Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Fire Your Muse, And Get to Work!

I see a lot of people going on about the Muse. These people talk about her as if she's some strange, ephemeral being who keeps inspiration in a compact like magical cocaine that writers snort in their sleep so they wake up with a head full of brilliant ideas. Ideas of such power, and sheer creative insight, that they will be unable to step away from their desks until, lathered in sweat and exhausted, their latest work is completed.

To hear these writers tell it, the Muse is a necessary part of everything they do. They simply cannot delve into a new project, or finish up an existing one, without a line or two of the good stuff she provides. Because without that golden spark, man, nothing you try to do is going to be any good.

Artist's interpretation.
Do you know what that sounds like? The most abusive relationship ever. It's only made worse by the fact that you're having it with an imaginary personification of an idea.

That makes you one of two things; crazy or lazy.

The Lie of The Inspired Writer

People have been trying to figure out where inspiration comes from for a long damn time. The Greeks and Romans, in typical fashion, personified the idea of inspiration in the form of minor goddesses who granted ideas to thinkers, poets, playwrights, etc. This fit right in with much of the rest of the culture's spiritual beliefs, which was that mankind is at the mercy of cosmic forces it cannot hope to understand, and thus simply had to labor under the whims of fate and the divine. So if a poet couldn't write a poem, it wasn't his fault. He was simply not graced by the muse that day.

We know better than this, don't we?
There are two problems with this mindset. Problem number one is that idea that inspiration comes from some unseen ether outside of you, and that only when the stars are aligned will it fire that mystical synapse that gives you great ideas. The second problem is the idea that inspiration is the fuel that makes the creative engine move, and without it you simply sit still.

Neither of these are true. I'm not an expert in neuroscience, so I can't say with any degree of certainty where the hell inspiration is born. I have found, though, that the more I read, the more I plot, and the more I write, the easier and easier it is to drop a bucket down the well and bring up great ideas. Also, inspiration is more like a NOS unit on your brain than the gas tank; you can get from A to B just fine without it, but the ride won't be quite as intense.

You Are In The Driver's Seat

When writers complain about lack of inspiration (or lack of motivation, since it often amounts to the same thing), there's a tendency to put the problem at arm's length. They want to write, they really do, but they can't. It's not their fault, and there's nothing they can do but sit and wait for the winds to change so they can get back to it.

If you want to get somewhere, you need to break that habit and take responsibility.

Own your shit.
For example, if your current scene feels wrong, it's not because the forces of inspiration are aligned against you. It's because you haven't found the proper solution yet. If you're trying to come up with a project, don't just sit there and wait for an apple to fall on your head; take initiative and go find something. If your beta readers and editors gave you feedback, get up off your fainting couch and turn that feedback into a better book.

Like I said in Writer's Block Isn't Real (So Stop Complaining About It), most writers are more than willing to keep their fingers on the keys when the project is fun. As soon as they hit a snag, or the going gets tough, suddenly their enthusiasm for it wanes. They go out with friends, watch Netflix, or start plotting a different book (one that's still got that new idea smell) rather than clocking time on the book they're already wrist-deep in. The difference between being the writer with a double-digit Amazon author page, and the one who whinges about how he is sure this time will be different, is how hard you're willing to put your nose to the grindstone to get the job done.

You don't need some magic fairy dust to write a good book. What you need is skill, dedication, and long, long hours in front of your machine. That jolt when the lightning strikes is addictive, and it's a high that every writer knows, but you need to be able to work whether or not you've had that fix. If you do, you'll notice something funny. Inspiration gets easier to find the harder you work; almost like it's a part of the writing process, instead of the all-or-nothing catalyst that makes the whole thing run.

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