scared me like crazy. And it took hard work and a refusal to give into feelings of "But I'm tired and I don't feel inspired!" But when I finally followed through on Saturday, it was proof once more that hard work coupled with trust in God is better than that fickle old muse. :)

  6. Terrific insight, Jill. It's never occurred to me to kick my muse out the window. ;)

    I find that proactivity—sitting my butt down to write, attending conferences and connecting with other writers—fuel my engine and keep my inner-naysayer at bay.

  7. Excellent!

    Love this paragraph, "The real magic happens..."

    Off to tweet.

    I sit on my muse every time I sit to write, therefore squashing it and silencing it. :D
    ~ Wendy

  8. Wise counsel, Jill. I battle frequent bouts of doubts. If I waited until I felt confident and the creativity was flowing, I'd get little written. I wrote my most recent story while battling the debilitating phenomenon I refer to as Second Book Syndrome. I was sure what I was writing was dreck. Inspiration took a vacation. I was discouraged, down, and filled with doubts. But I did what you said. I learned to "sit in discomfort." I ignored the fears and wrote anyway. The story ended up better than I expected, proving that I don't need a muse to write a story. I need a good idea and the willingness to write despite what I'm feeling.

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  10. Jill,

    This is one of the areas of life where I'm just torn.

    I think this is an area where you and other writers I know (Nearly all parents) may have an edge over me. As much as you clearly have your quirks like everyone else, and I mean that as the highest compliment I can give without meeting you in person.

    That said, as someone who pulls many all-nighters to get through even the most basic aspects of the writing process, like say, finish the da** book already, no matter how bad it is, it can feel unbearably humbling.

    I'm just giving a gentle warning to those who commented before and after me not to

    There's a difference between "Enduring Hardship" and "Crying yourself to sleep out of frustration."

    I was doing the latter A LOT the three years (2009-2011), and while not all of this was solely writing related, the vast majority of it was.

    I'm better with that now, and don't worry, I'm not relapsing again, I'm only being honest about what happened in my case, because I think it's vital for non-Type A overachievers like me to know they're not alone if it takes them longer to "Push through it" and that it won't last forever, it just may feel that way sometimes.

    It's really important to know the difference within yourself and your life, since the line between endurance and agony can get blurry if not downright nonexistent.

    My point? It's just as vital to give your permission to "Take a break" as much as "Push through the discomfort."

    I do agree that you can't rely on inspiration alone to finish what you start, my improved query letter writing would never have occurred if I didn't spend the majority of last month devoted to honing this skill, and while I've hardly mastered it, I see the improvement, and that's big for me.
    That could not have happened if I hadn't forced myself into it.
    But I also don't think pushing myself to the point of going to bed in tears for not progressing with my WIP as much as I'd like, is anymore fair or healthy to me as a writer--or a person.

    Jill, you're not implying any of that, so don't take it that way, because in the long term you're right. I'm just speaking to my experience, and hope at most the non-Type-A overachievers won't feel alone.

    But I also want to reassure the non-Type A overachiever writers out there to not feel like they're "lazy" or "weak" writers just because they can't plow through the hard times in that pragmatically stable manner as the writers they know or admire, especially if they're the writer in their critique group who, like me, struggles to keep their emotions in check.

    Take Care All,

    P.S: All that said, I missed the fun from the early years, and I don't think it's "lazy" to want some of the fun back. (Just saying that for myself, nothing's aimed at anyone here)

  11. A wise post, Jill. I used to think that if I made myself write on days when I didn't feel like it, my attitude would show on the page. However, I discovered that disciplining myself made for concise writing on those days. I was focused to get it done and not "dally" with other time wasters.

  12. Hi all! Just jumping in here quick--thank you all for your input on this. Writing can be very, very humbling, and I want anyone who reads this blog to know it does not always feel great to me! In fact, it's very hard some days. But I love it. :)

    Taurean--thank you for the peek into your process. I agree, just as it's unproductive to "wait" for inspiration, it's just as unproductive to force something that isn't there. I slot my activities, including writing, and if I've given a session everything I could and I only have 3 words and a giant headache, I do something else. We need to be kind to ourselves!!

    Keli--yay, yay, yay for pushing through the doubts and writing a killer second book!! So proud of you!

    Everyone, thank you SO much for chiming in! Big hugs to you all!

  13. Loved this post, Jill.

    Great tools to use in firing the muse. It really is all just excuses...our excuses.

    At one time, fear held me back - I admit it...but not anymore.

  14. Great post, Jill! I had to quit relying on my muse a long time ago. Mostly because he showed up at the worst possible times--like 1a.m. when I really needed to be sleeping not writing. Pushing through is hard, but it's so worth it.

    I just finished a manuscript that's due in 10 days, and I'm giving myself a few days away from it before I dive back in to fix the mess. But even as I tell myself that, I have all sorts of ideas for things that I could and should do.

    Great tip on getting all of your eFolders in the same place so you can keep track of your ideas and research. I've got to get better at that. :)

    Thanks again for your encouragement!

  15. Yes! Yes! Yes! "Willingness to sit in discomfort." That's exactly what it takes. I'm a perfectionist. It makes me uncomfortable to stare at a terrible scene all morning, but that's what it takes to fix it. Great post!

  16. Jill, I'm rooting for you and praying for you!

    The other day at my favorite coffee hub, I overheard someone say quite casually, "Yeah, I'm thinking about writing. How hard can it be to string a few verbs, nouns, and adjectives together?" or something to that effect. I had to literally turn around so he wouldn't see my giant eye roll number.

    Fabulous post! :)

  17. Ah, the idea of a Muse is so, so lovely ... but the reality of writing is harsh.
    I think my Muse has flitted by once, maybe twice, as I've journeyed along the writing road. She certainly hasn't stayed long.
    What I'm cultivating is exactly what you outlined in your points:
    Believing in myself as a writer (which takes time, energy and much prayer)
    Accepting the agony and angst of writing
    Developing a system -- and some days I'm more successful at this than others.
    Loved this blog post!

  18. I love reading through all of these comments! Seriously, you made my day!

    Liz: It's so great to see you here, and congrats on finishing your latest book! Take that time off. I never regret getting a little distance and giving myself some much-needed "me" time. :)

    Cynthia--I'll add to your eye-roll with the incredulous, wide-eyed glare. I'm good at that one! Ha!

    Thank you ALL so much for sharing your issues with the muse. :)

    Have a wonderful day!

  19. "The real magic happens, not when we wait for inspiration or when we're in the mood for whatever task we're avoiding, but when we sit down and live in the discomfort."

    This is just so fabulous, it hurts. I'm in a place of discomfort right now and hoping and praying some magic happens.

  20. What a coincidence. I:

    a) Finished my MS sometime in Jan.
    b) Tried re-starting it sometime this month.
    c) Thought, "I'm such a crap writer! Why do I do this? This MS is terrible!"

    Thanks for sharing in my depression. I'm trying to get back into the story by planning. I was having a very bad case of feeling lost ... no direction.


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