The Muse Needs Exercise as Much as the Body

We all know that it’s important to exercise our bodies. But it’s also as important to exercise the muse.

Without exercise, the body can waste away, get used to inactivity to the point where it doesn’t want to do anything, or even stop working all together.

The writing muse is similar — without regular activity, the muse will get bored, turn its back on you when you call, or not respond at all.Exercise the muse (1)

As with physical exercise, you want to start slow and build up. With a sudden burst of I’m-getting-in-shape-once-and-for-all, you can head off to the gym and lift weights and get an hour of cardio in and feel fabulous, and then be so sore you can barely move the next few days.

Likewise, if writing inspiration hits and 7,000 words pour onto a page in a day, you can feel quite energized, maybe even imagine your worldwide book tour and see your novel become a blockbuster movie. And the dreams are great, but the day after that 7,000 word burst, you might get to your desk and no words come at all.

When you’re stuck, stymied, or just don’t know what to write, exercises or prompts can get the muse moving.

As with any exercise, select a good starting point. You can start out simple: 1 sentence; 1 paragraph; 1 page; 200 words; 5 minutes; 20 minutes. Pick a point that feels super comfortable — maybe even too easy.

For me, my daily physical exercise goal is simple: At least 30 minutes of exercise a day. It can be (2) 15-minute chunks or (1) 30-minute chunk. But that’s the goal. It wasn’t super easy when I started, but it was comfortable – it pushed me just a little. And even though I far surpass that goal daily now, I keep the goal and give myself a star on the calendar for each day I achieve it.

I need to kick-start my writing muse again, and I think 1 paragraph a day will be my goal, or 50-100 words, or, probably easiest for me, is set a timer for 5 minutes. I can keep writing after the timer goes off, but at least I will exercise my muse for at least 5 minutes a day.

Where do you find writing exercises or prompts? Here are some ideas:

  • Digging out our idea notebook(s) (we all have those, right? Right?) and flipping through pages to find a gem to play with
  • Flipping through the dictionary, selecting a random word and writing about that
  • Old photographs (I particularly like b&w photos) that might jog a memory you can write down; or spark a story idea
  • Random pictures from the Internet (Bing and Google have random photos on their main pages; and think of all the pictures on Facebook!) can entice the muse to play
  • Writer’s Digest Magazine (or other writing-related magazines). This article is a 12-Day Plan of Simple Writing Exercises by Brian Klems, but can be used however you like
  • Books of writing exercises
  • Books of writing prompts

How do you exercise your muse?

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with manufacturing, software, technology, and realty businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn

45 thoughts on “The Muse Needs Exercise as Much as the Body

  1. There are some pretty cool Writing Prompt apps. I use this one, wich I downloaded for Android.

    I´m actually on a writing challenge, wich I plan to create a writing habit (I started my blog with that same purpose). The idea is to write one blog post per day. Yesterday was my first day, and I´m working on my post for today.

    Found some cool ideas here. Thanks a lot 🙂

  2. My mind live mostly in the past. There are lots of memories there. Good and bad. I have little notebooks full of momentary thoughts scattered around. One is living under my pillow for late night conversation. I keep albums of images that speak to me personally. They are my allies too. People. People are constant source of inspiration. Over active imagination I have according to my late mother. Maybe it’s true. And books! I have tons of books in every genre. I think that’s all.

    • Wow, you definitely have a lot of inspiration. That’s so fantastic – you’ll never be at a loss. Your muse must be constantly dancing around. Keeping a notebook under the pillow is a wonderful idea. I like how you say “for late night conversation”. 🙂 Thank you for sharing.

    • Hi Catherine – it can be whatever you want. Since most of my day is writing ‘as a job’, I don’t consider that part of this conversation. I’m focusing on 5-10 minutes a day of creative writing (non-work writing). But, really, if blogging and marketing writing stretches and exercises your muse, by all means, count that! 🙂

  3. This post was great timing for me. I’m afraid let my writing muse atrophy somewhat lately. So easy to let this happen. I really like the idea of giving myself a star on my calendar every time I achieve my daily goal. Such a simple idea.

  4. Great article! Needed this. Like you said, some days the words just pour out onto the page, and some days I sit there staring at the screen wondering where the words went. I will try to “excercise my muse” more often.

  5. Good article; good advice.

    I have a slightly different take on this. I believe that a ‘pure’ writing exercise is a waste of talent and time; rather, I prefer to use the exercise in service of a work-in-progress or a “work-in-plan.” Here’s what I mean about the latter.

    After my latest book was published, I wanted to write a short story as a give-away to loyal e-readers. I was reading Poe on the subject of “unity of effect” in The Philosophy of Composition and The Poetic Principal wherein he argues that a shorter work, one that can be read in a single sitting, has a greater opportunity to deliver it’s emotional impact.

    He says that a writer should simply start out with this one question: what effect do I want to create? At that point, every word, sentence, symbol and motif, as well as characterization and plot point are in service to this one effect, creating at the end of the story, ideally, that “unity of effect” fundamental to all art that elicits in the observer the experience when, in a single moment of truth, the beauty of Art presents itself. It’s in the few lines of a sonnet or that (short) tale of a Jazz Age bootlegger. It’s in that Stephen King short story, too: for a week, I kept all the lights on at night when I discovered my neighbors’ dogs were meeting in secret to plot their revenge.

    So, how did all this work out for me? I decided on the effect I wanted to create, then started to write what I envisioned would be a 5,000 to 7,000 word short story centering on the love and passion between a man and a woman who meet on a faraway isle. What happened was completely unexpected. I created two characters who, apparently, had a bigger story to tell. Ten months later I published ARABELLA ( ), a 22,000 word novella that can be read in two and a half hours, falling well within Poe’s single-sitting theory.

    One final thing: I believe it is important for people to understand that there is no such thing as wanting to be a writer; there is only wanting to write – something. Just as there is no such thing as wanting to be a painter without actually painting something – anything – if only as a beginner. Everyone is, after all, a beginner at some stage. But you have to begin. And you have to remember that just like painting, writing is an art. If you don’t think it’s an art, just check out all the fast-food fiction on the market today that’s about as memorable and unique as everything else just like it. Art is an individual expression; if you try to be like anyone else, you won’t be an artist, because you won’t be yourself. Someone once said that he thought there was at least one book in each one of us. So remember, this is your walk through life. No one can tell your story in quite the way that you are capable of telling it. Even if you disguise your story in the most far-out, outlandish – and utterly fascinating – way possible.

  6. Yes, yes and yes. Many authors have asked me about writing or how to hone their writing skills and the first question I always ask is how often are you writing. Like any skill we have to practice and practice and practice to be better, writing is no different.

  7. Pingback: Writing is Difficult | Sibille Rose

  8. Pingback: A Little Effort Today Can Lead to Big Results a Year from Now | Live to Write – Write to Live

  9. Pingback: Writing Body Paragraphs Exercise

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