Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How To Train Your Muse (guest post)

Today's guest blog is written by K.M. Weiland! She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in the sandhills of western Nebraska. She enjoys mentoring other authors through her writing tips, editing services, workshops, and her recently released instructional CD, Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration.

I first "met" K.M. online through her blog Wordplay -- her videos in particular give solid advice, and I highly recommend that everyone drop by and check it out!

How to Train Your Muse (The Demerit System)

We’re accustomed to think of our muse as a whimsical and erratic fairy-like creature, or perhaps a wise old prophet forever stroking his beard and poking his spectacles up higher on the bridge of his nose. Either way, the muse often seems untouchable. Fairies and prophets aren’t likely to listen to the entreaties of mere mortals like ourselves, so all we can do is wait around until they start thinking kind thoughts about us. Right?

Actually, I tend to think of the muse more along the lines of a child prodigy: brilliant, but still in need of a firm guiding hand. Just as it’s our responsibility as parents to train our children to develop good habits, it’s also within our capabilities as writers to train up our muses in the way they should go. And, as I discuss in my recently released CD Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration, they should also go toward making our jobs as writers that much easier.

Just as with bringing up children, the best way to train our muse is to map out a course of punishments and rewards—a demerit system of sorts, if you will. Actually, this isn’t so much about training our muses as it is training ourselves to have to good habits. It’s a proven fact that humans are motivated exclusively by two factors: pain and pleasure. So let’s put that knowledge to good use, shall we?

The first step is put some goals in place. Figure out what it is you and your muse need to achieve. Finish that novel? Write on a more consistent schedule? Come up with a new story idea? Submit your finished manuscript to twenty new agents? Whatever the goal, you can then break it down into bite-size pieces, perhaps adding deadlines where appropriate. For example, if your goal is to finish your novel, and if word count goals work for you, you might assign yourself a certain word count every day.

Now that you’ve sat your muse down, given it a talking to, and explained what you expect of it, it’s time to start putting that reward/punishment system to work. What’s going to happen if you fail? Perhaps failure means no more television for a week (now it really sounds like we’re talking about kids, doesn’t it?). Maybe it’s something as radical as the word-erasure punishments on Dr. Wicked’s ridiculously effective Write or Die interface. Whatever the punishment you decide on, make sure it’s something you’re going to regret going without.

But don’t forget the fun part of this exercise. The rewards! If you knock down those word count goals like so many bowling pins in a strike, you deserve something splendiferous at the end of the game. Chocolate and ice cream are always good motivators. But maybe you’ll want to reward your muse with something extra special: that hardbound book you’ve been craving, a vacation, a new laptop? If the punishment should fit the crime, then the reward should fit the triumph.

The whole point of pushing and pulling your muse via the punishment/reward system is to convince it to develop good writing habits. Once the habits are in place, they’ll be hard to break. Not that you still can’t reward yourself with ice cream after every good writing day!


  1. Funny thing about rewards and writing - if I get the writing done, that's more than enough reward in itself. (Not that I then abstain from the chocolate that got me there, of course.)

    Very nice photography on your blogs, by the way.

    Here's a favorite quote on inspiration:

    I think it’s easier, more comforting, to be disciplined about writing than to wait for inspiration to strike. If you wait for inspiration, then you can become so nervous, so insecure – Is it going to happen today? Is it going to happen tomorrow? Why isn’t it happening today? – you can fret yourself into a kind of paralysis while waiting for the gods to descend. So it makes more sense to me to be regular – businesslike, even – about it: Go to your study, close the door, invent your confidence.
    - Diane Ackerman

  2. Oooh, this sounds like self-discipline to me, and that can be such a difficult thing. But I like the approach you suggest--very old school. If we don't take control of our muses (ourselves) then who's going to do it?
    I must check out K.M.'s blog.

    Carrie, once again your sense of good taste has presented us with a helpful and challenging guest post with a very useful topic.

    Tossing It Out

  3. Thanks so much for hosting me today, Carrie!

    @Maine: Totally agree! That's why we write, after all, isn't it? Because it's its own reward? But the chocolate is no mean incentive either. ;) Thanks for sharing the Ackerman quote. Good stuff.

    @Arlee: Ah, so you spotted the medicine under all the candy, did you? :p What you say about ourselves being the only ones able to take control of our muses is such a simple truth, and yet I think it's one most of us overlook.

  4. I would love to reward my muse with a new laptop, but ice cream is more fitting to the current budget. :p

    I've never considered the punishment part. Maybe I should... just to make sure the muse is paying attention.

    Great post, Katie.

  5. Good stuff! I have her CD and can't wait to listen to it.

  6. @Lorna: Ice cream is infinitely satisfying!

    @Diane: Thanks, Diane. I hope you enjoy the CD.

  7. Great post, and some excellent points.

  8. Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading!