Where has my muse gone? And how do I get her back?I know I am not the first (nor the last) author in history to stare at that blank screen/paper, feeling hollow and somewhat bewildered that the next line just won’t come to me. Nonetheless, right in that moment, it feels as though I am the first, the only, the most useless, that’s for sure.
How did this happen? I mean, it should write itself, right? I was on a roll! I even know what I am supposed to write – goodness, my outline is clear and everyday I’ve been working towards hitting a few thousand extra words, vigorously tugging them under my belt so that I’ll be in a position to write ‘The End’ on the final page of my WIP sooner rather than later…
Well, the idea that I will one day harvest the benefit of all this effort and plotting seems like a pipe dream right about then. And as I fail to type a single word, I can feel that coveted goalpost of personal achievement shift beyond my reach.
I am impatient and frustrated; it’s irrational – I know - and then comes the mini black hole and it sucks me right in. Again.
See, it’s not the first time my goal post has moved – I mean, such is life, but now it seems further away than ever; impossible to achieve even, and then comes the first-class, full-flight of self-doubt. I am probably never going to finish this. I am silly for even thinking I could do this, but not to worry - it probably isn’t very good anyway. My story sucks. I suck. In fact, if I cannot find inspiration to write this next chapter, why even be a writer? Others wheel them out, but clearly that kind of productivity is beyond me!
(Are you nodding now? I think you might be, because you know what I’m talking about, don’t you? Well, bear with me…)
It’s when that feeling of hopelessness tags you that it really hits you just how lonely a writer’s life can be. It doesn’t matter that you cannot live without it or that you chose it; wanted it. The fact remains that it’s pretty darn similar to sitting cross-legged in a cave on a desert island with only your imaginary friends (AKA the characters from you story) for company. They chat to you… but only sometimes – and of course never when you need them to, lol.
So what do you do? Throw in the towel for good? Watch some telly? Read a book? Go shopping? Browse Social media for commiserations and solutions? Walk the dog? Peel potatoes? Chat to your friends about anything but writing? Chat to your friends about nothing but writing? Go to the gym? Eat cake (yum)? Escape to your kitchen - or if you’re lucky: the local coffee house – where you can promptly proceed to consume copious amounts of hot drinks that you swear will help you see the light?
Yup. I really do. Cross my heart…
What you need is a break. Or if you have just had a break and cannot seem to get back into it, you need a shift in focus. And that means you need something that will help you rekindle your joy for the WIP and something that will stop you from growing rusty, too.
Now at this point, if you enter the 1000 yard stare contest with your WIP, neither the screen, nor the blank paper will inspire you. It’s simple. It will continue to suck you dry if you let it - and so you need to escape its clutches and re-direct your attention. And so, here we go back to the points above…
Whether burned out, just back from a break, or simply uninspired, the thing that always works for me is to walk away from the WIP itself. For the lunch hour – or for weeks – it really doesn’t matter, but very importantly, this is not the time to wallow in a hole (though you might want to) – and weirdly it is also not the time to stop writing either – at least not altogether.
I’m sure you’ll have heard many of your fellow writers say, ‘Never stop writing’ - and for good reason! Because you may not be able to work on your WIP but there are other ways to stay sharp and put your skills to good use so that when you get your mojo back, you will still feel ‘in touch’ and centered around the routine of writing. After all, one step forwards and two to the side is often to be preferred over two steps forward and halt.
Well if so, just write regardless. Write something that keeps you in the game; something that keeps you focused – work on a different story you been thinking of exploring, or write a short story, fanfiction, maybe write a blog about your WIP, or about your experiences, or hopes, or dreams, or fears. Write something serious, write something banal, write a letter to the President - you name it – you can write about a book you recently read; review it… do what feels unforced and easy, but keep writing because this will help you develop your skills and that is super handy for when that muse glides back into your life with a goofy smile of apology.
But of course this will not fill your day the way working on your WIP does. It might even also be that your heart is not in it, because this is after all not what you want to write about, so I suggest that you mix it up a little bit. Browse Pinterest or Deviant Art for inspiration, chat to your author mates on social media, share snippets of you WIP, ask for feedback on ideas; on characters, go back and read your notes, get reacquainted with what got you burning to tell your story in the first place, stay in contact with like-minded people who share your path and know the troubles you might face (be they friends, family or FB mates). Allow yourself this time ‘off’: read a new book, watch some telly – anything - and you might find that you once more begin to spot glimpses of your muse.
Now when she/he/it does return to your side or shoulder or wherever she sits, you will soon know, and that’s when you pick up the reigns, go back to your WIP or you grab a notebook to instantly write down all those new ideas that suddenly pop into your head!
As for the time scale on this ‘come back’ – ah well who can say? I have stepped away from my WIP for months before; I have procrastinated, drunk too much coffee, watched too much telly, but eventually something sparks an idea that pulls me back in. It is meant to be. Be patient. The muse will not let you off the hook indefinitely: sooner or later the WIP will call you back, and you will answer because you feel compelled, and it’s right.
Okay, you were almost ready. You caught the whiff of former glory but now the muse keeps flirting and disappearing, and you still cannot work on the WIP. So now what?
Well, if I get truly and badly ‘stuck’, I simply: rinse, sleep, eat, and repeat. Never stop looking for inspiration, but not to the point of exhaustion. It’s not easy – not always – but then again, few things are. You are in this for long haul, right? So just think of it as a work hazard and learn to roll with the waves. You will feel less hassled and calmer – and guess what? When you don’t force it too much, it seems to glide all the better and you will be all the stronger as a writer and person. Indeed, often you will find that the hated break has given you new perspective. In fact, it may perhaps even have helped you figure out a cooler, more exciting plot for your story, or a subplot, or you might have ended up thinking up a new exciting character, and (Yay!) that is never a bad thing.
Now stop panicking and take a breather. You got this. Do not punish yourself.
You are not the first writer in the world to feel like this. You will not be the last either. But you will get your muse back. And you will write your book and finish it.
(By L. L. Thomsen)