Tempting the Muse – A Quick Bit of Advice

Sharon Stone in the Albert Brooks 1999 movie, The Muse

I’m going to bet that your muse doesn’t always show up when you want her to.

Muses are tricky, fickle creatures. They are like cats in that they prefer to do things only when they damn well please and never according to anyone else’s schedules or needs. Also, like cats, they have a tendency to show up when you least expect them. How often have you been struck by inspiration in a moment when you absolutely cannot act on that inspiration (like in the middle of a business meeting, for instance)?

But then, when you’re ready to make your move and itching for that lightning-bolt-out-of-the-blue whack upside the head, your muse is nowhere to be seen. You’ve set up the perfect conditions: steaming mug of tea, a quiet environment, your lucky sweatshirt, several hours of uninterrupted time, and a handful of Dove dark chocolates. You’re ready to rock and roll, but … no muse.

It can be infuriating.

The thing is, your muse is not a creature of habit or a 9-to-5 worker who is going to clock in at the same time every day. She’s more wild and spontaneous than that, which is why you need to learn to work without her – butt in chair, fingers on keyboard, muse or no muse.

Your muse likes to sneak up on you while you’re in the shower, driving down the highway, or cutting cauliflower florets for dinner. It amuses her to stop you in the middle of doing something else and surprise you with an epiphany that leaves you frozen in thought under the shower head, missing your exit, or knife paused mid slice.

While I’ve learned to work without my muse and to adapt to her capricious ways, I’ve also recently realized that I can be sneaky, too. I’ve discovered that I can lure my muse to me with the right bait. Lately, the bait that has been most effective is a morning power walk to the epic sounds of my Lindsey Stirling station on Pandora. I walk and listen, and the world of my book opens up before my inner eye. Scenes play inside my head as though I’m watching them on a movie screen. Flashes of character insights pop into my mind unbidden. I keep moving. I keep listening. If my logical brain tries to veer into the mundane territory of the days To Do list, I gently lead it back down the rabbit hole of my story daydreaming.

And every once in a while, I take out my phone as casually as I can (don’t want to frighten my muse away) and type in a few notes to help me remember the things that I’ve discovered.

If you’re having trouble managing your muse, maybe a different approach will help you reconnect with your inspiration. Sometimes, inspiration is something that you can only see out of the corner of your eye. Squinting at it head on will only give you a headache, but if you just pretend you’re not paying attention, your muse may just sidle up and make herself comfortable.

Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. In addition to my bi-weekly weekday posts, you can also check out my Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy archives. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.

Writer’s Block Cause 2: Life

“I was going to write the next great, American novel; but life got in the way.”

Though it is the source of all our experience and inspiration, there are days when “life” can be one hell of a nuisance to a writer. Life doesn’t care that we just had a breakthrough on the blog post/essay/article/poem/novel we’re working on. There are still kids to be picked up, work deadlines to be met, laundry to be done, and bills to pay. (Oh, the bills!) There are family and social obligations, housework, homework, and busy work. There is no question that “life” can block our ability to write. Not only does it sop up precious keyboard time, it drains us of the energy we need to summon our inner muse and create.
Too tired? Too busy? Too bad. 

The reality of life is a particularly tricky piece of the writer’s block puzzle. Fear is easily labeled as something that emanates from within. It is a beast of our own creation and therefore one we should be able to un-create (or, at least tame). Life’s overwhelming demands, however, seem to come from without. They appear as an external force, bearing down upon us. We do not overwhelm ourselves, the world overwhelms us – the task at hand, the laundry, the work deadlines, our in-laws coming to visit. Without even realizing that we’ve done it, we subconsciously give up our power over the situation by living with the assumption that life “happens to us” and is outside of our control.

Not so.

Being overwhelmed by life is a mindset, one that many of us have been trained to adopt as our status quo. Americans are especially prone to constant proclamations of exhaustion, insane workloads, and unending obligations. With each new complaint and sigh, we invite these things into our lives and feel forced into letting go of the things most dear to us – like our writing, for instance.
But, I really AM busy! 

Of course you are. We all are. But, we’re never quite as busy as we believe we are. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” is a hackneyed expression, but one that nevertheless holds a lot of truth. The trouble starts when we use “being busy” as a crutch – an excuse that keeps us from doing our great work. I readily admit that I sometimes make up “musts” and “shoulds” in order to avoid sitting down to write. We all do.

Automatically saying, “I don’t have enough time” is one of my favorite crutches. Those words have become so familiar rolling off my tongue; they are almost a reflex. I’m a single mom running a marketing and copywriting business, often working past midnight, writing for multiple blogs, and too often getting involved with causes and pro bono projects. I could easily be the poster child for people who don’t have enough time.
But, I’m changing that. 

I’m training myself to recognize the time I used to leave lying around. Though I at first hated to admit their existence, I now delight in discovering little pockets of time that I can use however I like. One of the best ways to jumpstart this practice is to stop waiting for a big block of uninterrupted time. I’ve wasted years waiting for a full day to write, or even a block of three or four hours. I’ve turned my nose up at the smaller, less appetizing handfuls of minutes that came my way almost every day. No more. Now, if I see fifteen minutes that I could scoop up and use to work on a project, I snag them and scribble away with all my heart.

I’ve also started putting time in my schedule for the things I want to do as well as the things I need to do. In addition to writing more, I promised myself that 2012 would be a year of more time spent with friends. I want coffee and lunch dates. Lots of them. And I’m making it happen. I’m just putting them on my calendar. I’m setting that time aside and putting a big, alligator-filled moat around it. You need to protect your “sacred” time – whether it’s for friends or writing or just sitting and doing nothing. Sometimes, you have to protect it from yourself – you need to make conscious and careful decisions: “Will I use the next forty-five minutes to write, or to watch a re-run of ‘Bones’ on Netflix?” (A dilemma I face quite frequently. Sometimes, ‘Bones’ wins.)

Lastly, I’ve stopped saying how over-booked and time-poor I am. I’ve stopped saying it out loud, and I’ve stopped saying it in my head. I’m trying on an abundance mindset when it comes to time. It’s working some miracles.  I’ve heard it said that we “create” time by how we perceive it. I’ve been amazed to find how much more open my schedule seems these days, now that I’m expecting to have time. It’s like magic, but suddenly I do have time. I’ve been reading more, writing more, and working on plans for some new projects. I’ve had more time with my daughter, more time to cook, more time to spend with friends. I wouldn’t have believed it, except that I’m living it.
You can change it too. Start by being aware and then get fierce. 

Start paying attention – really paying attention – to how you spend your time. Hear yourself saying “yes” to things that are going to take time away from your writing. Make a mental note when you choose time-wasters over writing. Don’t judge or berate yourself. Just notice.

After a while, you’ll start to see patterns. You’ll begin to dabble in reclaiming your writing time – a few minutes at a time. You’ll like the way it feels to bring that practice back into your day. You’ll want more. Start setting up those moats around your writing time and protecting them as if your life depended on it. It does – your writing life, anyway. No one else will make the time for you. No one else will push you past the blocks that life sets up for you. Only you can fight that battle and take back what’s yours.
So – what are you going to do? Are you going to let life become part of your writer’s block, or are you going to make your life feed your writing?
If you’re interested in more tips about finding/creating/managing time, you might want to check out Laura Vanderkam’s book 168 Hours. I haven’t read much past the introduction so far, but from what I’ve heard it’s a great resource for learning how to see the time you have in a whole new light.

This is the second post in a series about the causes of that fictitious condition known as writer’s block. In the previous entry, we talked about fear. I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone who feels they have suffered from this inability to put words down. I just believe that if we can uncover and face the root causes of this uniquely literary affliction, we can slay the writer’s block dragon and get back to the work at hand. Who’s with me?

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 voice and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.