You Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Muse

Out of all of the misconceptions I’ve had about writing, debunking this one proved most valuable.

Thinking back, it’s such a easy thing to believe. Writing seems so mysterious and magical when done correctly. In fact, I don’t know for how long I had envisioned the life of a successful author going something like this…

… lounging around in his robe, sipping coffee from the steaming mug cupped in his hands. Out of nowhere, ideas pile drive themselves into his head. He can’t reach a computer fast enough and from morning til lunch, pumps out 40 pages of literary perfection. He finishes the chapter with an extremely witty one liner, closes the laptop and leans back to finish his cup of brew, still steaming and lovely and mmmmm.

A Muse helping a writer
Self portrait of me writing this post….minus the muse.

As such, I tried to replicate this scenario… with very little success. By very little, I mean that my most effective session consisted of checking Gmail multiple times per minute and constantly tweaking my “Writing Music: Attempt 102” playlist.

Eventually, I sort of gave up. I had no “good” ideas and was at a loss on how to compile the few plot scraps I did have. With nothing else to do, I patiently awaited a muse to rescue me from the Internets…

It wasn’t until I came across a friend’s website, Write About Dragons, and listened to the first lecture from Brandon Sanderson that it clicked.

Good writing comes from lots of writing.

Not a magical pixie, “woo woo” forces or Gandalf. It may give me warm fuzzies to think of writing in this way, but those evil fuzzies also keep me from accomplishing anything.

Guess what?

Writing is hard and it is work.

Sure, there are some days where you channel Isaac Asimov, in the zone, words flowing like liquid gold onto the page.

However, there are also days where you glare at the blank page, rewrite the same sentence 40 times and end with only a paragraph of vomit to show for your day of forced extraction and Gmail checking.

But that’s okay… as long as you do it again the next day.

That’s the grand epiphany folks.

Instead of waiting at the starting line for a piggy back from Usain Bolt, just start running. Even if all you muster is a crawl, it will do.

If you never stop moving, never stop eeking your way to the finish line, Usain Bolt will find you. In that moment, you’ll float, aches and pains fleeing as you glide effortlessly down the track faster than ever before.

Savor those moments because tomorrow, you’re on your own.

Usain Bolt giving a piggy back in a race


As a novice in the writing world, I want to hear from you. How do you conquer the days where your mind wants to focus on everything but writing?

In return, I will pass a long a few things that have helped me:

If you’ve yet to start: Write About Dragons (watch the lectures)
If you’re stuck: Snowflake Method
If you want to do anything but write: DYAC
If you need a kick in the arse: NaNoWriMo


20 thoughts on “You Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Muse

  1. JenniferVaughn says:

    Ah, the internet. Or, as it’s called when I’m trying to get some writing done: The BigTimeSuck. On those days when I can’t focus on writing I have to ban myself from peeking at my email, facebook, twitter, random name generators, cute kittens, etc. If the pull of the internet is just too strong to overcome, there’s always the option of turning off your computer’s wi-fi or disconnecting it from the router. If you have to research something on the internet, jot a note and do it later. This has helped me to focus on writing.

    As Harlan Ellison said, “People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.” I keep this quote in front of me all the time.

    Even just carving out the time to sit in front of the keyboard to write (even if you just stare at the blank screen) will help. You’ll train your mind that this section of your day is for writing. The hugest hurdle for me in finishing a novel was discipline. But it’s a habit that can be acquired. Good luck! Loved your post today!!

    1. petermonaco says:

      Thank you for the quote, I have since printed it off and now have it plastered to my computer.

      And I most definitely will be putting to use some of your suggestions in the hopes of outwitting myself…

  2. shadowoperator says:

    I just don’t function well sitting in front of a computer staring at the empty space, thus punishing myself for the fact that it remains empty. What I do to work on my novel in segments (because that’s what I’m doing now) is: I don’t box myself into days or times. I (over the course of a day or two’s time) look over the last section I wrote, sometimes a little more. Then I go away from the computer and ponder for a bit. I try to decide (because now I’m getting about 30-50 pages away from the end) just where I want the novel to end up. Sometimes, this isn’t successful, so I give myself time away, and read someone else’s novel. Since I’ve been blogging for the first time (starting on July 4), this takes some time away from my day, as does checking and etc. e-mail for those 25-30 sites I’ve either following or receiving comments about. Since I still haven’t decided just how to write myself out of the situation, I call the last bits of dialogue up in my mind (getting active and vigorous “tennis-match” dialogue going is sometimes a way I write myself out of a block). I can’t say that I do many drafts of material, yet what I do is still hard for me. I often go back and make a lot of minor revisions that still don’t constitute a whole ‘nother draft. Only once or twice per novel do I leave out a “bridging” scene and write ahead, and then go back and fill in: I have a strong preference for starting at the beginning and writing till the end. Basically, I’m remembering what things I want to say and put in the next time I write (sadly, I sometimes forget because i didn’t write it down soon enough, and have to come up with another strategy). But this method seems to work for me. That’s all I can say.

  3. petermonaco says:

    I already know that at least for me, looking at my previous work is almost as much of a time-suck as the Internet. I get mired down in attempting to perfect every sentence. I’ve now taken to archiving away everything I’ve written so that I can’t even look at it (besides the preceding few paragraphs so that I have a clue as to where I should begin again).

    I like the dialogue idea, building off of particular dialogue that needs to happen. It makes sense. If I can imagine the characters talking, I might be able to work backwards and forwards from there. Thank you!

  4. mandaray says:

    I’ve never really seen myself as having a “muse” or particular inspiration in life, so I always thought there must be something wrong with me because all of my other writer friends seemed to have muses coming out of their ears. Then when they’d ask me what mine was, all I could do was offer was a confused “Uhh….” and maybe quickly make something up. Until reading this post, it never really occurred to me that the idea of a muse might be flawed, or something which needed to be debunked. The idea of it is so attractive to the imagination that I think something which started as “regular” people explaining to themselves how writers get ideas has now become something which, for better or worse, writers associate with the writing process. Maybe that needs to change. The more I think about it, the more that seems likely. Writing is just like any other creative process–it takes time, it takes dedication, and it takes focus. You can’t just sit down with your mug of tea and hope for the best.

    1. petermonaco says:

      Your last sentences summarize my feelings completely.

      However, I don’t neccessarily think the idea of a muse is false, I just think some people (including myself) rely too heavily upon some external force to get them going, rather than just getting going. Michael Jordan was the best because he practiced every day, not just on days where he was “feeling it”.

      1. mandaray says:

        Hmm, good point.There can be people or things in our lives that can be very muse-like, so the idea of it itself isn’t necessarily false. It’s the reliance on it that’s false, as you’ve said. Well put! 🙂 Between these comments and the original post, you have officially changed my stance on muses for the better.

        And yes, it always amazes me that writers don’t seem to understand that writing takes practice, just like anything else. Either that, or they go too far, and tell themselves that everything they write is going to be crap for a long, long time before they get to that magical place of “goodness”…that’s not a healthy way to work, either.

  5. riverpearl says:

    I get a plate of snacks and something to drink, set a timer and look at stuff on pinterest for about five minutes and then just start writing rants or silliness at first and then just keep writing for awhile. When I the muse is there I appreciate it but I don’t count on it.

    1. shadowoperator says:

      Hey, riverpearl! You say “When the muse is there I appreciate it but I don’t count on it.” This is good creative advice from any century, but it might interest you (or possibly not) to know that it’s very like something Stanislavski used to tell his actors in “An Actor Prepares.” When one of his actors said that he didn’t feel “inspired” to perform the scene at that precise moment, Stanislavski retorted that that was what having a good technique was for: you learn good technique first and foremost, and it carries you through when inspiration fails to click in. Then, when inspiration comes along, it’s icing on the cake, or words to that effect. Funny how it applies to writing too!

      1. riverpearl says:

        Makes total sense. It also brings to mind something I read about a professor giving a student a bad mark and saying something like “most of what gets done in the world is done by people who aren’t feeling really good.”

        But isn’t it delightful when the muse shows up!

    2. petermonaco says:

      This is what scares me though. I also enjoy a plate of snacks, except for those snacks are usually gummy bears and Cherry Coke. If writing becoming a full time job…. I will be full time obese.

  6. ninetyninepercentgaming says:

    I listen to music. I dislike dubstep most of the time, but if I listen to it for a while it pumps me up and gets the thoughts flowing. I then switch over to trance music, often just replaying the same song for as long as an hour. There’s something about the music, I suppose it’s occupying my head, leaving me in a tranquil zone where I can just write away. Then again, I love writing. Always have, hopefully always will, and because of this I rarely have days when I don’t want to write. The first sentence is always the hardest though.

  7. Liza says:

    I never know when inspiration is going to hit, so I’m always prepared with paper and pen to write down my thoughts. Sometimes it’s in the middle of the night, in the form of a dream, so I’ll role over to my night stand and jot it down. When I’m stuck thinking about what to write about, I’ll start by taking about 5-10 minutes going over my day. If that doesn’t work, I look at old family pictures, try to remember awesome experiences I’ve had, or talk to my family about their days. Writing every day is the best way to succeed, even if it’s jibberish. The good thing is…. you don’t have to publish everything. Read current news, see what others are blogging about, just keep writing.

    I ALWAYS try and start my posts with a quote, so sometimes while I’m looking for a quote, I’ll run across something else that catches my attention. I love including pictures as well, so looking for pics leads me in directions I would have never imagined.

    Muses are awesome but the best muse is lurking within you!

    1. petermonaco says:

      I feel like some of my best novel ideas have come from dreams. However, my middle-of-the-night self is illiterate. I’ve tried so many times and very rarely am I able to understand what’s on the paper. I so wish I could have a new “night self”. Dreams are a gold mine.

      1. Liza says:

        Tell me about it…. I feel sometimes I can give Stephen King a run for his money with some of the creeped out dreams I have. I guess that’s what I get for watching crime and ghost shows before going to bed 🙂

  8. Rutabaga the Mercenary Researcher says:

    I like to tell stories – so much of my writing (I’m told) sounds like ‘how I speak’ (what an awkward turn of phrase). So for me – I listen to how it sounds out loud. I need to hear my writing. Some things, like you said, flow well – others not so much. Many things I’m writing about I’ve told upteen times that it just flows on to paper; others – meh. Those I feel are my weakest posts. But it’s a process and what I think is marginal might be spectacular to a particular reader.

  9. Hikari Tennyo says:

    For me, it’s always having a paper notepad and pencil/pen handy. If I’m working on a story, I’ll write what I’d like for the characters to do… sometime… It may even get used for a different story.
    Sometimes I end up writing an entire scene, hand cramp and all, for it to sit unused for a year, come back later, and it fits with slight modification with what I’m currently doing.
    My memory is full of holes. I’ll see something awesome and then sometimes forget the details 10 minutes later. I’ve found handwriting helps with my memory more than typing. That, and I can’t hide my mistakes.

    1. petermonaco says:

      Nothing is worse than forgetting “the best idea” simply because you weren’t able to write it down… Except for maybe being set on fire. That seems worse.

      I’ve taken to using Google Drive on my phone. That way, when I’m at my computer, I have all my notes/ideas right there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s