RESOURCES-TIPS: For writers of all genre who want to write, and the readers who love them.
Unblocking Your Muze
250 Words at a Time
by Mia Zachary
There you are. It’s your favorite time of day; you’re in your preferred spot on your preferred chair in front of your laptop. After flexing a few times, your fingers descend to the keyboard. You take a deep, cleansing breath and- Just check email right quick, maybe post “Don’t bother me, I’m writing” on Facebook, then click on this one article link…
Bet you wish you had a Muze.
Now, you’ve moved to a different spot, with a different chair but now you have your preferred word processing program open and a stack of printed pages beside you. You take a deep, frustrated breath and- Barely resist the urge to burst into tears or smack your forehead onto the keyboard in case that will help…
Looks like your Muze is out to lunch.
So, here you are yet again. The cushion of your preferred chair is permanently shaped like your butt. You don’t favor any spot right now except your bed with the snuggle blanket. But there’s no time to sleep because you got a five page revision letter. You take a deep, panicked breath and- Continue to stare at the jumbled words on the screen…
Where the hell is your Muze?
Does any of that seem familiar? Yeah. It happens to me at some point in every single novel! But let me tell you something about those fickle and elusive bright ideas.
The Muses were Greek goddesses and patrons of the arts and sciences. They inspired all creative artists, especially poets and philosophers— Calliope’s symbol was the writing tablet. Those fortunate to be inspired by the Muses were held in the highest esteem. No wonder so many writers anxiously wait for brilliance to strike so they can collect awards, starred reviews and big fat checks.
Unfortunately, the Muses were mythical beings. Only perspiration begets inspiration and, as a published author with deadlines, you can’t wait around. Writer’s Block is a recurring mental disorder caused by your Muse taking off for an extended vacation on a tropical beach, leaving you in a state whereby the damned words just won’t come.
My name is Mia Zachary and what I’m sharing with you has been learned from frequent and painful experience, from the hundreds— yes, hundreds— of times I’ve hit an obstacle and had to work around it, jump over it, bust through it, avoid it or accept it with ill grace. In other words, I know of what I speak.
I BELIEVE that writer’s block can happen anytime in your career – be it your first novel or your 50th; that I’ve experienced writer’s block as many as 10-20 times per book; that having writer’s block totally stinks on ice, that getting around/over/through writer’s block should be fun.
“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.” – Carl Jung
If you’re in it for the long haul, if writing is what you do in life or what feeds your passion, then eventually you’re going to run up against writer’s block. It can happen at any— and every— stage of your career. But is it on the page or in your head? The first step in overcoming writer’s block is to acknowledge the pink elephant on your keyboard before you can get rid of it. And in order to get rid of it, you have to figure out what put it there.
It could be a small, temporary block brought on by being tired or distracted or simply not being in the mood. It could be that you haven’t done enough research or preparation, so you’re stopped by not knowing what needs to happen next. Maybe you’re stuck, feeling like there’s no spark to your writing, in which case you may not have done extensive enough character work.
Longer and larger blocks are most often caused by non-writing related issues. It’s hard to be creative when you’re sock or bone weary from lack of sleep. Don’t dismiss a lack of time as being responsible for your block. Another very real cause could be depression, either emotional or clinical. (One of the dumbest things I ever did was try to force myself to write after losing my father and my job in the same week.)
- Don’t panic— Writers’ block can often be self-perpetuating… and self-fulfilling. Take a deep breath and say, “Writers write.”
- Be realistic— Don’t set deadlines or goals you’re going to have to kill yourself to meet. Know your process and limits.
- Don’t be so critical— Comparing your work to others or punishing yourself makes things worse. Repeat, “I have worth.”
- Give up perfection— Do the best you can at the time, then let it go. You can always edit later, but you can’t edit blank paper.
- Focus on the positive— What is good? What is working? Be proud of yourself and every word you get from brain to page.
We all have setbacks. The trick is to look at them as opportunities to reassess and regroup. The difference between giving up and quitting is perspective. Giving up is only a temporary situation, an opportunity to learn, so that we can start again and do things differently. Quitting is permanent. And I hate being a quitter.
In September 2010, I was feeling stuck, guilty and frustrated. Maybe it was the new-to-me genre; perhaps confusion over what I wanted the book to say, or maybe the Life that kept interrupting my efforts. Whatever, I needed help with this latest bout of writer’s block. And that’s when it hit me:
block/blăk -noun 1. An obstacle
block/blăk -noun 3. a child’s toy for building activities
There are two ways to look at writer’s block. The first is as an obstacle. You want to write, but you’re not writing or you can’t write. You feel aggravated, angry, frustrated and afraid. And the more you don’t write, the more you fear that you can’t write, that you’ll never write again. This can lead to hopelessness and depression.
Another way to look at writer’s block is as a toy that facilitates building activities. It really is okay to take time off. If forcing yourself to write just makes you more miserable, then give yourself a break and do something fun.
“Ah”, you say. “This is where she got the idea for Writing Blocks Idea Dice®!” Yep. By letting our creative mind play around a bit, we increase the probability of discovering a unique perspective that will lead to a breakthrough. So, a great way to deal with writer’s block is to roll the Writing Blocks® and see what happens when you play with story building!
Kaizen is a Japanese term that literally means “good change.” Pronounced kigh-zen, it refers to an ancient Zen philosophy that prescribes “constant, small, gradual improvement;” Kaizen is baby steps, “one day at a time.”
If the page is empty because you feel anxious or overwhelmed, don’t ask, “How can I write 280 pages?” or “How am I going to write an Award-winning manuscript?” or “How am I going to finish this by the end of the week?” The problem with big goals is that they send the person into fear, and fear diminishes creativity.
Instead ask yourself, “How can I write one page today?” One page doesn’t sound like very much, now does it? One page in standard manuscript format is 250 words and freewriting 250 words each day will get you into a creative mindset.
Freewriting is just what the word suggests. Start with the first thing that pops into your mind and write, without stopping, without editing spelling, punctuation, or grammar. Do not worry about “rules.” Think of it as play time. Allow yourself to write junk. Be silly. Have fun. Dig deep. It doesn’t have to make sense. Tell your internal censor to shut up.
The hardest part is to keep writing, to not stop until the time is up. But that’s what you have to do because Freewriting only works if you can allow yourself to get caught up in the momentum. So here are the rules: Don’t say No. Don’t reject or deny information. Don’t ask questions, edit or judge. Trust yourself to be with your writing.
Once you do, your Muse will finally show up with wine, chocolate and an idea or three.