January 7, 2015

When Your Muse Quits (or the proper care & feeding of one's inspiration)

My greatest fear as a writer has come to pass: I've run out of inspiration. My muse has up and quit - and I don't blame her one bit.

The page should be blank...not my brain
Sure, I could blame the season. My productivity tanks each and every December, thanks to my anniversary and my husband's birthday in addition to the usual holiday excitement. I could blame my productivity in the previous 18 months, when I wrote three Oceanside High books without pause. I could blame my kids or the two rounds of the stomach flu that hit our home.

Or I could go another way and pick up any one of the half dozen or so discarded manuscripts littering my hard drive. I could push forward on the rewrite that took up most of the fall, only to lose steam on the second pass. Or the revised MS I've been working on since I turned Oceanside #3 into my editor. 

But the truth runs deeper than that. When I sit down to write, I just don't have anything left to say. I still love writing. I still love stories. I still love creating worlds and characters to inhabit them. But I am fresh out of inspiration.

This is as sophisticated as my storytelling gets right now
The worst part is that I know it's my fault. You see, muses are fickle creatures. If you're careless, they'll up and quit on you.

I've badly neglected my muse. Amid parenting, a huge project at my day job and the usual business of life, I haven't made time to nurture my mind. I've plunked away at writing, I suppose, but it's been rote. It's been purely mechanical. Because I'm not feeding into my creativity. 

It shouldn't come as a surprise that spending my few precious hours on the internet, scrolling through social media and reading news stories  hasn't built me up. The constant steam of negativity feeds my self-doubt and the time-suck leaves me feeling like a failure before my first word.

So what to do? I'm still figuring that out. Here's what I've got so far:

1.) Break

Right now, I'm not even trying to write. Other than a few notes on my phone, I haven't properly written in over two weeks. I deliberately left my laptop at home while we flew across the country for the holidays. I know that in my current state, pushing myself to write would do more harm than good. That isn't always the case, but I've tried pushing for the last few months and it's made things worse.

2.) Unplug

I took a step back from social media at the end of November. I deleted the twitter and Facebook apps from my phone, only accessing them from my browser. It's been good. According to the internet, I'm doing everything in life wrong - including how I clean my kitchen sink. I just don't need that in my life when I'm already feeling lost. So I still check in on friends, but I'm not scrolling, reading every post that crosses my path.

Might have some reading to do
3.) Read

Seriously, duh. Why do I forget this? I LOVE to read. Reading is probably the main reason I write - I want to make my own stories like the ones I love. But it somehow feels...frivolous? Selfish? I'm not entirely sure, but I do know I'm mostly reading HAND, HAND, FINGERS, THUMB these days and it's not good for my brain. Or my creativity. I read though 3 or 4 books over the holidays, but I'm still working at making it habit again.

4.) Listen

Music is another duh for me. Music is such a part of me, but I get in ruts, listening to old favorites instead of exploring and eventually, I stop listening. I've been making an effort to listen to new bands, to music outside my usual taste, to anything that is unfamiliar and thus brain stimulating. Thanks to a couple gifts, I'll be expanding my horizons even further.

5.) Remember

Admittedly, I haven't done this yet, but I will. Soon. I know there are things I've written that I love. That make me feel like I have something to say and can say it well. I know there are times I've sat back and thought "Wow. Did that really come from me?" Rereading something I wrote, that I love, is a huge motivator. It helps me remember all this is worth it.

It's all about the right company
6.) Socialize

As a proud hermit, this is very hard for me, but I'm trying. There is so much inspiration out there in the world, but I can't find it hiding in my room or conversing with only preschoolers. Leaving my house and observing the world around me, while sometimes overwhelming and painful, can kickstart my brain again.

7.) CPs

When in doubt, rally a few good writer friends around you. People who can remind you that you don't suck and that you do have ideas left and words to express them and the mind to pull it all together into something worth the blood, sweat and tears required to make a story. Sometimes, someone else believing in me is just what I need when I can't believe in myself.

I'm a work in progress. I suspect my muse will be angry for a while still. But I'll continue to nurture it until an idea strikes and that itchy feeling happens in the back of my brain and I can't not write any more.

Until then, any more ideas for me? How do you placate your muse when it decides to quit on you?


Laura Rueckert said...

Thanks for this post! I'm kind of feeling the same way now. I've written manuscript after mansucript for the past three years constantly. Now I'm in the middle of a long-term illness with my daughter, and it has sucked my muse dry. I have a few ideas, but none I can't stay away from.

For me, 1, 3 and 4 are the things I think I need to concentrate on. And the other one I'd add is more exercise, which I've really slacked off on since summer ended. Healthy body, healthy mind, I hope.

Good luck with your muse!

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