I hate authors who use the term THE MUSE. Despise. Them.
Maybe it’s my soon to be twenty years working at one of the Big Five. Maybe it’s having written four books in the Simon Canderous paranormal detective series or the three in the gargoyle-tastic Spellmason Chronicles.
What I really think is that perhaps working and writing at the intersection where Business meets Art might have made me jaded, but it has left me with one thing that rings true for myself as a writer: I haven’t got time to wait for THE MUSE to show the hell up.
I really don’t. When I'm mid-series, I am usually contractually obligated to turn in one book per year. Frankly, I have not the time to allow this mystical inspirational force to visit me. Deadlines be calling!
When I mention my publication schedule to fledgling writers at conventions AND that I’m doing it around a day job (and also now with four year old twins), one of their most asked questions is always about writer’s block. Aren’t I worried about getting stuck?
Well… no. Thing is, I don’t believein writer’s block. I don’t have time to believe in it.
I do believe people sit down to write and then don’t, calling it writer’s block. To me, that’s just ridiculous.
Because no matter what I’m doing in a manuscript, if I get stuck, there is always something else waiting to be done in the book. You can always be productive.
When someone says they have writer’s block, that to me is your brain simply saying it just doesn’t feel like it wants to write. To this I say: nonsense. I tend to think of the brain like any other muscle. If you don’t train it and exercise it, it won’t work for you. You need to whip that wrinkled grey ball into shape!
As writers, there’s a lot of ways to either train your brain or simply help yourself get out of your own way. You need to push through your writing blocks… you know them, the ones I don’t believe in…?
Ass in Chair. Ever sit down to write but find yourself checking twitter, Facebook, e-mail, watching an ALF marathon…anything but writing? I thought so. First thing you need to do is get your brain to commit to the idea that no matter what you will be sitting in that writing chair for at least X amount of time. If you don’t write at first, that’s fine, but don’t give in to your brain’s distractions. You need to give it a chance to get that Pavlovian setting of ass in chair to begin telling your brain just who is boss around here. Eventually, it will get on board.
Who Are You? Start paying attention to what does and doesn’t working when you do find yourself writing. Do you work better in a public space where you feel accountable for your time in front of others? Do you need silence with zero distractions? Does music help? Do certain tracks help more than others? (I write fight scenes to "Trip Like I Do" by the Crystal Method because it pumps me up and puts me in the zone). Pay attention to these triggers that make writing more conducive for you and jot them down. You’re trying to create the best environment for you to create in. Work the system, people.
My Precious. Not writing because you haven’t found the exact right word or constructed your paragraph to perfection is no excuse for not writing. Don’t be so precious, Hemingway. It is a first draft. You can worry about the polish of it all later for the fourth or fifth one… your words needs to exist on the page before you can mold them closer to exactly what you want. I can fix things that exist, I can’t fix blank.
I’m stuck. I hear you, but I’m going to call shenanigans. If you don’t know what scene comes next, jump somewhere else in your outline and write a different and unconnected scene you have an idea for. There’s no rule you have to be linear when you’re trying to form a book. Sometimes I choose to write a suite of scenes. For instance, I know I have several run-ins with cops in my series. I write all of those scenes back to back so the characters stay fresh with me. Later I place then where they should go all over the book. Also, if you feel like you can’t finish a scene? Then don’t. Some will say to try and push through, than genius comes from panic or something, but I say move along. Go read a finished part of the book out loud instead. You’ll catch a lot of what to fix just by hearing it. Maybe there’s just one cool image in your head for something much further along in the book. Grab that image and start with it. Or ignore writing the narration in a scene and just write all the dialogue instead. Or skip to the end and write that. Jumping around to all these various tasks, you’ll find yourself slowly weaving the bits and pieces together, and chances are what you do get down on the page will help flavor the parts you were stuck on when you come back to them.
At the heart of it, there’s always something you can be doing in your book. The tasks are many, but don’t get stuck on as foolish an idea as writer’s block. Go with the parts that excite you the most, jump around, have fun, and teach your brain who is boss.
And if you see THE MUSE, give her a swift kick from me, won’t you?
Find this helpful? Check out the rest of The Once and Future Podcast's Unf*ck Your Manuscript series!
When not plotting against his mortal enemy Patrick Rothfuss, Anton Strout is the author of the Simon Canderous urban fantasy series for Ace Books including Dead To Me, Deader Still, Dead Matter, and Dead Waters, and the author of the Spellmason Chronicles, including Alchemystic, Stonecast, and Incarnate.
He is the host and curator of content of The Once & Future Podcast, a weekly show that focuses on discussions with other working writers.
Anton currently lives outside New York City in the haunted corn maze that is New Jersey (where nothing paranormal ever really happens, he assures you). In his scant spare time, he is an always writer, sometimes actor, sometimes musician, occasional RPGer, and the world’s most casual and controller-smashing video gamer. He also works in the exciting world of publishing, and yes, it is as glamorous as it sounds.
He can be found lurking the darkened hallways of www.antonstrout.com.