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Robert's Rules of Writing #9: Lose the Muse

[Rule quoted from Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello (Writer's Digest Books, 2005). See my original post for the rules of this discussion.]

Ah, inspiration. We all know that professional, working writers don't wait for inspiration, right? Amateur and wannabe writers talk about waiting for the muse to arrive, but real working writers dismiss this sort of talk. They know that writing is a job, day in and day out, and that if you wait for inspiration to hit, you'll never get anything done.


Okay, I'll admit it. Masello makes a good point here, as many other writers have done before him. It's true that if you want to make a living as a writer, you have to write. And if you spend your days waiting for inspiration to strike, and not writing until and unless inspiration strikes, you'll be a long time waiting.

Masello goes even further, saying that one way to encourage the muse to show up is to sit down and write. As he says, "The muse is most effectively summoned by the clicking of your keyboard or the scratching of your pen." And he talks about how as you write, you might suddenly look up and realize that you've been feeling that inspiration all along.

And yet...I sometimes feel that this piece of advice, as useful as it is, neglects the important role that inspiration can and does play. After all, why are we writing in the first place? Presumably, at some point in the past, we were inspired to do so. I've taken and given the advice of writing every day and not just waiting for the muse, but I've also noticed that some of my best work -- or at least the work I'm most proud of -- came to me in a flash of inspiration. And rarely did that inspiration happen at my desk. Rather, it happened as I was teaching a class, or reading a magazine, or participating on a panel at a convention.

So I think this rule has to be balanced. If you want to write, don't wait for the muse to arrive. But whenever and wherever the muse arrives, learn to recognize her and try to keep that inspiration alive when it's time to return to the keyboard. Because that's how you'll probably do your best work.

So, where and when have you been visited by the muse?


I agree that the clicking of the keyboard is a muse lure. Sometimes I have an inspiration for a story about halfway through writing it.

I get most of my inspiration jolts right before I fall asleep, or right after I wake up. It's like my brain is still conscious but has started fiddling with dreams.
When and where have I been visited by the muse? Over the last year and a half, when I've been paying attention, the muse has come to me in my sleep. That's where two of the stories I'm most proud of came to me. Sometimes it comes to me in that place where I'm just waking up and am becoming conscious of thought. Sometimes the muse comes when I'm in the shower.

It seems to me, based on this pattern, that my muse tends to prefer to come upon me unawares, when I'm relaxed and existing more in my body than in my head, if that makes any sense. I suspect this is because my Editor lives in my head so firmly.

It also seems to me that I need to foster a less rigid editorial attitude toward my own work. Letting go and just writing, without indulging the inner critic, is something that's always been a challenge for me. Sometimes I manage it (and—voila!—I finish a story); sometimes it takes a while.
I agree with you. You can't just wait for inspiration, but you should appreciate and nurture it when it comes.

The muse visits me more often while I'm writing regularly. That much I know.
Where am I hit by inspiration? Driving in my car. It's 30 miles of uncluttered freeway to anywhere from here, and I find that good thinking time.

I think that there are two definitions of 'muse' here. The first is that brilliant idea that becomes your next story, or solves the difficulties in your current one, or makes it infinitely better. These can happen anywhere.

But I think that what Masello is talking about is how your enthusiasm builds for what you are writing only if you are actually working on it. The problems have a way of working themselves out, and the ideas always seem to come. Ben Bova had something very blunt and apropos to say about writer's block: if you locked a 'blocked' writer into a room for 12 hours a day and told him that his living depended on producing something, that writer's block would probably end darn quick.

I might check Masello's book out (as soon as it becomes available in my library system) but I'm beginning to think he's one of those people who believe that because something works for him, it is the one right way to do it and is better than all others.
The way my Muse works is that if I don't wait for her, if I get around to writing instead regardless, she sort of peeks around the corner (then quickly looks away when I glance at her), then looks around the corner again, and sort of frowns, wondering if she's missing something fun. Sooner or later she'll come join me.

When she joins me spontaneously, of her own accord--those are the moments for which I have paper and pen handy.

Muse Visits

Michael, I usually get mused up in the early morning minutes after I've been (apparently) backprocessing some problem during sleep or as the result of reading, watching or hearing something that sets her off. The last is kind of intellectual counterpunching whereas the former is more like getting ready for a lecture.

December 2016

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