You’ve heard the advice “write every day.”
It good advice, especially if you’re serious about having a long-term writing career. But what if you’re doing it—you’re showing up—but you’re not happy with the results?
Maybe you’ve suffered some of the symptoms:
- When you do sit down to write, you stare at the page, unsure where to start.
- You dread sitting down to write, because you feel blocked, or uninspired.
- You actually manage to write, but when you look it over, it just doesn’t look good to you.
- Your story just doesn’t feel “right” no matter how much you work on it.
If you’ve experienced any of these, don’t despair. The solution is pretty simple. Next time, you just need to make sure you’re ready to write when you sit down.
How do you accomplish that?
Successful Writers are Writing All the Time
Most successful writers will say they “write all the time,” even when they’re not at the computer (or notebook or typewriter).
They’re thinking about their stories while in the shower, while driving, and even when watching movies. A writer “in the zone” will take a trip to the grocery store, and see something that gives him an idea for a scene he’s working on in his book. Or she’ll be talking along to her friend about something, and wham, she figures out a sticky plot point.
If this isn’t happening to you—if your story isn’t “living” in your head and popping up at you at various times during the day and night—most likely you’re not ready to sit down and write.
This is a sign that your muse isn’t with you yet. She may be hovering somewhere in the distance, watching, but she’s not an active member in your creative project. Usually, there’s a reason for that.
Somehow, you’re scaring her away.
Three Reasons Why The Muse is Avoiding You
How could this be? You’re sitting down every day, after all, waiting for her. Why won’t she come help you out?
To be truly prepared to write when you sit down, you have to have the muse at your side ready and willing to do her part. Every writer is different, and you may have to do some detective work on your own to figure out what’s going on, but here are three reasons why your muse may be a little apprehensive—and how you can make things more to her liking.
- You’re too distracted.
Perhaps you have your smart phone nearby and you’re checking your Facebook page too frequently during your writing time, or you’re thinking about your to-do list rather than your characters. Maybe something is going on in your life that’s stressing you out, and try as you might, you can’t “not” think about it.
Focusing on one thing is not an easy task, especially in today’s world where everything competes for our attention. If you’re distracted, though, your muse will know it and she’ll stay away.
To fix it: Turn everything off, including your smart phone, your Internet connection, and of course the television and any other distracting machines. If you’re writing at home, make sure your family knows not to bother you. Do whatever you have to do to create a bubble around you that allows you to concentrate.
If you still find your mind wandering, start writing about how distracted you are. Likely your words will show you why you can’t stay on task. Maybe you need to write about whatever it is that’s stressing you—even if it’s the writing itself. You may not even realize how much it’s bothering you—in which case doing a little freewriting will reveal that to you.
Once you know the reason why your attention keeps wandering, you can solve the problem and get back to writing. The solution may be as simple as writing down the issue, setting it aside, and promising yourself that you’ll attend to it after your writing time is over.
- You’re in a rut.
Routines can be beneficial, in that they help us maintain the writing habit, but if you’ve been in the same routine too long, it could be that you’ve dulled your creative brain.
And the muse doesn’t like that, at all.
To fix it: It may be time to shake things up. A good way to do that is to spruce up your writing area. Maybe you need a new chair, some new paint on the walls, a different light or some new pictures.
Are you exercising regularly? If not, that will dull you out more quickly than just about anything. Exercise benefits the brain as well as the body, so get back into it, even if it’s just a daily walk before you sit down to write.
Have you done anything new lately? Taken a new route into town? Gone exploring around your home area? Tried a new skill? Signed up for a new class? Find ways to inject novelty into your life, and then sit back and watch the muse come a little closer as your brain fires up again.
- Your story doesn’t “grab” you.
Sometimes we think we want to write about something, but when we actually sit down to write about it, the magic just isn’t there.
That could be a sign that your topic isn’t the right one. As long as you continue to try to pursue it, the muse will ignore you.
Or it could be that you’re playing it “too safe” with your writing. Is there something you’re holding back?
To fix it: Set the work aside and try something new. Give it at least two weeks. If the original topic is really meant for you, you won’t be able to forget about it, and you’ll eventually go back to it. In the meantime, have some fun with your writing.
This is the time to go a little crazy. Write about something that strikes you as a little far out, a little edgy. Go to the extremes. If the new idea doesn’t get your heart racing a little, you haven’t gone far enough yet.
Maybe you were writing a family drama before. Try a short story involving a murder. Maybe you were writing a romance. Try a love story between two dangerous characters, or make the romance more scandalous than you normally would.
If you were writing a fantasy with wizards and dragons, try an urban setting instead. Throw some drug dealers into the mix—maybe they’re shape-shifting drug dealers. Or make your cops particularly vindictive werewolves.
The point is to get yourself excited about what you’re doing again. Have fun! The muse can tell when your adrenaline kicks up, and she’s attracted to that, so do what you need to do to get your fingers moving faster. In the end, if you go back to your original topic, you will have infused a little life into your process.
Or, you may discover that you were meant to write murder mysteries about shape-shifting drug dealers in love with vindictive werewolf cops all along. Eureka!
Do you have ways of inviting the muse in so you’re ready to write when you sit down? Please share them with our readers.
Colleen M. Story writes imaginative fiction and is also a freelance writer specializing in health and wellness. Her first book, Rise of the Sidenah, was recently honored in the North American Book Awards. Her next novel, Loreena’s Gift, is forthcoming from Dzanc Books in April 2016. She is also the founder of Writing and Wellness, a motivational site for writers and other creatives. Find more at her website, or follow her on Twitter.