When Your Muse Takes a Vacation

wheeled-bags-143413_640It’s that time of year to start reserving your campsite or cabin or airline seats. Yay for summer vacation! But who’s got time for that?

Your week is slammed—chock full of appointments and meetings and paperwork that you don’t want to fill out in the first place. And, dutiful writer that you are, you realize you must make time amidst the chaos to write or it’s not going to happen. So, you whip out a crowbar and pry open a block of precious hours to work on your bestseller. It’s hopeful. It’s a handhold on your rockslide of a schedule and you’re looking forward to it.

Fast forward. The blessed time has arrived for you to lose yourself in the muse and surge ahead in your WIP. Java in one hand, laptop in the other, you cozy up in your favorite chair, ready to write and—

Apparently your muse didn’t get the memo. Your mind is blank and you are exhausted. Panic sets in. This is your only chance to write for the week and you don’t want to blow it. So you sit there with a crazed look on your face, whimpering.

Yeah. I hear you. I’ve been there. Frequently. Take a deep breath and read on because I’ve got a few tricks in my writerly bag that often are helpful.

470077_13483801Say What?

Close your eyes for a moment and listen to your characters. Just listen. Then open your eyes and write down what they’re saying. That’s right…I’m giving you permission to simply write dialogue. Don’t worry about attributes. You can go back and do that later. Simply start typing in a conversation between two of your characters (any two) and something magical will happen. You’ll get lost in the dialogue and pretty soon your word count will sky rocket.

Show & Tell

Open up to your collection of pictures that inspire your particular story. And if you don’t have any, then use this time to get some. What am I talking about? Well, I now keep pictures of each of my stories on Pinterest (here is an example). You don’t have to use that site, but you can look at my board and it will give you an idea of what I’m talking about. Pre-Pinterest days I simply opened a Word file and kept them there. Pre-laptop days I cut out pictures and tossed them into a file folder. Sometimes all it takes to get you writing is to physically look into your hero or heroine’s eyes.

1427476_92609932Slash & Burn

Go back to a previous chapter and edit. Even if your muse doesn’t happen to show up during that entire block of time, at least you’ll be making some kind of headway on your WIP and you’ll feel a lot better about it.

Mind Game

Release the pressure by telling yourself it’s quality not quantity. Focus on writing a single paragraph of description, either describing a character, a setting, an object…whatever. Make it a game by throwing out convention and using prose that’s crazy and you’ll find that one of two things will happen. It will either spur you into a creative new bent for the scene and you’ll move on in your story, or you’ll wonder what kind of drugs you’re on and snap out of it.

1439836_95143378Chocolate

Honestly, is there any situation that chocolate doesn’t make better? Go for the biggest brownie in the batch and see if that doesn’t put you in a better frame of mind

There you have it. Try one. Try all. Or go ahead and share with us other surefire ways you’ve tried to plead with your muse to pack up the suntan lotion and get home.

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The Slow-Writing Revolt

exhausted-woman-Writetodone.com“Nice piece on that Huge Famous Blog, Allie,” you say to your friend, sincerely.

“Oh yeah, that thing. I just dashed that off, after two other pieces I wrote that day.” She tosses her perfect hair and regards her French nails.

“Really? How long did that piece take you?” you say, curious, but knowing you’re about to feel sick.

“Oh, about 37 minutes. Of course posting it all around the world took a bit longer. And then answering all the fan mail. That took about 3 days.”

“Yeah, I hate it when that happens.“ Weak smile trying to hide your nausea and the fact that it took you all day to write one short piece. You leave smiling, stomach roiling.

I confess: I have been Allie a time or three, but I’m mostly the other. Which is a problem. This week, for instance, I have four articles due in the next two days (Yes, this is one of them.) Not to mention a sermon to write, and three other presentations. It was the same last week. I’m not alone in this kettle of fish. A Facebook friend messaged me saying she couldn’t talk—she had three articles due that day. Others tell me the same.

So here we all are hunched over in emergency mode every day, madly chopping and grinding, tossing posts and articles and reviews out into the void. We’re generating twice as much content as we used to, in half the time.

What’s happening? We all have Facebook pages we’re trying to fill. Many have daily blogs they’re trying to fill. Surrendering that impossible task, now they’re filling them with other writers’ work. So now we’re all writing for our own blogs, plus our friends’ blogs, plus all those other publications we want to be in. And the book we’re writing? Oh yes, we’ll get to that, as soon as we finish this last little post. Behind all this is fear . . . a lot of fear. That we’ll disappear if we’re not on stage all the time. That we’ll be forgotten. That we’ll be invisible. That our platform won’t be big enough. That we won’t land another book contract.

Enough. I’m about to revolt.

Here’s what I’m preaching to you and me today. And I’m sorry I’m not saying it beautifully or lyrically with a grand metaphor that lights it all on fire. That’s what happens when you write too fast. Here’s the message: Slow down.  M a r i n a t e.    Wait.     Sometimes even—-stop. Sometimes even—-say No.

We’re losing our way when nothing matters but the deadline. We’re losing our way when nothing matters but the byline. We’re wasting words. Sometimes we’re writing junk we don’t mean. Sometimes we’re just writing junk. We need to quit saying yes to people just because we want to fling a new piece out into the world for its five minutes of fame, if we’re even that lucky. Write to raze hearts and inflame lives. Mean every word you say. Stake your life upon it. Make your words worth every minute of your reader’s time. Anything less is ashes you have no time for and the world has no need of.

Take this, for example. I needed to write this in an hour, with a dash and a pinch of salt over my shoulder. Instead, against all intentions, I have taken three times longer. Not for the craft of it (apologies), but for the heart of it, which did not find me until the second hour. When we don’t give ourselves time to wander and to wonder, we’ll lose the truer words that want to be found and must be said.

Someday soon I hope the conversation will go like this:

“That was an amazing piece you wrote, Allie. You really nailed that review. I’m going to buy the book.”

“Really? That’s great! Yeah, it took me a week to write that. I just had to marinate in it for awhile.” She pulls at her frizzy hair and nibbles on her nails.

“Wow, a whole week! Good for you!”

“Oh, I don’t mean to brag or anything.”

‘No, that’s okay. That’s really inspiring,” you say. You think a moment, then blurt out, “You know, I’m going to ask for an extension on my essay. I think I need a little more time on it.”

“Of course! They’ll give it to you. You’re one of the best writers I know. They don’t expect you to be fast!”

Will you join me in this revolt?