When Inspiration Eludes: Finding Your Muse

CAROL K. WALSH

This morning I took my usual walk around our little local lake. I love my morning walk because it helps me connect with my inner muse and energizes my creative juices. There is no better way for me to trigger inspiring ideas.

Today as I walked, I realized how much I hate feeling creatively stuck. During those moments inspiration feels as stubborn as a two-year-old boy, whose first response is “no,” and as reticent as a pre-teen girl in her bedroom. Neither wants to listen to our needs. Both children need to be tricked into showing up for us. Our task is to find ways to entice him or her to do what we are asking – in this case, provide us with some inspiration.

Inspiration (which comes from the word inhale) is the most frustrating, unpredictable part of the creative process. Even if an inspiring idea shows up, it doesn’t mean I’ll like it, or that it solves my problem. As an artist and author I can desperately wish to be inspired about something I am writing — like this blog post — and instead, ideas will flood my brain for works of art. Sometimes I do lose patience. 

Just Let Go

Bringing forth inspiration requires us to repress our natural tendency to force it to happen. Instead, we need to let go of control and make the emotional, energetic, physical and intellectual space for inspiration to appear.

Today after my extra-long walk I entered my studio, a sacred space, which automatically sets the creative stage. (We all need a sacred space, even if it’s a corner of a room.) Once in my studio, I can more easily shift into a state of self-awareness that helps me focus and connect with my inner self. While I need to trust the process, I must also do the footwork. That includes: 

  • Engaging in a ritual of mental, emotional and physical readiness. 
  • Emotionally trusting the process — knowing that something good will come of my efforts. 
  • Shutting the door on negativity, self-doubt and the external world. 

Remember, we cannot force inspiration, but only create the space for it to occur. 

 The creative process is a process of surrender, not control. ~ Julia Cameron, The Artists’ Way Click To Tweet

Tricks to Tickle Your Muse

When inspiration continues to hide, I have a few other helpful tricks:

  • Change your medium. For example, if you are a writer, then doodle or paint.  
  • Move your body. Dance, walk or go to a yoga class. 
  • Brainstorm with creative friends.
  • Do a guided imagery. With closed eyes, begin with your stuck spot and visualize five different outcomes. Be as ridiculous as you can. 
  • Think of three or four unrelated words and put them in a sentence, i.e. toaster, red, couch, clouds. Then, take one of those words – like the color red – and write about everything you associate with that word. 
  • Go to a gathering place (store, coffee shop, park) and notice what you see, hear and think. What draws your attention? Write about your reaction. 
  • Take a one-day creative vacation. Do something playful without expectations. 
  • Watch for synchronicities. Carl Jung defined synchronicity as a “simultaneous occurrence with meaning.” For example, when I was writing my memoir I needed a scene demonstrating my mother’s temperament. In one afternoon I saw ads for candy, someone talked about fudge, and I was given a piece of candy. I went back to my studio and wrote scenes containing my mother and candy. 

In Andrea Patten’s inspired book, The Inner Critic Advantage, she suggests naming our self-shaming inner voice. Likewise, I suggest naming your imaginary muse and call on her when you need help. For example, before you go to sleep at night ask your muse to give you an idea. When you wake up, stay still for two minutes, which allows you to stay in that hypnagogic state, when ideas more readily float up into your consciousness.  

Finally, whenever an inspiration arrives, greet it with gratitude and express confidence that more creative ideas will come. 

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Carol Walsh LCSW-C   is the author of  Painting Life: My Creative Journey Through Trauma

                                                  

                                                                     

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5 Ways to Love Your Editor

When members of writers’ groups become friends, a wide variety of unintended consequences can arise. Catching-up on life can overtake story reading and feedback can become diluted. The line between encouragement and useful feedback can disappear. It’s easy to sit around and laugh and say “kill your darlings….” easy, that is, until the executioner editor comes along and kills them for you.

If you’ve never experienced a good, hard edit it can be a jolt.  It can leave even the most competent of writers with a lump in the throat and feeling a tad sick to the stomach. This is true, too, if the most recent feedback you’ve received is on stuff you published 108 years ago.

There's a gulf between what the writer writes and what gets read. A good, hard edit can be a real jolt. Click To Tweet

Well-meaning family members can also contribute to your big letdown. They tend to offer the sought-after but completely useless phrases “I like it” or “It’s good.”

What the Writer Writes vs. What Gets Read

There’s a gulf between what the writer writes and what gets read. The developmental editor is tasked, in part, with bridging that gap. Not only is she your first line of defense against total embarrassment, but she is also tasked with reading your submission in multiple ways. First and foremost, she will read it as a prospective reader. Are there things that stayed in the writer’s head? That never made it to the page? The brain’s tendency to self-correct won’t allow you to see those for yourself.

Well-meaning family members can contribute to a big letdown about your #WIP They offer the sought-after but completely useless phrases *I like it* or *It’s good.* Click To Tweet

She will make a pass-through for redundancy and obvious factual errors. She will determine whether or not the order is correct. And she will likely save you from embarrassing beginner mistakes such as a “forward,” prologue and epilogues. Just start — or end — the damned story already. And, once upon a time “foreword” was the most frequently misspelled words in finished volumes. (It’s not ‘forward’ as in ‘forward movement’ but ‘foreword’ as in ‘the word that comes before.’)

A Different Set of Questions

Some editors also employ proof-reading software and beta-readers at this stage. These are not tools to be used in place of his judgment, but simply to offer some back-up and raise a different set of questions.

Different editors work in different ways. Some will redline the heck out of something you think is perfect and bounce it back to you. However, if you’re working on a tight deadline or there are many authors involved, the editor may take on a role resembling that of a ghostwriter. In this capacity, she will try to capture your voice and intent… to make sure the page reflects what you meant to say.

Having worked both ways, I can assure you that neither one feels good — and, when I’m open to the process — both teach me a lot about becoming a better writer.

Some Do’s and Don’ts

Here are some things to keep in mind when working with an editor at this stage:

  1. DO check your ego at the door. The reason any of us has any sort of editor is that we cannot view our work objectively. This is not a criticism — it’s just how the human brain actually works. The writer sees what he or she meant to put on the page — editors see what actually made it.
  2. DO keep your eyes on the prize. The editor’s goal is the same as yours: to create the highest quality, most reader-friendly document possible. Nobody is criticizing you or trying to hurt your feelings.
  3. DO remember what your spouse may have said: sometimes your jokes just aren’t funny.
  4. DO take a step back. It’s easy to do contradict your own style, to split an infinite, to misplace a modifier, to miss a cut and paste error, to trust spellcheck when you shouldn’t, to inadvertently change voices or points of view….
  5. DON’T argue. Editing is just as hard as writing. Editors don’t need to get beat up by your intention or inspiration. They’re not unfriendly, they just don’t care — it’s not their job to care about those things. If they added or deleted something to your piece, it’s simply because it wasn’t working the other way.

Remember, nobody wants to hurt your feelings — and somebody needs to kill your darlings. If you don’t, your editor will. Print lasts a long time.

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Got some praise for an editor? Please share it in the comments. We’d love to read all about it!

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You’re the Voice

You know the feeling. You’re reading back through the start of a new project, admiring the first 10 pages of what might be your next novel. Yet, you recognize that something isn’t quite right. You can’t put your finger on it, but it’s there – daunting and taunting you. So, you read through your words again, determined to find the culprit. Often, the obvious is overlooked. The problem plaguing you could be this: you’ve written your story in the wrong narrative. Instead of telling your tale in first person, you’ve opted for third person, or vice versa. The struggle is real, as they say.

While there’s no golden rule that a specific genre should be written in a specific narrative, this choice is often determined by novels that have come before yours. Take a peek at the first paragraph of the top-selling novels in your genre. What narrative are they being told in? The same as yours? Maybe you’ve decided to break the rules and change things up by heading down a third person path when first person is the genre go-to. This is a risk worth taking, but only if its true to your story.

The question of which narrative to use can be answered by determining the most important elements in your work:

  • Whose story is this?
  • Who is your narrator?
  • Whose perspective does this story need to be told from?

This choice is ultimately yours, my fellow writer. Yet, it can be one of the most difficult to make. I recently suffered from this very issue while working on a new short story of mine. I was three paragraphs away from finishing the first draft when I came to terms with the fact that the manuscript was fighting back. It took a few read-throughs over a few days to identify the problem: this was not a story that needed to be told in first person —  it needed to be told in third. So, I rewrote the story with a third person narrator, and it worked.

I encourage you to to do the same, especially if the story and the voice aren’t working. Make the change. See what happens. You’re the voice.