Thursday, September 16, 2021

Sing, O Muse from James W. Ziskin

Do you have a muse? Or a happy place that gives you inspiration? An ideal reader, perhaps. What gets you inspired to write?

It’s so easy to put off writing. I often find myself tempted to watch a TV show or read a book. Or take in a football game. Writing’s hard work, after all. Why do today what you can put off till tomorrow? 

Deadlines, that’s why.

1. Deadlines are one of my most powerful muses. When you don’t have the luxury to procrastinate, you get it done. This is why I don’t believe in writer’s block. The decision not to write is either laziness or distraction. I’m certainly guilty of those two from time to time, but not when I’m on a deadline. 

2. Another muse? My drive to create. I want to write books. I want to write stories. And while it’s true that sometimes I’m burnt out and don’t feel like writing, it’s not as if I couldn’t get into the spirit of things if I actually applied myself. With me, inspiration usually comes after ten or fifteen minutes of staring at the screen. Sure, I may begin in fits and starts with each new writing session, but soon enough, things get moving. This is why it’s so important to park yourself in your chair and give it time. I used to undo my belt and strap myself into the chair with it. That way I had to surrender and admit my failure if I got up to do something other than writing.

I no longer do that, mostly because my current chair has nothing I can strap myself to. Ulysses used this technique to avoid succumbing to the sirens’ call. It works. Try it.

3. Another of my muses is atmosphere. This doesn’t work everyday or for every project. But, sometimes, creating the proper mood can help me get going. I find weather particularly inspiring. When writing Bombay Monsoon (December 2022, Oceanview)—a book set during monsoon season in India—I listened to hours and hours of rain videos on YouTube as I wrote. You’ll find so many weather sounds there to help you set the mood. Maybe you’ve got a hankering for rain on a tent? On a tin roof? Lots of thunder and lightning? Or perhaps you’re writing a locked-room mystery in a ski lodge. There are plenty of blizzards to be had. Crashing waves, too, howling winds, or just crickets. No problem. Everything’s available at the click of a mouse.

(Helpful hint: these videos might help with your insomnia too. I fall asleep most nights listening to rain or blizzards on YouTube.)

4. I also find great inspiration to write in tracking my word counts. Using spreadsheets, I record my progress everyday. This practice pressures me to produce even when I’m tired and not in the mood. Again, no such thing as writer’s block. It’s a choice not to write, just as it’s a choice not to work out. I hate to work out, but it’s not a block. It’s a preference to avoid unpleasant/difficult work. And that’s why I’m not a bodybuilder; I’m a writer.

5. Scotch. Yes, I enjoy a beverage or two when I write. It relaxes me. Of course there might be negative effects in the morning, but we’re talking about inspiration, not bitter, crushing regrets. However, I don’t drink when I’m editing. Creating can be sloppy and slurred, but editing needs to be tight and coherent.

6. Time. How much time do any of us have have left? I’m far from finished, but there’s no infinite store of minutes and seconds I can tap into to accomplish everything I’d like to do. So I work hard at creating the best work I can as quickly as I can.

7. Sleep. I find ideas when I’m unconscious. If only I could remember them all. And some of those that I do recall from the dead of night don’t always sound so great in the morning… Still, it counts as inspiration.

8. Reading. No, I don’t steal ideas from other writers, but sometimes something I read suggests an idea to me. And from there I take the baton and run. Read. Read and write. They go hand in hand, and one inspires the other.

8. One last muse? Greed. Maybe the next book will be the big one. Maybe its success will satisfy my dreams of success, both critical and financial, and I’ll spend my golden years in a villa on Lake Como. Maybe people will remember me as a good writer, and my heirs can feast on the proceeds of my labors. From beyond the grave I’ll resent them, lazy bloodsuckers.


Dietrich Kalteis said...

A great list, Jim — greed, scotch and reading. You're an inspiration to all.

Art Taylor said...

Hi, Jim — Thanks for all this. Feeling motivated anew myself! (I don't believe in writer's block either... but I do succumb to busyness in other directions too often.)
I think I read that Joseph Conrad's wife had to lock him in his room to force him to write. That may not be true, but I like the image and the idea.....

Nancy Cole Silverman said...

I read this just as I’m about to begin my day, which always starts with and hour snd a half at my computer before I do anything else. Compulsion! That’s all I’d add. Great list. Write on!

Susan C Shea said...

I'm with you on deadlines. Sometimes, if I'm not under contract to produce by a specific time, I create them for myself. The trick then is to buy into them so completely that I convince myself my agent really is counting the minutes until I send the manuscript or the synopsis to her.