Training your muse

I’m not always fond of using the word muse, because the way I see it you are your own muse, but writers like to give their talent a name, so let’s call it the muse, shall we?

Traditionally the muse is female, but screw tradition. Your muse can be anything you want it to be. Sometimes, we get a say in the matter, other times we really don’t. My friend Sarah Dahl’s muse is a troll. Mine is a short, sturdy man with long black hair, bright blue eyes, tattoos, a little stubble on the face, and a penchant for leather. He’s a bit of a bad boy, forever getting into trouble. I didn’t choose this guy, he just showed up one day. There he was, sitting on my desk, one ass on, the other off, swinging his left leg to and fro, going, “Howzit? I’m your muse.”

The muse, I guess, is the one responsible for your inspiration. He runs off, fetches the people who needs to tell their story, and brings them to your desk (or wherever you sit and work). Other times, he comes back to you alone, but he’ll have the story ready for you.

Often though, the muse just won’t cooperate. He’ll show up late, or he’ll just sit there, twiddling his thumbs, refusing to fetch your story for you. Other times, he’s so stubborn he won’t show up at all.

You have to train your muse to show up at the same time every day, and do his job! It might take a while, but it’s worth it in the end. So where do you start?

Start working at the same time every day
If you are new to writing, you may not yet know when your best writing hours are. Everyone’s most productive hours are different, but most of us can write any time of the day and night when push comes to shove. The idea is though, to start writing at roughly the same time every day – that way, you’ll get into a nice rhythm and your muse will get used to you being at your desk at the same time every day. At first, you’ll have to go fetch the little bugger, tell him to sit down and stay put, but over time he’ll get used to it, and eventually he’ll show up at the appointed hour, ready to get started.

Do not wait for the muse to come to you
I can not stress this enough. The muse is a fickle being, and if you wait for him, you’ll wait forever. If he refuses to show up, get up and go find the bastard, feed him some caffeine, and tell him to do his damned job, or he’s fired. If he just sits there and watches you with his pretty, big blue eyes, ignore him. Start writing anyway. Write about anything, your day, your luscious green pot plant’s life cycle – anything will do. Yes, it will probably suck eyeballs, and it will be painful, but eventually the muse won’t be able to resist and he’ll jump in to help.

Find out what makes your muse tick
Predictably, my muse is tickled pink by music (you should see it, he goes neon up to the hairline. It’s adorable). He can’t help himself, if I listen to music long enough, eventually he’ll come out to play. When I’m stuck for inspiration, or the muse forgot to fetch my characters, all I have to do is start listening to the right music and he’ll run off to go get them. I can’t tell you what draws your muse out, you’ll have to find that out for yourself. It can be music, or no music, reading a certain poem, or reading nothing, it can be as simple as a few rituals (setting your desk straight, having a steaming cup of coffee by your side, sticking a pencil behind your ear), whatever you want and whatever works for you (except for drugs and booze, stay away from drugs and alcohol in the hopes of drawing out your muse).

When the muse is as stuck as you are
Take your best buddy by the hand and go exploring for ideas. Read newspapers, forums, twitter, facebook, regular books, go for a walk, talk to some people, but for heaven’s sake, stay away from the television. You may get an idea here or there, but it’s not worth the time you have to put in for one single flash of inspiration. Also, the television chases your muse away. They prefer the written word, and when they’re on duty, they want to be the most important thing in your life. There’s a time and place for television, but not when you’re hunting around for ideas.

By far my favourite place to get ideas is Reddit. Do a search for the topics you usually write about (my favourites are always the true life ghost stories, or real life horrors, mysteries, murders and such). Almost always, I’ll read a story that captures our imagination, and off my muse will run to go find someone who can tell us their story.

Give your muse free rein
Don’t try to rein your muse in. Yes, you can tell him to be at your desk at 8 a.m. every day, and yes you can order him to do his job, but no, you can’t tell him how to do his job. It’s the muse’s job to tell the story, either by bringing the characters straight to you, or by telling you the story directly (maybe the people are whispering in his ear, relaying their tale to him, I don’t know), but you can’t force it to go your way. Your job, as a writer, is to tell the story as it’s relayed to you, via your muse. If you try to override your muse, he’ll walk off, and you’ll be on your own, frustrated and crying in your coffee, because nothing will work. By the way, it’s not your muse’s job to use correct English – that’s your job too.

Do the above things, and eventually, your muse will be sitting at your desk, every day at the same time, bouncing in his seat, sipping on his coffee, smiling from ear to ear, and simply brimming with ideas he can’t wait to share with you. I promise.

One more thing:

When life gets in the way
No one knows better than me how life can throw you off course. You may just have your muse trained to the point that he’s waiting for you at your desk, holding out your cup of coffee, ready to get going, but you don’t show up. It’s okay. Take a deep breath. Retraining your muse is much easier the second, third and umpteenth time around. He will be sulky when you return, but don’t be too hard on him. Apologise, stroke his ego, and coax him back out. If you’ve figured out what makes him tick, this should be relatively easy. Keep it up for a few days, and you’ll be right back on track.

So go on, get to it and start training your muse. If you haven’t found your muse yet, I promise he, she or it is out there, just waiting for you. Sometimes, most of the time, they’ll show up on their own, other times you have to go hunt him down, because he’s probably out drinking. Sober him up, and put him to work. You’re not being cruel, you are being kind. Believe it or not, your muse needs to work, he thrives on creativity – without you, he’ll just keep running off to the bars, getting hammered, and telling an apathetic barman his stories while sobbing in his beer.

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