Friday, July 16, 2010

Dash to the Deadline

Photo by Kurt Hutton

"Inspiration is wonderful when it happens,
but a writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time—
the wait is simply too long."
—Leonard Bernstein

A deadline is looming and I've got to finish my book! So, for the next few weeks I'll be posting some summer re-runs from my School Day's Seminar. This one is called:

Just Musing.

Woman Writing by Henry O'Hara Clive

"Every writer I know has trouble writing."
—Joseph Heller

My muse showed up unannounced at 8:37 am. "I've been hoping you'd come!" I said as I rushed around, picking up pillows. "Just a minute . . . I'm almost ready." She sat on the couch, browsed my bookshelf, and then wandered into my office where she clicked impatiently on the computer keys.

I scrambled to do the dishes, dashed to the bathroom to make myself presentable, dropped in a load of laundry, and decided to fold the clothes in the dryer. The phone rang, and I answered with, "I can't talk right now," but then visited for a few minutes while I made the bed. "I'm coming! Are you still here?" I called to my muse as I scurried into the office. "Oh, my gosh! Let me find a place for you to sit!"

Straightening the books and papers, I quickly jotted some notes and filed a couple of bank statements. The telephone bill sat unpaid on my day-planner, so I got out my checkbook, rifled around for a stamp and envelope, and sent that worry to the mailbox. Finally I sat down at the computer (wow . . . eleven e-mails?) and announced, "OK. I'm ready."

No response. I looked around. She was gone! I stared from my blank mind out at the blank computer screen. "I have nothing," I realized. "It's happened again. Writer's block. Maybe if I read a few blogs I'll be inspired." And that's the story of the unwritten page.

Have you ever missed your muse? They are capricious little friends, I've noticed, unmoved by schedules and routines. Dismissive of children, errands, chores or TV favorites. My muse delights in whispering poetic lines when shampoo is bubbling in my eyes, or when I'm negotiating a left turn with a bus coming towards me. She's usually late for the appointments I set when we're scheduled to write. But, after years of experience, I've discovered ways to profit from her unpredictable visits.
  1. Notice when she comes and try to be available. She works me in about 11:00 pm many nights. If I'm awake, I get up and let her rouse me into writing something. When the clock strikes three and I'm still pounding away at the keys, I admit that this joyful expression of myself is why I love writing. I'll take it when I can get it.
  2. Have a notebook and pen handy. I have one in my purse, by my bed, on my side of the couch (Dee has one on his side, too, and one on the bathroom counter.) There's a little pad and pencil clipped to my visor in the car, and another in the glove compartment. When I feel her spark, I write down the actual words I'm thinking, not just the idea. ("Santa's stomach: jar of jam" doesn't inspire like "Santa's belly—bowlful of jelly.")
  3. Keep a file for jottings. I have a few files stacked next to my computer where I stash the blogs I've scribbled on napkins, and the Oma Books scrawled on restaurant receipts. When I clean out my purse every night I drop them in the folder just as they are, knowing I'll find them when I'm desperate for a brainstorm.
  4. Define my motivation. "The best cure for writer's block is alimony," said one writer. While I don't have to pay alimony, I know that an incentive or deadline stimulates my muse. I write goals on my calendar, and expect completion. The secret here is to give myself targets that fit my life at the moment. I can't burn myself out with a Christmas deadline for The Lundgren Family Since 1700 (which I haven't even started.) One goal I set for this summer was "Collect stories about mom for a biography." I outlined steps: Read mom's journals. Write a description of mom from memory. Interview mom's sisters. Take photos of the houses mom lived in. Bite-sized chunks motivate my muse to come along for the fun. After all, she doesn't have to stay all day.
  5. Schedule writing into my schedule. I read a children's book the other day which was totally dumb. It had no plot, no rhythm, no cute characters, and the illustrations were unappealing. "I could have written a much better book than this!" I thought. But I hadn't. My much better books are all sitting organized in their folders, waiting for my muse to come and finish them up. Maybe if she knew I would be working on my book at 11:00 am each morning for an hour, or for 15 minutes during the weather broadcast every night, or for 30 minutes every month while I wait for my hair to color, she'd fit herself into my schedule. We could set appointments. I'd start without her, and she'd promise to show up eventually.
My Inspiration Files

"I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork."
—Peter DeVries

"You have the right to write," Karen E. Peterson wrote. "If you are a writer at heart, you need to express yourself to feel fully alive. If you don't write, then something might go unsaid—and you'll remain hidden. Hiding provides safety, of course, but it also keeps you from knowing yourself—which may be the point of writing."

I know myself. I want to be a creative writer, but I am at my most creative finding excuses not to write. Usually I just blame my muse. She's such a slacker.

Homework: Choose any of the assignments that apply, or design an exercise that will inspire your muse.
  1. Put a few manila folders somewhere handy, with labels like: Quotes, Characters For My Novel, Funny Things the Kids Said, Clippings That Made Me Think, Plots I'd Like to Thicken.
  2. Buy a package of ten small notebooks and pens (in the dollar aisle of Target) and stash them in places where you often get ideas.
  3. Every day for a week, write down and file three random thoughts, just to get you in the habit of using your notebooks and files.
  4. Place scissors and a red pen wherever you spend time reading. Clip or tear newspaper and magazine articles that provoke you, underline the passage you want to remember, and file them away.
  5. Written Work: List ten things that get in the way of your writing. (My life is boring; my mom would be shocked; I don't know where to start; I don't have time, I have seven kids.) Go back and write a sentence about how to deal with each issue. Idea: "I have seven kids. I'll sit down with them during homework time and write a paragraph using their spelling words." "My mom would be shocked. I'll write my love story as if it happened to someone else." Now, use your ten sentences to write a mission statement called "I'm Going to Write, and Here's How."
Go for it—Write Away!


Grandma Kc said...

I really like your blog and this was a great post! Thank you!

Diane said...

Best of luck on getting your book done. I've got all my fingers and toes crossed for you.

Soul-Fusion said...

oh the evasive and fickle muse. Mine likes to show up when I am walking home from work, drifting off to sleep at night or in the shower. I've been in a long writing slump and recently discovered another way to invite my muse back into my head is to read old writings to remind myself of my own voice.

Heather @ Alis Grave Nil said...

Wishing you inspiration and productivity. :)

kenju said...

Good luck; I hope your muse stays around.