Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Enemies of the Muse

No writer likes talking about the dreaded staring-at-blank-screen moments, especially when those moments stack one upon the other for days or even weeks on end. Some call it writer's block. Others pretend it doesn't exist and still others take it as a sign that they no longer have anything to write about so they stop writing all together.

I usually don't have deadlines to write by, so I basically ignore the dry spells and find other things to do, but I've been writing long enough to know the enemies of my muse.


Sleep, or lack thereof, can muddy a muse beyond functioning.  I read an article recently that stated women have more issues with sleep deprivation than men, so my issue with it may not be such a problem for others, but it's my biggest enemy these days. It doesn't help that I'm also a night person. It does not matter what time I go to bed, if I try to make my brain function before nine or ten a.m., I'm useless. My imagination gets blocked out and locked behind the desperate fog of doing anything else that is required of me.  If the muse has vanished, try to respect your natural sleep cycle as much as you can and catch up on any hours lost.


Life has a way of dumping difficult things on us at random times. We have no control over this, only over how we handle it. If something worrisome arises, I have to work harder to get into my zone and make contact with the muse. For me, it takes good music and some time to block it all out. If worry plagues you, find your coping mechanism, be it music, a favorite meal, a trip to a favorite place, whatever it is that helps you escape the worry for a little while.


Stress is related to, but not the same thing as, worry. There are different kinds of stress and all of us deal with it at one time or another. Having an unfinished job hanging over our head, a sick family member, household demands, demands of a job, you name it. The typical ways of dealing with it, deep breathing, relaxation techniques, calming music, aromatherapy, all can help. Find what works for you.

There's also a little side note about stress, depending on what it is, it can actually fuel your muse. So only try to escape the stress when it's blocking your muse.


There is no escape from this one. Whether it be walking the dog, running the kids to activities or doctors, or working a day job, it must be done. The key here is carving out time to write when you can. I also work over plots and scenes in my head while in waiting rooms or waiting for the kids to finish an activity or even while grocery shopping. With responsibilities, the key is finding a way to work around it.  I once even worked out the details of characters for a book on the back of a grocery receipt while waiting in the car with my middle daughter. Do what you can when you can.


Time is a precious commodity these days, it seems. There really is no easy fix for this one. As a writer, you have to carve out an hour or two every day - or whatever schedule you can find - and make it work for you.  The important thing here is that you find the determination to make it work for you. So the key to keeping this one from murdering your muse is to carve out those hours anywhere you can.

Illusive ideas

I'm not really a good one to give advice on this. My issue here is the opposite. I have too many ideas all rattling around in my head at any particular time.  But I still have to work to find what one can work for what story. My secret here is to focus on the characters.  Once a character is created, their personality will point to the idea and story they want to star in.  My other advice for this one would be to just write. Pick a persona/character to think in and write down whatever comes to your mind. Then see what commonality all the jottings have and explore what type of tale it would best serve. Give yourself the freedom and permission to write freely without anything like "it has to be done this way or that way."  Just let it be and explore.  Writing so freely will often jolt loose some really fantastic things.

Illusive Motivation

Not all writers need to be motivated to write, but it's been my experience that the best writing comes from motivated writers, not just writers who force words into a computer.  Writing is barely ever topnotch until a lot of blood, sweat, and tears are shed to mold a first draft into gorgeous writing, but the spark that ignites the first draft will catch on better if the writer has the right spark under the muse.  How we each find our motivation is unique to us. For me, it's finding the right music, a dark room, candles lit, and incense burning. I do everything I can to help place myself in my imaginary world and write my characters as true to them as I can.


This one is also a very personal thing. It does not matter if someone has written no books or twenty books, fear of failing with the next one can leave the muse locked in a deep dark tunnel, unable to shine. Determination is the answer to this one. No one is perfect, no writer will do it all just perfect. All we can hope to do is write the best story for readers we can possibly write. So learn your craft, give it your best effort, and accept that your best is great enough.

In closing, writing is hard work and a writer has to be willing to put in the blood, sweat, and tears to accomplish their tale. It's not an easy get-rich scheme. The creation of a novel takes effort, getting it into print (or electronic print) takes more, and the marketing of it after takes even more. But if it's in you to write, you'll find a way.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Once and for ARRRG!

It's been a while now, but one Sunday we were watching something on television with my mom and one of the characters stated something such as "we'll stop this thing, once and for a_ _ " -- well, you can fill in the blanks, right? My middle child was sitting on the couch beside me and started to pat my knee in sympathy. "It's all right Mom, just plug your ears," she said to me,  and grandma gave us the strangest look.

I can't remember exactly when it started. It was a couple years ago when that four word phrase became torture to me. It's like nails on a chalkboard. What's wrong with: "Once and forever" or "now and for all time"?  Or not adding anything to the end of "we'll stop this thing!" They all generally get the same point across but they aren't as beaten to pulp as the simple "once and for ---" Please don't make me type it.

I'm not perfect, some cliches have slipped into my own work (though not the once and for...)  Cliches do have their place. They appear in dialogue, if a character is sweet on a saying, but be darn sure it shows the reader something about the character before you use it. Ask yourself if the cliche really belongs there or if other words could be woven together to show and give the reader more.

When something is overused like the phrase I so abhor, it becomes weak and meaningless, stirring no emotion or anything more than a thought of "oh, that again," and no author wants to write weak.

When writing, the goal is to work hard and make every word carry the weight of that effort. It's not easy to find those perfect words and stitch them together into a tapestry to show what's alive in your mind in a way that flows easily for readers. Using an overused cliche can ruin all that effort for some readers because, in one blink, the writing got lazy and the author threw what is to be a stunning pronouncement out there with no more effort than brushing a speck of dirt from a fingertip.

Words are powerful things. It's up to us to use them to the maximum efficiency. Let's not continue to beat the same old words or phrases into a boring pulp.

On the same note, let's not create the ridiculous in an effort to be unique. Make sure the words you string together aren't creating something virtually impossible. Keep your imagery precise, possible, and active. That's really all any reader asks. 

Thursday, March 07, 2013

My Secret for Plotting Surprises.

When someone first reads one of my books, the first thing I usually hear is how they loved the plot twists.  My books are full of them, as much as I can manage. I dislike cliche or formula plots where everything of the plot is easy to see coming.  I'd like to claim great brilliance in crafting the twists and turns in my books, that I carefully craft each one, knitting it skillfully through each scene.  The truth is much less romantic.

My characters do it. I must confess, they deserve pretty much all the credit.  I show them where things start (sometimes they convince me my first starting point is wrong, I always listen to them) and tell them the ending result and a few key points in between. How they get to those points, and what they do with those points, is all up to them.

It's true, I have very little to do with the twists and turns that happen in my books beyond creating the characters.  I dabble in psychology, finding the human mind fascinating. I'm also a very empathetic person. I can see a person's point of view on anything, even if I don't agree with it at all, including fictional characters.  This, I'm convinced, is partly why my characters get so deeply formed.  And from that, I turn them loose and watch the magic happen.

The rest of the story is a cause and effect ride, and my characters rarely react to things quite the way I plan or hope or even like, or do anything easy, yet they react completely true to themselves. I learned early on that attempting to force one of my characters to walk a planned outline ends in the death of my muse. Some of my characters are even more stubborn than I am.

I sometimes do have revelations about a character deep into the middle of a story, and then go back to weave hints or supporting things into earlier chapters, and strengthen it all when I work through the rewrites. Sometimes whole new scenes pop up, sometimes whole new supporting characters, but it all branches from the characters themselves.

I do work hard to make sure it all works well together. I'm sure I miss some things, but I do my best to make sure ends are tied up (never in a very expected way), and that they make sense.

The other thing I work hard to do is showing readers who my characters are and how emotional each decision they have to make is, along with the settings, but those are two subjects I'll write about at another time.

Till then, I'm again happily creating more characters to work out a new plot...

Monday, March 04, 2013


I do apologize for my long absence here. It has taken this long for me to find the time to crack the code to reenter my blogging area. A while back, everything changed, for some reason.  I understand security, I do. I appreciate it, but there are times where it is far easier to wait for weeks (or months) before tackling a glitch to open the doors again. Such is the case here. I'm determined to make regular blog posts, but my computer, or blogger, or some other electronic gremlin thinks it's amusing to challenge that, apparently, and test my determination.  I've finally made it back. Took longer than I had hoped, but I still accomplished it.

And then I get a notice that the email I've had since the early 2000s is switching over to a new system. Joy. (Can you hear the sarcasm? It's thick.) I use my email every day, though, so I hope I won't go in one morning to find they don't know me anymore, much like blogger did.  My mail host has already tried to tell me I was an impostor using my own account because I used the word "tracking" in a note I was sending out. I spent three hours jumping through hoops to correct that situation when they slammed down the thick iron doors and electronically blocked me out.  Now, instead of telling people I have a tracking number for their shipment, I have to type "the number for you to follow your package is..."  And I think -- Seriously? Is this for real? Why yes, yes it is. All in the name of my safety. *sigh*

Society seems to be a crazy mishmash of overly secure and overly under-secured things, these days. It's crazy how some things like email and blog hosts act like they guard the doors with cannons and the threat of execution, yet we can wave a card in front of a laser eye to pay for things directly from our life's blood, errr, I mean bank account -- a card that someone with the right small device can walk by and grab all your information from your purse or pocket. I don't have one of those cards, still far too old fashioned. But I'm sure I will eventually have to get one or I won't be able to function.

I remember when things used to be much simpler. For now, I'll just appreciate being back in my blog and move on. There is laundry to fold and a scene to work out in my head before I can type it all out in the book, hopefully at some point this week.