The biggest problem I find with my writing (and I’m sure many writers find the same thing!) is just finding time to sit down and WRITE. I was a sporadic writer all through my teenage years, waiting for the influential Muse to come and give me divine novel-writing wisdom. I was positive that if my characters weren’t ‘there’ or I wasn’t ‘in the right frame of mind’ or ‘I wasn’t feeling inspired’.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.
Because those are all EXCUSES. Excuses that your brain has either made up because you actually don’t want to write, or excuses that are symptomatic of something bigger being wrong with your story be it plot, character, conflict… You name it. With hindsight, I think I’ve experienced most of them, and it wasn’t until university when I had deadlines to hit that I forced myself to write, even when I wasn’t feeling ‘Inspired’.
THIS IS THE BEST THING YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR WRITING.
Ignore the voice in your head that is making excuses. Either find out what is wrong with your story, or turn off that FRIENDS marathon you were sure would fix all your problems and get on with some writing. Give yourself the tough love! Getting into the habit of writing as often as you can could also iron out those problems you’ve stumbled across, so ignore that plethora of excuses you’ve collected and write. (I’d know, I’ve excused myself extensively over the years!)
I found writing almost, if not every, day really helped me get my character’s voice. Over the last month I’ve been steadily ploughing through my first draft, and my main character’s voice has got stronger the more I’ve written. And when I needed to take the stress off myself, I just scribbled random bits of scenes or whatever to practice writing that character’s voice, independent of my story. Anything that takes the pressure you put on yourself off a bit is great. I’m my own worst critic, and by removing what I’m writing from the ‘official draft’, it means I give myself the space to write absolute rubbish. It can be diabolical. It can be pedestrian. It can be the worst piece of writing from a character’s voice you have EVER produced in your entire life.
But from that you learn what isn’t working, and hopefully points you in the direction of what does work. Either way, it sets the ball rolling on the process of elimination that will eventually get your character going. ANd once you’ve got that going, writing as frequently as possible will help sustain that voice and let you hone it. After all, it’s a first draft. You can hone the rough-edged beginnings later. It’s the exact plan I’ve got for my draft – also known as “just get the darn thing written!”.
If you realise you don’t know where the story is going, what your characters want, what their conflict is, etc – you need to stop and get your head around the plot. It can be automatic writing, or one of the solutions I outline in my blog post on plot, or big colour-coded scrawly mind maps. Whatever works for you. For me, this was colour-coordinated mind maps, character outlines, goals and fears. It took me quite a lot of time, but I felt that I knew my characters and their motivations far far more clearly by the time I had finished. And when I know what they’re working towards or running away from, everything gains a little more perspective. Where would Harry Potter be if he didn’t have to spend all his time fighting Voldemort? What would Frodo be doing if he wasn’t off transporting the Ring? Characters need conflict, and it wasn’t until I ignored the ‘Muse’ and got on with identifying and fixing the problems that my draft really started to click properly.
I consider the nagging Muse to be somewhat like my Inner Editor: irritating, hard to shut up, and no help to me whatsoever (although the latter is helpful after the first draft stage!). And the fab thing is that your Muse can still appear in an excuse-free format once you’ve freed yourself from problems with your story. The other day I was writing a scene, and all of a sudden my characters took me in a new direction, which I had completely not expected. I would count something like that as “my characters coming to life and leading me places themselves” or also “inspiration strikes! (the Muse)”. Getting rid of the Muse does not mean permanently banish it. It means smother it until it can’t cause any bother, and then the good bits of your troublesome Muse will seep back in as you write.
I also think it’s where the troublesome concept of Writer’s Block comes from. Personally, I’ve found that the only times I’ve ever considered myself to have Writer’s Block have been when I’ve had a bigger issue with my story. Yes, I’m stuck, and in many ways my brain is blocked, but I think a lot of the connotations of the Writer’s Block is that you just sit and wait for the magical Muse to unblock you again. The Muse doesn’t do that. You, the writer, do that.
I’m not trying to belittle the concept of Writer’s Block. I’ve had days where I’ve just had to step back from what I’m writing and go for a good old stomp around some fields to clear out my brain, and all of a sudden when I return to it later, my story seems to have fixed itself. But I don’t call that Writer’s Block. If you were learning to drive and just couldn’t nail your parking, for example, you wouldn’t just sit in the road and wait for the god of parking to come and show you the way. You’d bloody well do the work and get there yourself.
It should be no different to writing.
So if you are feeling stuck, do one of these things:
– go for a stomp around some fields (or, if any of you are fellow Arvonites from this summer, take a Melvin bath!)
– go read a book
– go cook dinner, or do some chores, et.
Basically, do something mindless you don’t have to think too hard about. That way, you’ve still got plenty of free brain space that can unstick itself from this blockage you feel with your writing. Spending an hour or so not thinking about your story might actually be the best service you’ve done to it. And there’s no Muse or Writer’s Block present.
So just keep writing. It doesn’t even have to be your story. I find mornings are less productive for me (as I usually can’t function until after my third cup of tea) so I might spend the morning writing a blog post like this, or typing up character notes. Sometimes I’ll even do a little editing to get me back into the story, but I’ve stopped doing that as much now because it gave my Inner Editor far more rein than I ever wanted it to have. Then it warms your writing brain up, but without having you overthink your story too much. Then when you are ready to return to your story, you don’t feel so cold to it. This has the double effect of both negating Writer’s Block as you are flexing your writing muscles, and silencing the Muse because you don’t need one to copy up notes or such things.
Remember: the Muse is a ready made excuse to not write. Or it is a ready-made clue to something being wrong with your story. Writer’s Block is another excuse to avoid writing, or symptomatic of a bigger problem. Fix those problems, and everything will start running like clockwork.
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Had any problems with your Muse running riot, or are you plagued by Writer’s Block? Let me know if these tips have been of any use to you! Comment below.