Writing Craft: When Your Muse is on Strike
Part of my ‘Writing Craft: Mastering the Urge to Write’ series.
As writers, we’ve all experienced days where our creative muse seem to fly right out into traffic and gets summarily run over. What can you do to establish writer-to-muse resuscitation?
As a professional writer, you are in a constant battle with your creative urges or in some cases, the lack of them. Many things may affect your creativity and ability to spontaneously enter the “flow” state needed to write creatively (or technically, if that be your writing vocation).
When I find myself having trouble writing creatively, I write analytically or technically. I try and keep the writing flowing by taking a completely different method of writing as a means of bypassing blocks in my writing efforts.
Such interference can come from:
- Distractions: Social media, television, video games, reality television, texting, sexting, Tindering, Grinding, swiping; anything but dealing with our awful reality.
- Stress: resisting the urge to choke the hell out of someone who desperately deserves it…more common than we like to admit
- A lack of sleep: science has revealed, in an always-on culture focused on getting more out of its workers while paying them less, insomnia can be an inevitable and dangerous result.
- The inevitable passage of time: we are all getting older, we want to believe we are like fine wine, getting better with age, but without proper maintenance, we might also be turning into vinegar…
- Family pressures: getting to your two jobs, driving the kids to soccer practice, juggling a romantic and satisfying relationship or marriage, as we age, dealing with diminishing health and eventual deaths in the family.
- Our place in society: as American society deals with its growing pains as a relatively young world power, we struggle with its view as an economic powerhouse while acknowledging our national preoccupation with perpetual warfare, internal stresses from police and their increasing militancy, lack of privacy from the government, environmental pressures… and more.
All of these things can add up to creating an emotional blockade preventing the easy access to a state of mind necessary for creative endeavors.
Writers Gotta Write…
What is a writer to do when their mind is filled with everything BUT the urge to be creative? If you’re a professional writer, you are obligated to “sally forth” no matter what. My solution is to keep writing but expand the focus, decrease the intensity of the creativity required. As much as I would like to say I can sit down and write whatever I need to whenever I need to, the reality is not always as cut and dry.
I decided, when I first started writing as a professional, I would always find a way to write something, every day. Even if it was nothing more than a single humble sentence, something preferably profound, something I could attribute to my particular state of mind or a moment in my life.
Reasonable men adjust themselves to their environment. Unreasonable men attempt to change their environment to suit themselves. Therefore all progress is the work of unreasonable men. — George Bernard Shaw
History is often unkind to unreasonable men. I also know that nothing is ever accomplished by reasonable men. They are too content, too dependent on the status quo. They exploit and profit on the frailties of the human condition without making any changes to improve that condition. I strive to make the world a better place despite being told it’s impossible. I am not a reasonable man. — Thaddeus Howze
I designed a number of venues to write in where varying degrees of creativity are required:
- A curation doesn’t have to be something I write in at all, beyond the headers and tags necessary to find it. A curation is a collection of other writing, by other writers or artists around a particular topic, theme, idea, or genre; curations can also be artistic or photographic.
- My curations include fantastic art I gather for inspiration on Deviant Art and news articles I found particularly interesting on Tumbler in a blog called The Mediasphere. I also maintain a Pinterest curation of aphorisms, short stories I’ve written and infographics I thought were informative and visually stunning.
- The benefits of a curation is it can act as an archive for interesting things you may want to write about later and it becomes a research tool to mine when your creative drive returns.
- An author’s blog these days is often called a platform. Someplace a writer can go to create ideas, connect to readers and establish as a beachhead in the writing limbo between creator and fans.
- Even if you suspect you will be working with an agency or publishing house, they may want you to make a platform to connect with your readers, just the same.
- Blogs can be made in a variety of programs with the most popular being in WordPress, Blogger, Squarespace, Medium and Tumblr to name some of the more successful providers of software and webspace.
- The trick to blogging is sincerity and making a connection to your readership. Write well, write often and think deeply about what message you want your readers to see. A blog can be an excellent way to learn how your readers see your work.
- I have several blogs which split my work into general categories: fiction and nonfiction, genre and creative writing, journalism, technology, and social advocacy.
- When I find I am tapped out creatively, I find there is something going on in the world I can connect to and write about the topic as if I were going to teach it to a seventh grader. It can be cathartic and educational for you the writer. It can also later help you drive stories.
- For example: I had a mad on regarding Monsanto and their recent technology which allowed them to create seeds which would only germinate once. There would be no successive generation. This meant every year a farmer was forced to buy seed from Monsanto. These collections of articles eventually became one of my favorite stories, “Suicide Seed.”
Articles and Publications
As a writer, we also have a professional opportunity to be seen in publications other than our blogs, books and trade publications.
- It behooves new writers to take advantage of social media, online publications and the possible heightened visibility such works can offer.
- Online appearances can aid in helping an unknown writer gain a heightened visibility previous generations of writers didn’t enjoy until after they became highly published and distributed.
- New writers have the opportunity to appear in online fanzines, literary journals, print magazines who now have online storefronts, genre blogs or magazines, podcasts, Facebook forums, online chats, and video blogs.
- There is an amazing wealth of opportunities for promotion, creation and experimentation with new media. If you find yourself mentally blocked, it may be time to get up and try interacting with your work in a new way.
How I cope when my muse is on strike…
We’ve talked about a number of different ways of redirecting one’s blocked mental states into new forms of creativity in order to free the logjam in our mind’s third eye.
My methods include:
- Viewing or adding to my curations (Mediasphere, Pinterest, DeviantART)
- Writing articles on my blogs or other online publications, usually from my curation archives or recent news articles (Good Men Project, A Matter of Scale)
- Editing works I have already finished that have entered a cool-down state. I always have work that needs another round of editing. (Hubcityblues.com and Medium.com)
- Deconstruction of media, movie reviews, analysis (Medium.com, Quora.com, scifi.stackexchange.com)
- Journalism on advocacy ideas I deem important (Good Men Project, A Matter of Scale)
- Technical journalism on ideas I think are awesome, novel, different or terrifying (Examiner.com, A Matter of Scale, Astronaut.com)
This Week: The Huffington Post
This month has been very difficult and my creativity has been at a new low. Deaths in the family, stress at work, challenges with my automobile, health-related, “feeling old and not admitting it” just adds to my list. Since I was lost creatively, I decided to jump-start my writing energy with some deconstruction on Quora.
Quora.com is a question and answer site where visitors ask questions and resident Quorans, usually certified experts in their fields answer said questions, with humor, aplomb, mathematics, equations, compassion, humanity and sometimes with outstanding levels of nerditude:
- I deconstructed some of my ideas regarding the recent superhero movie release “Avengers, Age of Ultron” while I was on Quora and stirred up quite a bit of debate on the “worthiness” of the Vision and other Avenger’s related trivia.
- Another article where someone asked Why did the Vision appear to be so weak in the movies compared to how he is depicted in the comics? sent me into a secondary writing frenzy. Normally such things are done to blow off mental steam, keep my writing mind, writing and distract me from the fact I’m not writing creatively.
- Every so often, Quorans are recognized for their answers and can find their posts showing up in other online publications. My Avengers: Age of Ultron Quora article made its way to the Huffington Post’s Entertainment section.
I have come to enjoy writing such treatments and answering questions posed by fans about speculative fiction and fantasy on both Quora.com and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange.
- Writing such treatments has made me mindful of what readers see when they deconstruct famous works, what they think is important and whether they understand the work the way the author intended.
- I have answered between the two sites approximately 2000+ different questions in the last five years, and at Quora.com alone, I have had upwards of five million views of my writing.
- On the StackExchange, since I spent far more time there. The site was listed on The New York Times’ 2013 top 50 websites. I’ve written there so long, I’ve been voted into a moderator of the site with over nine million views there.
I use these places as a form of writing meditation, freeing my mind to write and focusing on the effort as a way of recognizing the zone and placing myself into it. It also has the added benefit of being online, read and keeping me honestly producing, rather than hiding at home when I am not creatively engaged.
The benefit of doing these diverse things in addition to creating new fiction, is it helps maintain one’s writing skills, motivation and helps to establish a body of work which can lead to further opportunities outside of just creative writing.
It can become an archive of political writing, technical essays, movie reviews, critical analyses, social commentary, humorous visual archives or portfolios of your own artistic creation for later display or consumption. Done with consistency, it can become a writing platform by which you gain a greater degree of recognition and respect for your craft as it shows continued development and an effort to improve.
This essay was published on LinkedIn: When Your Muse is On Strike… (2015)
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning essayist, author and journalist for various online publications, anthologies and websites which fancy themselves having discriminating tastes in speculative fiction, non-fiction journalism and critical thinking.
If you like his work, consider donating to his Patreon. It easy to donate. Skip one or two cups of coffee Starbuck’s overpriced coffee a month and send that to him via this Patreon link.