Obey Your Muses

I started writing a new project a few weeks ago. Naturally, as with any new project, I was excited. The words flowed out of my fingertips. The pace was so electrifying, I thought I was literally seeing sparks. I couldn’t write fast enough to keep up. In a span of a couple hours, I had written thousands of words. The story had exhaled its first breath and I was starting to understand its heartbeat, which had quickly taken a life all of its own and letting me understand it.

Initially, I wanted to outline and plan out the series. I knew–and still know–very little about the series. It is a series. Nine books, actually, spanning across multiple genres and with enough plotlines to make me feel like I did after watching Inception the first time. I knew how the first book was going to start, but not how it was going to end. I wanted to know more, before starting it. I wanted to be more prepared, that way. So I tried to start outlining. A day went by. Then, two. My outline moved slowly, barely growing more than a few documents on Word, with many “figure out later” spots. The entire time, I had an itch to start the story, regardless of the outline’s stage, regardless of how much I actually knew about the story. I wanted to write it.

So I did.

*Cue electrifying writing day*

I was stoked. I felt reckless, but already, I could see the familiar patterns of my writing process taking shape. No matter how much outlining I did–and in my previous four books, the outlines were in-depth, researched and complete–the story was going to tell itself to me, not the only way around. I am simply the storyteller, not the creator. My stories have lives of their own and I’m just here to write them down and try to figure them out and do justice to them with my telling. Even only 10K in, I could see that Artemis had his own life, his own thoughts and his own plans. And I was excited he was sharing them with me, as for the first time, I hadn’t dug deep enough to understand them truly before I tried to tell them.

Yet when I sat down the next day to write, there were no sparks, no struggle to keep up with the words that poured through me. I barely wrote a paragraph.

*Cue repeat trudging for the next week*

Suddenly, the Muse that begged me to write for days, who I ignored and eventually gave into–and then was rewarded with an exciting, productive writing session–had disappeared. She was nowhere to be seen. I caught myself not writing during the times I set aside or during times I hoped to or times when I found myself free. Even the days when I actually tried, the output was poor. My excitement hadn’t died down–not in the slightest, as I thought about Artemis constantly and there were scenes I had come up with and wanted to get to, yet just hadn’t gotten there yet. Yet the words weren’t coming.

One afternoon, I had an hour before my shift at the desk started and I planned to write. So I put on a Skyrim atmospheres track, opened up my Word document and forced myself to write. At first, it was the same trudging. 15 minutes passed and I could barely get a paragraph down. But I pushed on, stubborn and determined. My hour before my shift passed and went. And I was surprised to find that I had written quite a bit.

And I was in no mood to stop.

However, my shift at the desk had started. Work–while nothing was waiting at that moment–could appear at any moment for me to complete. Plus, I had planned on writing a blog post and reading a friend’s manuscript during that shift, if no work came in for me to complete (I’m very lucky to have a part-time position where I can work on personal things, like this blog or writing or reading, during the lapses when there is no work to be done). Not the ideal writing conditions. Plus, I had made other plans. So there was no possible way I could keep writing.

Yet the Muse was there. After pushing past whatever boundary had been stopping me for over a week, I could feel her there, encouraging me and helping me write; rewarding me for my stubbornness and effort with scene after completed scene. So I pushed replay on the music, put in one headphone and kept writing.

And kept writing.

And kept writing.

Eventually, my six hour shift ended and I had to close down the library, so there was no chance to keep writing. I had to adhere to real life. But during that time, I wrote a solid seven thousandish words. I didn’t write a blog post or read my friend’s manuscript or read a book. I didn’t joke with my coworkers or be social. I obeyed my Muse and I wrote. Because I remembered how it felt to not be writing. I hated it, yet I couldn’t seem to get anything down that pleased me enough to keep writing. How could I ignore the mood to write, with words flowing, even if that feeling interrupted my plans and the environment wasn’t ideal, sometimes being interrupted by a phone call or a book request?

Here’s the thing: as a writer, I love writing. But that doesn’t mean I always am in the mood to write, even though I always want to be writing. I know that seems contradictory. I wish I could write all the time and I try to block out time to do so. When I sit down to actually do so, my current mood doesn’t always match that constant desire to write. Sometimes, I’m not in the mood because I want to do something else, like play video games or read a book or talk with other writers on Twitter about how we should be writing. Sometimes, there is a mental block that stops me, whether it is doubt or fear. Sometimes, it just isn’t working. Sometimes, it feels like work.

And other times, I can’t keep up. It’s like the characters are telling me exactly what needs to happen and how it should be said, the words just flow so freely and feels so natural.

During those times, you must try your hardest to write. I think I speak for many in saying that having the mood to write and the time to actually do so aligning up perfectly is a very rare occurrence. Obviously, there are instances when that just isn’t possible; you can’t give into your mood. It’s called real life getting in the way. And that’s tough shit. But don’t ignore your Muse when you have the choice to listen to her. She is fleeting and insufferable in her rarity, but when she visits and you heed her, the reward is worth all the frustration.

The only thing more important than obeying your Muse is forcing her to show up; by writing when you’re not in the mood to; by being stubborn and persistent and protecting your writing time; by scheduling time and actually using that time; by accepting a writing session where you write “only” 100 words or know everything you wrote is going to get cut later. Because if you wait for your Muse–your inspiration–to strike, your progress will be slow or even non-existent. Yes, it doesn’t matter how quickly you finish a project. But that is no excuse to wait and write only when you want to. What does matter is that you learn how to obey your Muse and how to survive without her, with both instances resulting in positive writing outcomes. Your work depends on that skill. Your work depends on your dedication. Your work deserves that attention.

And your future readers–those souls you haven’t yet met, who haven’t realized they need your work and will thank you for it, one day–demand it.

Cheers.

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About Nicole Evans

Nicole Evans is a writer of fantasy and science fiction. She is currently unpublished and is working fervently to get the “un” removed from that statement. She has five completed manuscripts: a trilogy about destined heroes that fail anyway, a science fiction standalone that pits the natural desire to love against the natural instinct to kill during the extinction of the human race and a new series about a writer who can't get published and gets the chance to live a life that all writers dream. She also has two scripts done. Currently, she is about to start writing the second of a nine book series while planning two more. (If you can tell, she really likes this whole writing thing.) Considering she has run out of space for putting rejections letters up on her wall, Nicole now uses her spare time doing the typical things that nerds do: blogging, dying repeatedly during video games (which she believes is retribution for the characters’ she’s killed), wishing she was the character she is currently reading about and trying to fight off the real world by living in her own head, with varying degrees of success. Nicole has a degree in Creative Writing and a minor in Film and Media Studies, and works part-time as a supervisor in a library at the University of Kansas. View all posts by Nicole Evans

6 responses to “Obey Your Muses

  • Joyce C

    THIS POST. ‘Nuff said.

    Okay, no. I need to say more.

    The first 100 pages or so are always the most fun and the easiest to write, because the concept is still fresh and novel, and we’re just starting to know our characters. There are so many possibilities, and everything is intense and exciting.

    But as we approach the mid-story, the pace starts to lag, the story lulls. We sputter to a stop and hit a brick wall. Sometimes, when this happens, I go back to the book or song that reminds me of the mood when I first started out on the ms. Or I read similar books. Or I write other stories – short stories, essays, blog posts – anything that helps me flex my writing muscles but also takes my mind off the project.

    I can’t agree more how showing up for the job without fail is how we eventually work our way through the story. Like Laini Taylor said, we can’t wait for the muse to grant us her presence; we need to go after her with a machete … or something along those lines. HAHA. Elizabeth Gilbert also gave the same word of advice: show up for your part of your job, and keep at it even if the words stall.

    “I’m a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” – Thomas Jefferson

    Keep on keeping on! I’m looking forward to finding your books on the shelves on day 🙂

    • inkstaind13

      Hehehe, you’re fantastic.
      YES. Last night, I wrote a scene or so and it was just so refreshing. But I know once I get to that middle ground, it will being to trudge and drag. It’s weird, but in most books that I read, I usually don’t feel that the middle drag. My favorite books, they usually stay great all the way through. I worry, often, that the parts that “drag” for me to write will have the same effect for my future readers. What do you think? Any potential correlation?
      I love how you always have so many quotes to reference! It is so impressive!!
      Also, SAME. I’m eager for your books!

      • Joyce C

        Oh, definitely. If we as writers get bored writing it, our readers will definitely get bored reading it too! It’s like our boredom comes through in awkward, stilted or lacklustre prose and noncommittal dialogue. Often, when I find myself sputtering to a halt in a scene, I’d just cut out that entire scene and rewrite from the last place the writing was going well. This is actually what YA author Sarah Dessen does too.

        I think one of the best gauge of whether a book is successful is whether it manages to avoid the treacherous middle drag and bring the reader from act 1 to 3 in one sitting. Speaking of middles, I’m at page 169 now, and that mid-story goblin isn’t looking too friendly! >.<

      • inkstaind13

        So true! I try to make a note of where I found myself dragging and see if it reads the same during the first editing round. Nine times out of ten, it gets cut. Oh gosh. Just keep pushing forward!! I know you can do it!!

  • azpascoe

    Yes, this!! It can be so damn hard sometimes to make yourself write and then sometimes you finally get that tap on your shoulder… And real life intervenes. It’s so frustrating! I think one of the challenges is just making myself write every single day, even if it’s only for 10 minutes and it’s crummy (that hasn’t been happening either recently 😩).

    Incidentally… Your ability to churn out 7000 words is INSANE! You’re amazing! 😍😍 great blog post!

    • inkstaind13

      It’s such a weird cycle, switching between the desire to write with no time or all the time in the world and absolutely no desire to write. You’d think there would be a cure for this or something. 😛
      Dude, thanks! I honestly don’t know how it happens, sometimes. It just sorta…does. Thank you so much for reading! You’re a gem. ❤ Hope the Muses are kind to you this week!

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