As I’ve launched myself into this new phase of my writing career—seeking publication opportunities over business clients—I’ve found the moments when my fingers dance to the muse’s tune are growing longer and more frequent. Even so, it’s important when living the life of a professional writer not to rely too heavily on the muse—it is, after all, a fickle, playful creature that’s as likely to dance away to someone else’s ear as stick through a whole project.
With that caution in mind, there are things you can do to welcome the muse and to keep the muse whispering for you. You’ve heard many of the tips before, no doubt. Keep a structured schedule. Stick with it through the rough patches. Open your mind with short creative exercises before diving in. All of these tips amount to a good body of advice that you should try out for yourself. Not every tidbit works for every writer, but often you can personalize the advice to fit within your own quirks. My “schedule,” for example, is a loosely reigned-in pattern of working, not so much subject to time of day as to what comes first and what follows.
Some accommodations you will make to your muse will vary between projects. Short projects can rely on either hard work or a short burst of whispering from the muse. Longer projects, though, require a bit of caressing, some seducing, and perhaps even a little bribery to maintain the kind of pleasant relationship with your muse that will keep your fingers dancing on cue.
I’ve found that the inducements that keep the muse entertained through a work of fiction are quite different from those that keep the muse from languishing during a nonfiction project.
With fiction, I find it most difficult to keep the muse whispering while I revise. The initial draft comes easily, and the words, images, characterizations and events pile upon each other and accumulate into an easy draft. Then, in the crafting and polishing stages the muse tends to desert me. Seducing the muse by watching or reading another’s creative work that is somehow similar to my project works well to call the muse back. Then, when I launch into my revisions, the muse sticks around, whispering about what I could do better. Fickle creature that she is, the muse is likely to abandon me if the work gets too hard, which only makes the work more difficult. But that’s when the professional writer perseveres despite the lack of immediate inspiration.
With nonfiction, however, I find it most difficult to keep the muse whispering when I first draft a piece. Once I have a skeleton draft, the muse is more compliant about adding the color and fresh turns of phrase that add so much value over a strict laying out of the facts, theories and opinions I’m writing about. It is in the revising stages where the muse comes dancing through my fingers, making something dry and brittle into something full of liveliness and wit. Most of the time, I just push through the roughest drafts, relying on my research and knowledge to get the meat of the piece up on the screen. Then, I use the muse to help add the color and polish that makes the meat savory and sweet. Again, it’s a matter of professionalism to sit there and write something that you know isn’t any good, trusting that you’ll make it better when the time comes.
I have found that playing the fiction and nonfiction projects off of each other helps keep the muse whispering longer, producing more for less effort. It’s a merry little dance, and rather enjoyable when I recognize my cues and switch partners accordingly.