Many a writer—professional or otherwise—has complained about their “muse,” that much-maligned maiden of creative inspiration inspired by Greek mythology.
Though reputed to be beautiful, most writers have a love/hate relationship with their muses. In practice, “she” often seems to be something of a shrew—pestering you with inspiration when you’re trying to take a shower or eat dinner in a restaurant (how many great ideas begin on the back of a napkin?), but clamming up entirely when you decide it’s time to write.
Personally, I think writers’ muses get a bad rap—mostly because I hold the unromantic opinion that they don’t exist. I’ll freely admit that inspiration can strike at truly inconvenient times (and no, I won’t elaborate on that one), but if you’re freezing up when writing needs to get done, the problem is most likely you, not the muse.
Here are 7 easy ways to overcome the “fickle muse” problem:
- Do your “pre-writing” work—The most common cause of writer’s block is usually “research block,” better known as “not doing your homework.” The first step in any writing project is to know who you’re writing for and what you want to say to them. Once you have that, the muse is likely to get more talkative.
- Write every day—Building your skill as a writer is a lot like building a muscle. It responds to regular exercise. If you struggle with writing but want or need to do more of it, make sure you write something each day. It doesn’t even have to be anything for your business. You can keep a journal or just write about whatever comes to mind at the time, as long as you’re translating your thoughts into words.
- Try free writing—Free writing is the ultimate “stream of consciousness” exercise, and it can be a great way to brainstorm or focus ideas. Start with a blank sheet of paper, write a word or phrase at the top, and start writing about it. The trick with free writing is not to stop until you’ve filled at least one sheet of paper. You can write more if you’re on a roll, but don’t stop until you’ve made it to the end of that first page. If you get stuck anywhere, write exactly what you’re thinking or the word “write.” You’ll be amazed at some of the stuff that drops out of your head.
- Destroy some of what you write—Even if you don’t intend to show your writing to someone else, anxiety about what others might think can dramatically affect your writing. To eliminate this concern entirely, try starting a writing session with the intention of destroying what you write when you’re finished. This can be amazingly liberating, especially when combined with the free writing exercise described above. I prefer to write longhand when I do “destruction” exercises, which I then shred and recycle. If you prefer typing, try 750words.com, which automatically deletes your entries on a regular basis and provides an automated analysis of your mood, typing speed, and other insights.
- Write longhand—Just like the rest of us, muses appreciate the hand-written notes most people don’t send anymore. If the blank screen intimidates you, try going low-tech. It will give you the opportunity to slow down and relax as you write.
- Accelerate deadlines—Schedule your personal deadlines a day or two before your writing is actually due. It’s easy to cheat when you use this method, but it’s much better not to cheat while knowing that you can. Even if you follow a stricter deadline schedule of your own creation, you won’t feel the pressure as heavily as when the real deadline starts to loom.
- Get a reality check—Worried about spelling something wrong or offending someone with your opinion? Plan to show your writing to a friend or colleague before you make it public. Knowing ahead of time that a second set of eyes will review your writing before it’s set in pixels or ink can make it easier to overcome the big hurdle of getting started in the first place. Many professional writers actually go through this process twice: once with “alpha” readers—other pros who can advise them on style, grammar, and other details of the craft—and “beta” readers—people who fit the profile of the target audience as closely as possible. Unlike alpha readers, beta readers don’t need to know much about writing. It’s more important that they resemble members of your target audience and point out places where your writing either loses their attention or doesn’t work for them.