You sit staring at the screen. You wait. And wait. It’s like your eyes are dead. So’s your brain.
But the Muse is fickle today. Someone else is getting the literary foot-rub that should have been yours.
Oh, that Muse –
Screw the Muse. Yeah, you read right. Don’t wait around for that scumbag on wheels to grace you with inspiration. Because guess what? The Muse is just not that into you.
You’ll wait yourself right into a nursing home for the call that won’t come. Oh it’s Wednesday, you whine, your trembling finger leaving a greasy print on the calendar square, do you think the Muse will be here by Saturday night?
No, because the Muse is with someone else tonight and tomorrow and Saturday night too. Someone better, less talented, more talented, younger, older, fitter, more mature, wiser, smarter … probably another Muse. Maybe the Muse gave up your pretty Princess Di for some word-haggard, used up Camilla Parker-Bowles and in the grand scheme of things It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.
You get the picture.
Do. Not. Wait.
The most important words of your life.
Write. Don’t judge, don’t edit, don’t critique. Write.
Writing is a practice. So practice.
Write something, anything, every single day. Write silliness. Write nonsense. Write whatever comes to mind, even if you type I can’t write, what’s wrong with me a dozen times. Then change it up: your character can’t do something. What’s wrong? Can’t pull the trigger, can’t parent, can’t love a good person, can’t stop drinking. What’s behind it? It doesn’t have to be perfect (not until you’re ready to seek a publisher, that is). Drafts don’t even have to be good. Really. Give yourself permission to stink at first. Everybody does.
Maybe there isn’t enough going on, not enough plot, not enough tension.
Change forms, tense, point of view. Change characters. Change projects. Start something new.
Make a SWOT chart. It’s an assessment of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Do it for plot, character, style, anything you like. Do one on the Big Picture, ten on the particulars. What’s working? Maybe you really shine at dialogue but painting a clear picture with words is a weakness. Maybe you’ve applied three of the five senses (or six depending on your genre). That’s an opportunity to add taste or smell, whatever you’re lacking. Sit your characters down to a meal. Learn how to make the reader salivate when you describe a meal or a scent. Maybe a threat to your narrative is that you won’t get out of your own way. So shove over.
Maybe you need a metaphor or trope or symbol to hold everything together. Maybe you’re missing something below the surface. Not sure? Research it.
Don’t be afraid to turn away from a particular project for a long stretch. It can clear out the cobwebs and give you the mental space to problem-solve.
In the meantime, do some support work for your project. Research. Go to the library or Google Archive, dig up facts or old newspaper editions detailing daily life during the period and location in which your story takes place. You might discover something interesting that can involve your character. Build a world your characters can inhabit. It’s the skeletal system of story.
Remember that behind every written page is a background database ten times that volume, none of which will be written into the story, all of which will be present. Biographical character backgrounds, history, weather, philosophy. All these elements are a part of writing.
So don’t wait for inspiration. It’s wasting too much precious time.
Go get the bricks and lumber and grab a hammer. There’s a world to build.
And bring a towel. You’ll be doing a lot of sweating and crying.
But at least you won’t be throwing your writing life away for something that doesn’t exist.