When The Writing Muse Is AWOL

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Stephen King states that a true writer is one who writes every and each day. He says he considers said writer talented should anyone have ever paid them for their work. So if you receive a check in your mailbox (if that’s even how it’s done anymore) congrats.

Meanwhile, I sit here, writing in a blog which I’m not sure counts to my “every day” score and wonder if the thirty cents I earn for each of my Amazon e-books means I have talent. It’s a dreary grudge, dragging oneself through such trials and hoping that, as always, “some day” their work will be recognized. So how do we fight against the biggest obstacle that blocks us from writing each day? After all, this is the only way we can differentiate ourselves between an amateur and an amateur who succeeds because they didn’t give up.

But the obstacle, you say. What is it?

Look in the mirror, Lovelies. No one and nothing is as big of a trial than ourselves.

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We can use the trivial and overused excuses; work, home life, chores, errands, family, and other activities that cannot be put off. No, we cannot put our entire life on hold (despite what certain Pulitzer Prize winners do, such as this previous year’s winner who wrote hours upon hours every day while his wife took care of the household) and if we are able to, don’t other matters pop up anyway?

I will say, I am fairly jealous when I read about authors who are able to do such a freeing schedule. One young adult author, whose series has taken off in the last few years, now a full trilogy with grand reviews and making bestseller lists, had taken an entire year off and thanked her parents for allowing her the chance to do so. I won’t lie, my reaction was the biggest eye roll.

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Petty? Yes, I can admit to it. I’m a jealous writer, my eyes, a placid blue, flash a jealous green as I walk by bookshelves in store, noting the authors I keep an eye on, the ones whose names were unheard of a year ago but now have a movie being based on their debut book. But every time, I promise you, I rein myself in with these thoughts:

You could be there, too, Rose, if you sat your bum in the chair and got to work each day. You can get there, too.

Actions, as writers are taught, speak louder than words. Show, don’t tell. We hear this to strengthen our writing. It easily applies to the surface of our busy lives, too. That’s the reality; not everyone can take a year off. Could I? Possibly, but it would be difficult. I’d still have to have a part-time job and nowadays that barely gives enough to purchase a week’s worth of groceries. I always felt it’d be unfair to make my husband pay for the bills and rent, too, so I work full-time and write when I can.

It’s doable, and the only one stopping me is me. I get tired, I get run-down. I juggle work, trying to exercise, dieting to lose weight, and maintain an unsteady balance of life events that lately has been tilting too far to one side, threatening to spill everything over. Even now, I’m in a spaced out lull, drifting aimlessly with so many stressors swatting around my face like gnats I can’t swat away. The gnats, in fact, are growing larger, the size of bats I’d say, and I can’t ignore them, can’t put them off, even to sit and get my head clear enough to write my own name. My short stories wait, my novel has been wilting, in need of attention and fluid-sentences to be poured into its dried roots.

Many writers talk about waiting for their muse to bring them inspiration, to give that magical zeal that stirs the blood and gets the mind ticking, but it’s an overwhelming fact that waiting for that fickle fairy only hurts you. As you’re waiting for that notion of a beautifully inspired scene, you could be building something stronger. True, you may only have scraps to build with without that glorifying support, but building with scraps is greater than not building at all. Look, if your muse has taken a vacation without notice, let her go. She’ll come back and help you. In the meantime, let’s help ourselves, shall we?

I doubt Mr. King would find this acceptable. He’s my hero, a literary modern that sets examples beyond the horror genre, and they warn you never to meet your heroes. What would I say? I swear, Mr. King, I’m a writer!

I can picture him, peering up at me through his wire-rimmed glasses, canting his head and asking, “Do you write every day? Shouldn’t you be writing now?”

The dread that swells in my chest just imagining this is enough to make me sigh aloud.

So how do we overcome ourselves? How do we get through these rough patches? The drawbacks that aren’t necessarily writer’s block? After all, it’s not about sitting and staring down at the blank page or screen, words evading us, but it’s sitting at all and getting yourself to focus.

Writing a phsyical schedule is a great tool. I have a personal planner and almost every day is marked with “write!” and sometimes I’ll select a certain span of hours to hold myself to. A schedule becomes a habit, writing must be your habit, as important as scheduled meals and exercises. Writers have needs and you’ll only grow stronger as a wordsmith if you habitually practice.

Stuck by an actual block?

Writing exercises can work wonders for any difficult writing situation. Think of it as a warm-up to get the brain on the correct track, a small prompt to train yourself into the right state of mind. They’re easy to find online or you can find books full of prompts at bookstores. You don’t have to do prompts that are long, some will even suggest to write only so many words, perhaps a sentence or two. If you do feel you’re withdrawing from your writing because the story doesn’t seem to want to move along (your characters are repetitive, the theme remains in this immovable funk you’re not sure where to direct), try to tie one of the prompts into your story. Remember: no surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader!

How much should you write each day?

Here’s what I consider my personal cheat: write as much as you’d like each day to keep the writer’s guilt away.

No, I did not mean to create a poem out of that and no you will not get a pun, either.

It would be difficult to suggest a set amount of words or pages for every writer to abide by each day. We’re all different, not just by our genres and styles. Some writers can sit and crank out several chapters in one sitting and others struggle getting out only a few coherent pages over the course of a few hours. But hey, if you’re sitting and giving all you can, that’s the key! You’re already writing! Everything else will fall into place as long as you power through it. Remember, a lot of the real work falls into the next step following writing:

Hellish editing.

But that’s another story and please refrain from editing during the writing process. It may seem like you’re saving yourself time in the long-run but I promise you it’ll only make a mess. Let the work be a mess until the final typed word, then torture yourself with a red pen.

Until then, so long as you sit, ready yourself emotionally, spiritually, and physically, and words are finding their way into paper or computer document, you’re good! Write as much as you feel you personally need to keep away that weight of guilt that we feel hang over us like a fog when we go a few days…er, maybe even weeks, without touching our work. It’s happened to all of us, so don’t sweat. The point is to not blow air out of your lips and mutter, “Fine, forget it. I wouldn’t have ever made it as an author anyway.”

STOP THIS! DON’T QUIT ON YOURSELF! JUST KEEP WRITING!!!

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Writing is a struggle. I don’t know any writer who doesn’t have problems writing. It’s painful, a messy fight we’re caught into, and the war we go against is all in our head, an invisible battle that never ends. No one else can see it, so it feels like our pressures and issues are unnoticed. If it gets this bad, talk to someone! Seek a writer’s forum, perhaps create a writing group where everyone can meet locally and hold each other accountable. Local community writing classes are great, too, because they’re led by someone who can teach you a few new things, too!

This post may be close to overfilling its brim, but all of these ideas have helped me in the past and I hope they help you, too! I hope everyone is having a beautiful spring day/week! Maybe go out into the good weather (not the rain, please don’t get sick!) and take a travel journal and pen, too. Sit and write everything you see, hear, smell, and feel. Be an artist with their sketch pad, always observing and creating what their eyes and mind capture, and write, write, write!

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