Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Waiting for the Muse

By R.J. Harlick

“When you’re in writing mode, do you follow a word quota, a time quota, or do you just wait for your muse to arrive, words in hand?”

It sounds so romantic, doesn’t it, ‘waiting for the muse to strike’?  I have images of a writer nestled in a comfy chair with a cat sound asleep on his or her lap. While waiting for the muse, they ponder the lofty mountain view before them.  Or better yet are bathed by warm tropical breezes as they sit waiting on a lanai and listen to the palm trees clatter and the waves crash onto the beach below (Since I’m heading off to the Caribbean next week, these tropical images are foremost in my mind) Of course, the ever ready computer is on the table beside the writer, waiting for that moment. And I mustn’t forget the most important part, a glass of scotch or wine, even Pernod, a must to help the muse along.  And when it does the words pour out… Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?

I tell you it might work for some writers, but if this writer waited for the muse to arrive, nothing would get written. That’s not to say the muse doesn’t happen. There are times, when the words seem to flow faster than I can type them, but it happens so rarely. Besides I think I’d end up getting a rather sore bottom with all that waiting, not to mention the drunken stupor. 

Nope, for me the only thing that works is establishing a set time to write. At a minimum, I set aside three days a week, Monday through Wednesday. I make a point of never scheduling any activities on these days. If I am free, I will also write on Thursday and Friday, but these days are set aside for yoga, biking, household chores and the like. Rarely do I write on the weekends, that’s play time with my husband. And the only thing I drink is word-inspiring tea; English Breakfast, Darjeeling or Assam. If I tried anything alcoholic, I’d be too fuzzy headed to write anything.

I don’t set myself a word or time quota, rather when I am in first draft creation mode, I write until I run out of steam, usually after three or four hours. I probably tend to average 1,500 to 2,000 words, but if the muse does happen to strike, then it could go up to 5,000. But let me tell you, there are some days when it is like pulling teeth and all I manage to write is about 200 words. These are the days when I use Facebook, email and the Internet to help entice the muse. The only problem is, they are more a distraction than anything else, so I eventually have to cut myself off. I haven’t yet turned my WiFi off, but I have come close.

What I have learned over the years since I started writing crime fiction, is that writing requires discipline. Since the muse usually doesn’t arrive on schedule, I use time as my discipliner.


Susan C Shea said...

Odd as it may sound, reading about how hard it is, how distracting social media can be, and that other writers struggle helps. I don't think I'm uniquely failing and I also see that some wonderful writers plow their way through to success! So, thanks for the candor!

Robin Spano said...

Ha ha ha. Well said. I was starting to be lured in by that island fantasy at the beginning...it sounds so perfect, like the writing life is supposed to be.

RJ Harlick said...

Only in our dreams, ladies. But the tremendous sense of accomplishment we feel when we finally finish that first draft makes all the trials and tribulations of getting there all that more worthwhile.

Pamela Beason said...

I recently gave a "career" talk about being an author to a group of high school seniors. I asked them what they thought would be the most important requirement to be a successful author. They guessed imagination, good grammar, etc., but they all seemed surprised when I said the most important requirement was self-discipline.