11-30-21-IFW Wooing the Muse
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It’s a Date: Wooing the Muse

The muse won’t always turn up, but she is much more likely to put in an appearance if you put in the effort. Here are some things to think about as you look for ways to attract and hold her attention.

Make Room in Your Everyday Life

If you sit down, she will come. Although there’s no denying that a writing retreat can dramatically spur creativity, you don’t have to invite the muse for a long weekend at a cabin in the woods to establish a productive partnership. Instead, the first order of business is to look for time in your regular schedule. Some people get up early; others stay up late. Parents of young children will work around naps or an hour of Sesame Street. Weekend warriors will carve out blocks of time on Saturday or Sunday. Commitment is key. Thinking longingly of what you might write someday if you could ever find the time is more like a one-sided crush than developing a relationship with real potential.

Create a Welcoming Atmosphere

The muse isn’t finicky, but she’ll let you know what she likes. Every writer will have to engage in exploration and experimentation. While the muse often responds very well to consistency, sometimes she’ll welcome a change of venue.

A beverage of some kind or another is almost a must unless you’re writing somewhere in the stacks of your favorite library. For a long time, my muse insisted on caffe mochas and cranberry scones when I had the opportunity to spend a morning writing in a local café. Much later, during a four-month stint in Italy, her tastes had shifted to the point that she demanded a caffe macchiato.

Those who draft by hand often look for the perfect pen. They may stock up on blank books with gorgeous covers or standard yellow legal pads. An added advantage is that they can write wherever they want: a cozy chair in the corner of the living room, a fallen tree trunk in the woods, a fireside table in a café, a corner of a busy lunch room.

People who prefer composing on a keyboard will, of course, need access to an outlet or a long-lasting battery in their laptop. The relative heights of tables and chairs are equally important because neither you nor the muse will function well when in pain. Make sure that you have a good ergonomic set-up.

Management of sound can be tricky, especially for those who prefer absolute quiet. Noise-cancelling headphones are expensive, but they could absolutely be worth it. Headphones and earbuds can also be important if you and your muse prefer to collaborate on a playlist rather than deal with the ambient noise.

Managing Expectations

Don’t expect too much too soon. Set to work even if the muse hasn’t arrived yet. Often it can be helpful to do a spot of light editing on what you wrote the day before as a gentle hint that you’re ready to begin. There can be those amazing days where it feels as though the muse is giving dictation. But at other times, you might feel that you’re hitting the delete key far more often than the letters E, N, S, and T combined. This can be frustrating when you’ve found a comfortable spot to work at your usual time and provided the muse with her favorite caffeinated or alcoholic beverage.

With experience, you’ll learn that there are times to keep working and times to pack up for the day. For example, the muse and I tend to struggle with descriptions and transitions. And if there’s a transition that includes description, we know that we need to dig down deep. If, on the other hand, my characters refuse to talk to each other, then I know might be a good day to switch over to editing, researching, or reading.

But there’s one last thing to consider. The muse’s stubborn refusal to cooperate might be a sign that you’re pushing your story in a direction that it doesn’t want to go. For example, once I realized that one of my protagonists was never going to win the approval of the antagonist no matter what she did, the rest of the novel unrolled smoothly.

Marking Milestones

The muse likes to celebrate. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant. You don’t need to bring her flowers. (Chocolate, on the other hand, is almost always well received.) One writer discovered that her muse likes to receive stickers for various accomplishments. Another promises her muse that they can read the latest book by their favorite author as soon as they wrap up a solid draft of a challenging chapter.

Spontaneity and the Muse

If you keep issuing the muse regular invitations, it’s more likely that she’ll pop up unexpectedly in the middle of your day and offer you a scrap of dialogue, an insight about your characters, or a new twist. Often these ideas will be sticky. You might be able to hold them in your head until the next time that you have a chance to sit down with your project. But why take a chance? You can keep a notebook with you or just send yourself a text with a voice message. There’s no better way to say thank you to the muse than to show her that her gifts are appreciated.

 

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Kristin Wolden Nitz has had sixteen different addresses in eight different states since graduating from college. When she tells friends and family that she’s not moving again, they laugh. Kristin splits her time between writing novels and serving as one of our instructors. Kirkus described her novel Suspect as “intriguing, suspenseful fun.”

 

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