by Donnell Ann Bell

Over coffee the other day, my friend said to me, “I’ve lost my muse.  I can’t write.  I’m pathetic.”

Like a wise man, minus the white beard, I gave her a knowing smile and extended my standard spiel.  “That’s too bad.  Why don’t you quit?”

“Quit!”  She stared at me aghast.  “I’d rather die!”

Works every time.   With reverse psychology in effect, we discussed her plot and what was holding her back.  Wouldn’t you know it?  A few minutes later, my friend was a writer again.

Rather than rushing to extremes and giving up our passion, maybe we should examine what happens when our muse deserts us.

If you’re a woman, and most members of RWA® are, you wear many hats.  Husbands, children, careers, aging parents, volunteer duties…the list goes on.   Women are trained from childhood to be selfless.  While selflessness is a generous trait, it also can be to our detriment.  After all, when life gets in the way, our writing is the first thing we give up.

But the muse?  If we have an ingrained need to write, we possess this gift.  We can no more lose this part of our brains than an arm or a leg.  Yet, we can stifleit.  Under stress, an all-consuming job, a ton of laundry…even the things we enjoy.

Think about the hours we spend watching television or listening to our favorite radio station.  By focusing on other things, we suppress the muse and, oftentimes, when we will it to reappear, it’s difficult.

I’ve mentioned several times how much I’d love to quit my job to stay home and write full time.  With a daughter in college and a son about to join her ranks, this isn’t going to happen.  And I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to get up early in the morning—be going great guns—to glance up at the clock and have to set a scene aside.

As a professional daydreamer, my muse pounds at my gray matter, demanding that I get it down on paper, only to be quashed by my practical side.

Sound hopeless?  It doesn’t have to be.  No, we can’t devote 24/7 to our keyboards and to our stories.  Our husbands, children, friends and our health demand otherwise.  But I’d like to suggest a few tips on how to stimulate the muse while in the midst of a hectic day.

  • Become Childlike.  At the age of five our creativity is at an all time high.  Let’s pretend is as much a part of us as losing a tooth or digging for worms.  During this critical time, when our imaginations are full throttle,  we’re exposed to the classroom where teachers tell us, “All right, children… One, two, three… Eyes on me… In other words.  Pay attention.

We’re actually trained to discourage our muse.  As a writer I can’t think of anything more useless.  I’m here to reaffirm, “One, two three . . . Eyes on THEE, Give into the muse and daydream.”

While performing everyday, mundane tasks such as vacuuming, folding laundry or doing the dishes, think about your plot, characters and the direction your story enfolds.  Give into what if scenarios.  Remember how much fun we had playing Barbies?  Role play.  If you’re too busy to sit down at your computer, you can still get to know your characters.

  • Keep a Notebook.  And I mean everywhere.  On your nightstand, in your purse, at the office…  How many times do you gain insight as to where you’re heading only to lose it by a ringing phone, a crying child or life?  When you’re granted such glimpses, jot it down.  No, I don’t mean write an entire scene.  But jot down key words or the general direction in which your muse is taking you.

Oftentimes, the muse will strike at three a.m.  Although we sleep during the twilight hours, this is the time when our brain waves are most active and unencumbered.   I don’t know about you, but at times I fall asleep thinking about my plot.  By keeping a journal by my bed, the Ah Ha! that hits me in the wee hours doesn’t escape me come morning.

  • Use That Infrequent Alone Time Wisely. When alone in the car, turn the radio off.  Think about your work in progress and talk to your characters.  Conduct interviews.  Play and then scenarios.  Remember as children when we played make believe and found ourselves saying, “And then?”  Playing and then games with a plot is as good as an outline.  Ideally, you’ll find yourself engrossed in your book.  (Side Note:   Don’t forget to pick up the kids.)

Still having trouble?  Okay.  There’s one location that is guaranteed foolproof.  Your muse will always, always show up—whether it’s invited or not.  Light a candle, take off your clothes … and … No, not that! … Slip into the bathtub.  It never fails.  Problem is I’ve lost many a notebook this way.  Still, sometimes by easing tension, creativity flows.

I hope by now you recognize a trend.  What we need is time to ourselves to isolate the stories in our heads.  As adults we’re told that daydreaming is childish.  Exactly.  I’m telling you to become childlike, that daydreaming is priceless.  I wouldn’t recommend zoning out in heavy traffic.  However, if you do, turn the radio off.  And watch out for that semi!

Watch Out for that Semi ran in several RWA® chapter newsletters.

Copyright© 2007 Donnell Ann Bell