Journaling: A Method for Creative Discoveries

I’ve been a journaler since my first diary as a young girl.

Journaling is a way to get thoughts out of my head and neatly tucked away; a way of removing words/thoughts that distract me. Once I have something written down, I can stop thinking about it and move on.

I have this visual of raising my hand next to my ear, reaching just inside the ear, and pinching the end of a string. When I pull the string, I discover it’s a string made of words. Pulling some words out of my head makes room for others.

Of course, there are some days where that string seems never ending, like those colorful handkerchiefs magicians pull out of a sleeve or a pocket — color after color after color with no apparent end. But there is always an end to the words that need to be cleared away so that new discoveries can be made.

As I browsed through a book store’s magazine section yesterday, I discovered Art Journaling Magazine. It’s a magazine full of examples from visual artists’ journals.

Sketches, multiple colors, ideas, thoughts… Some journals had a bit of a scrapbooking feel, others were done in black and white, most had numerous colors on a page. It inspired my inner muse who loves to find new ways to express myself.

LeatheretteJournalMy mother gave me a beautiful turquoise journal for Christmas. The edge is embossed with a design and each interior page has a light imprint of the design. The color is attractive, the design adds personality, the soft leather-like texture is welcoming, and the pages are spectacular to write on (some paper accepts ink better than others). What looks like a snap cover is a magnetized button closure, and it’s depressed into the cover a bit, so that the journal plays nice if in a stack. There is also a ribbon to use as a placeholder between pages. Everything about the journal is welcoming and comforting and begging to capture words.

ArtistWayMorningPageJournalAnother favorite journal of mine is the actual workbook used for Artist Way Morning Pages. This is a large 8.5 x 11 book, so has heft to it, but it allows for more expansion on creativity with pages. The paper is thick and reminds me, for some reason, of paper I used in first grade when learning to form the letters of the alphabet.

As I flipped through the journaling magazine in the store, a lot of ideas popped into my head about how to add a bit of pizzazz to my journals as I make entries.

I’ve heard a lot about the online LiveJournal tool, too. I’ve never tried it, but I know it allows for more than straight typing of thoughts into the cosmos. And since it’s an online tool, there’s the option to share some of your writing with others. This intrigues me since I could attach photographs to the entries. It’s something I’ll look into. Here’s a listing of those tagging themselves for the writing community.

I believe that any way to clear clutter from the mind to make room for new thoughts is a great exercise.

What is your favorite way to journal?

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. Journaling keeps everything in perspective. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

Origins of some common phrases

Due to a recent burst pipe in the attic, I had a change to move a lot of ‘stuff’ around in order to make room for ceiling repairs. It’s been like spring cleaning, but in the dead of winter. I’ve made quite a few discoveries as I’ve sorted into a keep and toss piles.

Common Phrases and Where They Come FromOne of my discoveries is this great little book called Common Phrases and Where They Come From by John Mordock & Myron Korach.

I thought it would be fun to share some snippets of phrases I find myself using – and the history behind them.

I start off with the phrase and how I use it. The bullet points are my summaries of the write-ups within the book.

The phrase “all agog” has me seeing someone with mouth wide open in great surprise. It turns out, I’m not far off.

  • Medical practitioners noticed that when somebody was anticipating a great happy event, their eyes became lustrous and animated. This eye condition became “goggling eyes,” and groups of people stood “with all eyes goggling.” Then, over time, the phrase became “all agog.” (Disappointment resulted in “all aground.”)

I think “apple of my eye” refers to the person/people that one loves or cherishes. Children are usually the apple of their parents’ eyes, right?

  • Long ago, people in the medical field closely studied the pupil of the human eye and concluded it was apple shaped. The pupil became known as “the apple of the eye.” Then, since the eye was considered as vital as life itself, the gallant hero began to call his love interest “the apple of my eye.”

Although not one I’ve used, “bandy with words” strikes a chord with me as a writer. How can a writer not love to play with words?

  • Turns out, it basically means to talk a lot about nothing! It morphed from a game called ‘bandy’ (described a lot like table tennis), where opponents hit a ball back and forth until one of them misses. Bandy = hit and miss. And to people watching the game, it seemed pointless (ooh, my own pun!); so bandy eventually became associated with idle conversation.

As a mystery fan, I enjoy “red herring”s in stories — particularly trying to figure out what clues are false. And it’s quite fun as a writer to add them to my stories.

  • Campaigning politicians spend a lot of time focusing on matters irrelevant to real issues. It was first known as “dragging a red herring across the trail” then got shortened to “red herring”. It was also used to describe scholars using illogical points to try to prove a thesis. And it was also used to (literally) describe criminals who used strong-smelling smoked red herrings to cover their scent as they ran from justice. Bloodhounds eventually had to be trained to tell the difference between true scents, and that of smoked red herring.

These are just 4 small examples of the fun with phrases people have had over time.

This is a fun book to read through.

Isn’t it amazing how some phrases have morphed into what we use them for today? I find it fascinating.

Is there a phrase you’re curious about?

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

Mindset – savor the great feelings and keep moving forward

You may know about the Law of Attraction. Maybe you’ve heard about how ‘thoughts become things.’ And maybe you’re familiar with the saying ‘change your thoughts and you change your world’ — (Norman Vincent Peale).

I’ve heard them all. I know that thinking positive thoughts is a lot better than thinking negative thoughts.

There are definitely times when it’s “easier said than done,” but I think I’m getting better at it.

Most days I wake up happy and look forward to being productive, and there’s not much negativity that can get me off track.

On the mornings that don’t start as I want (usually if I’m awakened unexpectedly), it’s more difficult for me to ‘get my happy face on.’ We’ve all been there, right?

When we feel good, we move closer to doing, being, and having the successes that we want. The reason why is straightforward: feeling good allows us (gives us the freedom) to focus on the things we want. And getting what we want gives us the inspiration to continue moving forward.

Do you know anyone who wants to give up the great feeling of accomplishment?

If your day isn’t starting off the ‘right way’ (and we each have our own definition of that), here are some ways to get into a positive mindset:

  • Think about something wonderful in your life (people, things, places)
  • Read through some entries in your gratitude journal (if you have one).
  • Shift through the collection of kudos and ‘great job’ notes (I keep mine in a box on index cards and pieces of paper)
  • Look at your wall of awards / certificates / photos of family and friends
  • Read some pages of your calendar / day planner and see how much you’ve accomplished in the past days or weeks
  • Get some fresh air
  • Exercise
  • Listen to some music
  • Look at pictures of cute animals on Facebook

Having a positive mindset has physiological effects and you can’t help but want to keep that feeling.

Just about to cross the finish line

Just about to cross the finish line

In the past 10 days I ran two 5Ks. My 12th and 13th timed races of the year. The race I did this past weekend gave me a personal record (PR) for the year. I’m still smiling over that success. One more race in 2013, and then I start running races again on Jan 1, 2014.

I’m getting addicted to the feeling I have when I cross the finish line — in both my business and personal lives. I’m ready to up my game and set more serious goals — for racing, and for my business.

I’m looking forward to 2014 — I’m keeping my 2013 accomplishments on the walls around me (the visuals work well for me), so if a day starts off not-so-great, I’ll be able to refocus and get on track quickly.

What gets you back in a positive frame of mind if something derails you during the day?

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

Goals Used Against Me

The problem with goals, even though I love them, is I tend to see them as “have to’s” rather than “want to’s,” even when the goal comes from my deepest self.

When I didn’t succeed at my goal of winning NaNo last month, I had a really hard time with it. I had a good reason not to get my 50,000 words done (read my blog post about it here) but I still had to deal with that little voice in my head that told me my “reason” was just another word for “excuse.”

I think I’ve come by this way of thinking honestly, as a part of my medical training, but I don’t think it serves me any longer.

When I was a third year medical student, I was doing my pediatrics rotation at a big hospital. My team was rounding on our patients at a certain time and my intern (who was my supervisor) told me to get all the x-ray films for all the patients we would be seeing that day.

I went down to x-ray to sign out the films and was told that the x-ray machines were down and no films could be developed (This was before the days of digital images.) The technician I spoke to said she had no idea when x-rays would be available.

I arrived at rounds at the appointed time and my intern asked if I’d gotten the films. I explained the problem and that no x-ray films were available.

“So, you didn’t complete your task, did you?” he asked.

“No,” I answered, “I didn’t.”

No excuses were acceptable. I learned that lesson many times during medical school and I stopped making excuses, even when the excuses were things like “I have a fever of 103,” or “I just had a baby 10 days ago.”

So, when I didn’t complete my NaNo goal, I had to do a lot of self-coaching to feel okay with the fact that I didn’t achieve my goal—even though it was a conscious decision not to finish—one I made over and over as the end of November loomed. I could have pulled a couple of all-nighters on the last weekend of November but I chose not to—and then I beat myself up about it.

My friend Julie just decided to do NaNo in January. Why didn’t I think of that?

I was too busy thinking negative thoughts about my lack of achievement to come up with something as creative as changing the month I did NaNo in.

Negative thoughts = stressful thoughts = narrow focus = lack of creativity (among other things.)

Right now, the best way I know how to be creative is to continue to examine my thoughts and decide which ones are true and which ones are just unquestioned.

Once I clean up my thinking, I can get back to my real work, which is writing.

Are negative thoughts interfering with your writing? Can you let them go?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, family physician, mother, and stepmother. I didn’t succeed at my NaNo goal, but now that it’s occurred to me, I think I’ll try again in January! In the meantime, I’m still plugging away at my novel. And blogging, of course!

Begin

fall dandelion

A tiny galaxy nestled in the fallen leaves

The blank page is your adversary, the pen your sword. But this is not a battle that can be won with might. It is less a duel, more a dance. Unable to find the rhythm, you falter. Your first advance glances off the surface of your thoughts, failing to penetrate to the deeper truth. You’ve missed the connection with your partner – your muse – and your words lie awkward and stilted on the page, a childish attempt to capture the grace of the fencer, the artistry of the dancer.

You retrace your steps, backing over those first words, setting up to try again. False start after false start leaves you exhausted and disoriented. The idea, once so beguiling, that lured you to the dance floor has left you standing out there alone. The music is playing. Everyone is watching. You know that the dance commences with a first step, but you have lost your way.

You don’t know how to begin.

It’s ok. Everything will be all right.

A dance is just a dance. A story is just a story. You can begin anywhere.
 
 

Begin with your mother’s blueberry pie.

Begin with the vibration of yellow birch leaves against a sharp blue October sky.

Begin with your first Valentine.

Begin with your last kiss.

Begin with the letter you wrote, but never sent.

Begin with the words you said, but wish you hadn’t.

Begin with a broken arm, a broken promise, a broken heart.

Begin with a frog prince.

Begin with a princely frog.

Begin with hope or tragedy or joy.

Begin with the lunchbox you had when you were eight.

Begin with the house you thought you’d have by now.

Begin with a secret.

Begin with the story your father used to tell you at bedtime.

Begin with a riddle.

Begin with murder.

Begin with a magic word.

Begin with an ordinary day.

Begin with the footfalls of a cat.

Begin with a letter in a bottle.

Begin with the color red.

Begin with a dandelion.

Begin with a subway ride.

Begin with the sound of water dripping.

Begin with someone saying hello.
 
 
It doesn’t really matter where you begin, just that you begin. The dance and the story both go on and on forever. There is no real beginning and no real ending. You can cut in at any point along the way. There is no wrong first step. The only mistake you can make is failing to begin.
 
 
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Visuals for goals make an impression

We’ve had several conversations on this blog about goal setting, the importance of writing your goals down and breaking those goals into quarterly/monthly/weekly/daily tasks.

We’ve also talked about ‘checking off’ those daily tasks and crossing items off ToDo lists.

And while I love crossing items off a list, or putting a check next to a “big goal”, I’ve found great value in other visuals, too.

For instance, for exercise – I give myself a star or a smiley face or a “great job” sticker on a day that I have at least 30 minutes of exercise. I have 12 small months taped to a kitchen door, so I can easily see how many days I’ve exercised throughout the year whenever I want. It’s quite inspiring.

Race bibs from 2012

Race bibs from 2012

Last year, I completed 2 races – a 5K and a triathlon. I tacked the race bibs to my bulletin board (as well as giving myself those stickies for exercising those days!)

I stopped exercising all together after the triathlon since I didn’t have any other races in mind. At year’s end, I knew I had to make 2013 better.

I decided that if I had (about) a race a month, I’d have to keep moving. My goal is to complete at least 12 races. (I’m new to running, so don’t feel I need to win, place, or show — just complete a race and focus on improving.)

Race bibs from 2013

Race bibs from 2013

This year, to date, I’ve completed 11 races, including a triathlon and a 5K obstacle course. When I look at the wall of all my bibs, I can’t help but smile, be proud of myself, and be motivated to keep exercising so my next race will be even better.

I’m currently registered for 2 more races, so will hit 13 total. I’m not superstitious about ’13’ at all, but I may try for 14.

1-Mile Pace listed on index card

1-Mile Pace listed on index card

Another visual I have is  an index card list of my “1-mile pace” numbers. I had my fastest pace yesterday!

Visuals make an impression!

I’m absolutely motivated to increase my fitness goals for next year.

For writing goals, I tape up class certificates, awards, as well as kudo notes and emails. And I track business/income submissions on green index cards, so at a glance at my corkboard I know how many projects I’ve completed that have generated income.

Posting visuals of any achievement is a great idea. Remember having grade school papers put on the refrigerator door? First drawings being proudly displayed on some wall in the house? How about those pencil marks on a door jam that showed how much we grew in a year? Did they motivate you to do more? Weren’t you curious to see how far/tall you could grow? (How far can you grow now as a writer?)

Let your inner child out a bit.

Show off your accomplishments, even if only to yourself  — every time you look at the wall where you’ve taped them, hung them, pinned them, or trapped them with a magnet – you’ll smile and feel proud.

Good idea?

Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to network with writing professionals on a weekly basis. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.

Your Writer’s Mind

writer mind

dummy soundcloud writers mind

Writers are like aliens. We explore and dissect, question and document. We study the ways of the human heart and soul with a probing and unflinching eye. The writer’s mind is a many-faceted marvel that defies logic in order to create magic, all within the constraints of twenty-six letters and a few punctuation marks.

The writer’s mind is prone to wandering. Writers do not live life the same way non-writers do. We are more of the world and yet always slightly apart from it. We exist simultaneously in multiple worlds – the “Real World,” the world as we see it, and worlds of our own devising. It’s no wonder then, what with our minds being in two or more places at once, that we sometimes appear distracted or a bit dotty.

The writer’s mind is full of wonder. We are endlessly curious about everything and everyone. We are avid people watchers, stealing bits of dialog, mannerisms, and expressions. We collect the world piece by piece, tucking places, objects, and ideas away in the labyrinthine corridors of our brains. Most of all, we ask, “What if?” We question the truth and ponder the possibilities. We expand the universe with our thoughts and our words.

The writer’s mind is a working mind. It rarely sleeps, and even in slumber continues its efforts through dreams. Our minds perform their amazing feats of creation while balanced on the line between craft and imagination, practice and inspiration. Half artist, half linguistic scientist, we filter the world and all our experiences through the context of story – sifting and separating the details so we can see how the puzzle pieces fit together.

The writer’s mind is full of worry. It circles again and again around the same fears and doubts like a hunger-lean tiger, pacing and pacing, wearing a track in the floor. Will I ever have another idea? Will anyone understand? Will anyone care?  Am I good enough? We chew relentlessly on our anxieties and insecurities even though we know they offer no sustenance. The foreboding never goes away, no matter the scope or height of our success.

The writer’s mind is wily. When we don’t feel up to the task of writing, our minds are happy to offer all manner of distractions and diversions. We are masters of procrastination, being able to justify almost any activity (or inactivity) as “research” or “part of the process.” Left to their own devices, our writers’ minds might very well weasel their way out of finishing anything.

But, at the end of the day, the writer’s mind is wonderful. It is the source of our inspiration and the tool of our craft. Sometimes partially insane and always partly magic, our minds are home and haven to the wonder of our hearts and the wanderings of our intellect. Our writers’ minds hum busily in the background even when we are performing the most mundane tasks – clearing the table, waiting in line at the bank, mowing the lawn. Though we perceive sudden moments of insight as epiphany, they are really just the hard won fruits of our minds’ ceaseless labors.

The writer’s mind may lead us down rabbit holes and into dark corners. It may confound us with questions that have no answers and deceive us with doubts. It may taunt and torture us in the predawn hours as we wrestle with questions of plot and character, story arc and structure. But I don’t know a single writer who would trade her curious, creative, renegade writer’s mind for anything in the world.

I know I wouldn’t.

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Image  Credit: Cover from Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer (affiliate link)

Taking time to appreciate the moments to focus on writing

My week carried me away recently. I knew my calendar was packed and I had writing to do, but I didn’t realize I’d gotten overwhelmed until I was out on one of my walks.

Notice the path

Notice the path

I try to walk 45 to 60 minutes a day to (somewhat) balance all the sitting in front of the screen that I do. While out on one walk last week I caught myself having some heavy sighs — those sighs, or exhales that accompany a sound.

My first thought was the humidity was causing me to breath heavy. Then I thought I was walking too fast (if that’s possible). But then the “ah ha’ hit me, as I had another loud exhale, that my mind wasn’t focused. Thoughts were flying all over the place and I wasn’t even paying attention to my route, nevermind to my breathing or anything in the world around me. My body was physically in one place and my mind in another.

So I stopped where I was and took some purposeful deep breaths until I ‘noticed’ my breathing… and then birds chirping… the slight breeze … the scent of flowers … and so on.

Stop to smell the flowers

Stop to smell the flowers

It’s so easy to let life’s tasks overwhelm us at times, isn’t it?

I’d like to suggest something, for all of us who have these moments. Tomorrow, before starting the craziness that our days entail, let’s stop, take a breath, and appreciate the beauty of the moment we’re in.

Enjoy the morning cup of (iced) coffee, tea, or glass of milk instead of inhaling it on the go. Step outside and take a stroll around the house, through the garden, or down the driveway instead of doing a chore.

Savor every drop of the morning beverage and be aware of each step taken. Take the time to ‘see’ every single thing we can possibly take in with our eyes. Touch what we can, listen to the birds, stop and smell the flowers.

Let’s appreciate each and every moment for what it brings into our morning. Enjoy what flows into our bodies through all your senses. Keep taking those deep, fulfilling breaths.

Then, when we feel refreshed (and wide awake), then we can sit at the keyboard to type, or notepad to write, and turn a similar focus to what we’re writing, letting go of all thoughts of any other things we need or hope to do.

Soon enough, I know we’ll find words flowing. It will be as if time doesn’t exist. We’ll write and write and write. We’ll be in sync with our muses, and it’s quite possible that when we look up, we’ll find more time has passed than what we expect.

That’s what it’s like to live in the moment. I’ve done it before, and it’s an unsurpassed feeling. I’m going to strive to get that back in my mornings this week.

What do you do to get refocus on what’s important?

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is a self-employed writer and editor. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to network with writing professionals on a weekly basis. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Biznik.

How to brainstorm and write a story in 24 hours (or less)

I’m adding another ‘thank you‘ to Jamie’s to those of you who participated in the recent NHWN poll. Great feedback.

Onward! In April, I wrote about a 24-hour short story contest I find to be fun, stressful, inspiring, challenging, entertaining, and a great exercise for my muse. Do you see the ups and downs in that last sentence? I have a lot of emotions when writing for a contest, assignment, or a client. And I like that. If I didn’t have a mix of emotions, then I’d take that as a sign I’m too comfortable. Growth comes from pushing into the ‘uncomfy zone,’ not from the same ol’ same ol’.

With the next rendition of the contest coming this Saturday, and based on survey feedback, I thought I’d delve into some tips for writing a story or article with a deadline of a day or less.

These tips can also be applied to blog posts, interviews, and more.

  1. Know the assignment. If it’s a contest, be familiar with the rules. If it’s a client project, make sure you’re clear on the deliverable. If it’s an article, blog post, or interview, know the key points to be covered.

    Brainstorm on the screen or on paper

    Brainstorm on the screen or on paper

  2. Write out initial thoughts – brainstorm. Turn off your internal editor (easier said than done sometimes, I know) and start freewriting ideas. Make lists, mindmap, scribble, draw, whatever it takes to get initial ideas downloaded from your brain. Use a timer, or write until you run dry, whatever works best. For me, a timer keeps the internal editor from speaking too loudly.
  3. Step away. Turn the paper over, minimize the window, close the laptop, walk away from your desk, or close your eyes. I find it helpful to change gears completely and go for a walk, have a snack, listen to music, read e-mail, or anything that doesn’t relate to the project. The mind is still turning ideas over, and likes to do so when you aren’t paying close attention.
  4. Come back with fresh eyes. Read through your notes. Highlight the items from your brainstorming that catch your eye and cross off the ideas that are too typical. What else leaps to mind now? What strikes you as interesting, original, or fun? Shift perspectives — if you’re the reader, which of the items, which focus/approach, would be most interesting or refreshing?
  5. Pick one idea. Yes, just one. Which one floats to the top of the list? Start with that one. (You can always go back to the list later if you need to.)
  6. Free write.  Write on that one topic you’ve just chosen without worrying about what you don’t have. Assignments can need research, quotes, pictures, or other background material. Don’t worry about that now. Write your story/article/blog post with what you know at the moment. You’ll know where you need to insert details later. Leave a blank line, capital letters (XXX), or symbols (???), if you need to. Most important, is that you write without worrying about spelling or word count.
  7. Repeat step 3.
  8. Write your second draft. You know the topic now; your muse is partnering with you to get the story written. Fill in the blanks.
  9. Repeat step 3. A great time for a treat because you’re almost done.

    Deliciously cool key lime pie

    A treat — Deliciously cool key lime pie

  10. Read with an editor’s eye. Clean up the grammar and punctuation. Get within your word count. Give your story / article / assignment a nice polish.
  11. Sleep on it. Similar to step 3, but, it’s the final stretch. The words are on the page and fulfill the guidelines. You have time to relax and let the piece simmer.
  12. Make final revisions and submit before your deadline.

And my favorite step — 13. Celebrate the milestone. I do the “whoot whoot” and fist pump the air and/or do a happy dance. It’s a great feeling knowing a task / assignment / contest entry / what-have-you has been completed and submitted.

It’s like using the fine china or crystal today instead of waiting for “a special event”. Celebrate the moment, the accomplishment. The piece didn’t exist in any form 24 hours (or less) ago, and now it’s done, dusted, and submitted.

Now for the next project!

If you have specific questions, please ask.

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is a self-employed writer and editor. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to network with writing professionals on a weekly basis. You can connect with her on Facebook, TwitterLinkedIn, and Biznik.

Playing With The Muse

Here’s a guest post written by my friend and colleague, Sylvie Kurtz. Enjoy!

Writers often rue the fickleness of the muse. I think of her like a child with ADD. I picture her a bit like Tinkerbell, bright and bouncy, flitting here and there, her attention diverted by anything that catches her attention.

My critic, on the other hand, looks like a pasty white blob poured into a throne-like chair. He wears a purple robe adorned with silver stars and, given half a chance, will expound on (and on, and on) any topic with enviable certainty.

Both the muse and the critic have their function when it comes to writing a story. But they tend not to play well together. If the muse shows up first and spills her vast reserves of glittery energy, that gives the critic something to work with. The trick is giving the muse a chance to do her thing before the critic tries to create order out of her chaos.

So how do you invite the muse out to play? Show up, open up, listen up, and follow up.

1. Show Up. Like an ADD child, the muse thrives on structure. If you make a play date at a specific time and place, she’s more likely to show up. And if you keep that date regular, it becomes habit, and she might already be waiting for you when you sit down.

You may want to create a ritual that allows you to quiet down and get into the present. The muse doesn’t think about yesterday or tomorrow. She’s all about the now. I have a salt lamp I turn on to let my muse know I’m here and I’m ready.

2. Open Up. The muse wants to play. Play is what she’s all about. But to engage her to play with you, you have to let her know that you want to play, too. So start writing. Doesn’t matter what you write; just write. Keep the pen (or fingers on the keyboard) moving.

When I first started writing, my confidence level bordered on the non-existent. I set a timer for fifteen minutes and forced myself to write. For the longest time, all I could do was write things like, “This is stupid. I can’t write. Who do I think I am?” But eventually, the critic got bored and took a nap. That’s when the muse started whispering, “If you were to write a real story . . .”

3. Listen Up. Like any kid, the muse wants to know someone’s listening to her. My son used to come home from school, flop into the rocking chair in my office and spill his day. This was a time I loved, but sometimes, especially when I was on deadline, I tried to multi-task—one ear on the conversation, the other on the work. And even though I could repeat what he’d told me, he’d sigh and say, “Mom, you’re not listening.” He needed eye contact to feel heard.

Transcribe what the muse gifts you, even if it doesn’t make sense. Write fast. The muse loves speed. Forget the “rules” of good writing. Forget proper punctuation. Feel the emotions she brings up. Ask her questions and let her answer. Feeling listened to will thrill her and make her want to play more often.

4. Follow Up. To make the muse feel as if you appreciate her, she wants you to do something with her gift. She doesn’t like to see her pearls lying unused. In the mess of words on the page, you’ll unearth gems.

And this is where she won’t mind the critic stepping in. Because patience and organization skill are the critic’s strong points, he can string those pearls into a satisfying whole.

The muse wants to play. All she’s waiting for is an invitation.

How do you invite your muse to play?

Sylvie_KurtzSylvie Kurtz writes adventures that explore the complexity of the human mind and the thrill of suspense. She likes dark chocolate, soft wool, and sappy movies. For more information, check out sylviekurtz.com. You can follow her @sylviekurtz on Twitter.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon is a part-time writer who is grateful to learn from more experienced writers like Sylvie!