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Monday, May 16, 2011

Seven Ways to Capture your Muse

photo by Lucas

Published in The Dabbling Mum e-magazine, August, 2005.
One day your writing muse announces, “I can’t stay.  You’re on your own.  See you later.”  She leaves you, taking all of your creative ideas with her.  You implore her to stay.  But she’s temperamental and fickle.  Before you can catch her, she slips away.  You stare at your manuscript.  Writer’s block sets in.   Panic ensues.  How will you finish the piece in time to meet your editor’s deadline?  How will you complete your story for the writing contest?  While your muse is away, how will you edit the manuscript that you’ve been meaning to submit?  It’s easy to turn away from writing and wait until your muse returns.  But how long will that be?  Here are a few ways to lure her back.   

Take a walk. Walking is a great way to get exercise and to take a break from sitting in front of the computer.  Is there a passage that you are having trouble completing?  Can’t find the right word for a poem?  Go outside.  Allow free thought to take over, to run free.  Brainstorm.  Make observations as you walk.  Seeing and hearing things along the way may help you find just the right words to finish a poem or an article.

Take classes. Look into taking classes at a literacy center, a library, or at a local college.  Often in writing classes, instructors will encourage participants to read their stories aloud.  Hearing a story read aloud not only brings it to life, but helps you identify lines that need to be revised, adjectives and adverbs that need to be omitted, or where active verbs should be used.  A beginning writing class may concentrate on developing conflict, establishing character motivation, creating distinctive characters, and exploring basic story schema.  More advanced writing classes may take a look at writing good query letters, submitting manuscripts, and finding an agent.  Some instructors will work with you on a one-on-one basis.  Fees vary and may be costly; however, individual critique and guidance may be worth the price.  In contrast, taking online classes may be worthwhile for writers who have a busy schedule.  Find a class that interests you or ask your writing buddies if they know of a good class.  Contact the instructor by e-mail to determine if this class will meet your needs. 

Meet with fellow writers.  Join a local writers’ group.  Writing can be a lonely profession.  Participating in a writing group will put you in touch with other writers.  You can find these groups advertised in newspapers, at literacy centers, or at local bookstores.  Finding the “right” group may take some work.  Look for a group led by a director of a literacy center or a library.  You may be able to find a group led by a well-respected, published author.  Not all groups will be right for you.  Audition them.  A good writing group should provide inspiration and support to its members.  Find out how many members belong to the group.  What are their writing habits?  Are they published?  Meet with the group several times before reading one of your stories.  Sit back, listen, and observe.  Will you be at ease when they offer critique? It’s important to get to know these people and feel comfortable with them.  Professional writers will understand the meaning of copyright and will respect your work. 

Research the markets.  Explore magazine publishers and book publishers listed in the Writer’s Market, a valuable resource which can be found at most local libraries.  Writer’s Digest magazine reports market needs every month.  If you join a professional writers’ organization, like The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, you’ll receive a newsletter with market updates.  Get a feel for the markets by visiting magazine websites or by ordering sample copies of publications.  Likewise, visit book publishers’ websites to familiarize yourself with their titles.  Study the writers’ guidelines.  Understanding an editor’s needs may give you the guidance you need to complete a piece.  

Re-write a story.  Changing the point of view can liven up a story. Switch from third person to first to give the story a personal feeling. Changing from past to present tense is another way to re-shape a piece.  Writing in present tense gives stories an intimate touch.  Use alliteration to bring flow to your words and metaphor and simile to make comparisons interesting.  Re-writing stories is a great exercise and will fuel your imagination.

Study writer’s magazines.  Subscribe to writers’ magazines, such as The Creativity Connection*, The Great Blue Beacon, and Writer’s Digest.  Save informative articles in a folder.  Likewise, search the Internet for articles.  Print the articles and refer to them whenever you need inspiration or help.   

Read a favorite novel, short story, or poem.  Analyze why you like them.  Practice mimicking the style and technique.  In addition, read books on writing and editing.  These books will help you improve your technique and increase your chances of publication.  Invest in a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style.  It’s a great resource for any kind of writing.  The Little Red Writing Book by Brandon Royal, which offers wonderful writing exercises, is another great resource.  Read inspirational books, such as If You Want to Write by Brenda Euland, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont, or Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. 
Of these seven ideas, going on a walk is the easiest and least expensive. Walking can help bring focus to your thoughts.  Likewise reading, whether it’s for enjoyment or education, is a great way to help channel your efforts.  Taking classes can give birth to new ideas or give direction to your work. Although classes involve a little more effort (and money), the payoffs are worth it.

What will you do to capture your muse?  Not sure?  Then go outside and get some fresh air.  I’d be willing to bet your muse will be waiting for you the minute you return.

*The writer's newsletter Creativity Connection is now called Extra Innings

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