Tag Archives: inspiration

Two Must-Knows About Your Inner Muse

Your inner muse is the voice of your experiences – both real and desired.

I think my muse went this way....
I think my muse went this way….

That inner muse can be elusive. It is who we blame for our writer’s block.

But there is a secret to keeping that muse away from the straight jacket of silence. That secret is understanding the two truths of the inner muse which no one talks about.

Those two truths, once realized, will forever unfetter your inner muse. This month’s theme is about how life’s experiences shape what we write. We know that our experiences shape our perception and hence what we write. Experience also shapes what our inner muse reveals. But, did you know that there is a way to tap into those experiences while letting the muse do its sorting and compiling to create those aha! moments?

Tapping into our experiences happens when we’re aware of the two truths about the inner muse that no one talks about:

1) Inspiration isn’t always obvious; and
2) You may not realize what you know.

It seems that I’m stating the obvious. But without conscious awareness of these two truths, your inner muse doesn’t have permission to stay away from the straight jacket of silence.

What these two truths mean is that what inspires you to create a world and to write the story can be hidden somewhere deep inside and you don’t even know it.

Can you dig it out? Find it? Use it? Of course you can. The best way to do that is to not go looking for it. Sometimes, you’ve just got to let it happen. Sometimes you just have to be literal about being inspired. Here’s what I mean:

To be inspired means to be in spirit. That means giving your muse permission to access all that information in your head, all those observations and the situations you’ve experienced. It means letting your muse make the associations it needs to and to draw from the library of your inner knowing.

All you have to do to succeed is to trust it. Yes, trust your muse, trust what you know even if you’re not aware of it. Why? Because:

1) Inspiration isn’t always obvious
Sometimes we have an aha! moment which inspires a scene, a story even or a moment in the book. More often it comes from somewhere deep within. How often have you read what you’ve written and wondered how you knew to write that, or to word it that way, or your character has surprised you? Those are the moments when inspiration isn’t obvious and you may never figure out what inspired you to write what you did, but aren’t you glad your inner muse was working for you?

Our brain likes to make associations, find familiar in the unfamiliar, and find patterns. It sees shapes in clouds, a face in a whorl of wood, that phone number is all primes and if I add the first two numbers together…

The trick is to trust the inner muse and to trust that it’s working for you. Forcing the writing, forcing a scene, rarely works. It has to come from the characters and the situations we created and from the inner muse which understands those creations at a much more profound level than what we are sometimes aware of.

2) You may not realize what you know
I’m a kid from the farm. It took a little while for me to realize that most of my stories happen in rural settings in whichever genre I’m writing. I have detail which I take for granted and other people have to research. I understand the relationship people have with the land and animals. I have planted, harvested and marketed, I have prepared and stored food for the winter and have experienced limited access to store bought foods,.

It’s the same thing with the characters we create. We tend toward the familiar, especially when it comes to relationships. That’s when patterns in our writing occur. Strong female, weak male characters or vice versa. Female characters who hate their fathers. Male characters who are emotionally deprived heroes. There are countless patterns and stereotypes we fall into because it’s subconsciously familiar in some way. It’s the material the muse has to work with.

Whether it’s settings or characters, relationships or values and ethics, our inner muse has the information of who and what we are and uses it, even if we don’t realize that’s what is happening.

So we don’t always realize what we know and even what we don’t know. But when we consciously let the muse do its work, when we become consciously aware of the work it is doing, then we can form a relationship with it that changes what we write. We can give the muse permission to explore new situations, characters and relationships. This awareness allows us to ask for help to change the pool of information the muse has to work with. In a critique group I’m in, a well published author informed us that she had become aware that she always wrote a specific father-daughter relationship into her stories and she understood why. Now she wanted to change it up.

The two truths contradict each other:

“Trust inspiration” versus “Don’t trust what it’s telling you”.

Or, so it seems at first glance. But the real axiom is:

Trust Inspiration. Understand what it’s telling you so that you can change it up – if you wish.

We found our muse!
We found our muse!

We, and our inner muse, are the sum total of our experiences. As writers, we’re not always aware of what we know and what we don’t know. The more we write, the more opportunity we have to understand what informs our writing and to change and expand upon that.

You know that the writing myth that says you’ve got to write a million words before you’ve got a chance to be successful? It’s not about the word count, it’s about understanding your inner muse and developing a comfortable, trustworthy relationship with it. Sometimes, it takes a million words before you realize you’re basically writing the same story, the same themes albeit in different settings and milieus. Once you realize that, you’ve hear your inner muse. Now, you can give it new fodder, inform it with new information and experiences. You can give it permission to shake it up a bit.

Will you need a million words to do this? Maybe yes. Maybe no. And remember, I used the word ‘myth’ for a reason.

Inspiration isn’t always obvious and you may not realize what you know – once these two unspoken truths are understood, your life experiences will shape your writing in ways you never imagined it could! So, trust Inspiration and understand what it’s telling you so that you can change it up – if you wish.

Pages of Inspiration: Books for Writers

The creative well runs dry. The heart is as desiccated and desolate as a dusty Old West street, because you’re certain your Work in Progress is utter cowflop. You shout into the endless black void, listening mournfully for a few spurious, uncertain echoes. Where can writers go when they need to pour some fire back into their souls? The same place that got us into writing in the first place: Books.

At various points in your life, you’ll encounter books that are like a blessed bowl of warm chicken soup on a wintry day when your nose is crammed with snot and you ache in every bone. You’ll encounter books like the smooth, sweet burn of good whiskey that warms you from the inside. You’ll encounter books like a smart kick in the buttocks from that hot personal trainer.

Allow me to be so bold as to suggest some books for writers that have made an impact on me.

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury is a short, sweet blast of poetic inspiration. Bradbury was a consummate master storyteller, and being able play with techniques he’s used to cultivate the creative soul is incredibly valuable. This book is less a nuts-and-bolts how-to than techniques for cultivating the creative soul.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a swift little kick in the pants. Each short chapter puts a finger directly onto the throbbing wounds of all the reasons we do not write, all the reasons we hold ourselves back from achieving our potential. The book provides a useful psychological framework for overcoming all of those excuses.

On Writing Horror by the Horror Writers Association is collection of essays from the luminaries of horror fiction. Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Ramsey Campbell and many others tackle aspects of effective storytelling that go beyond writing horror. Much of this book is simply about writing good fiction, and I still reference various chapters.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is a great companion to Stephen King’s book below. Part how-to manual and part memoir, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, every chapter is spot-on. The chapter on first drafts is worth the cover price alone. In fact, I give that chapter to my English composition students as a lesson in how to get past the psychological blocks common to beginning writers.

Few writers can boast the impact that Stephen King has made on American fiction. On Writing is part memoir, part how-to. There are chapters on specific writing and revision techniques, but it’s also a memoir of his writing life. I found great inspiration in his writing life because he talks about the course of his career. Much of it is incredibly familiar, forming parts of every writer’s path. He had the skill, the drive, the support of a partner, caught a couple of lucky breaks, and his career exploded. And if he could do it, so can I. So can you.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron was a life-changing experience for me. This book is a twelve-week program designed to reignite the sparks of a creative person’s soul, whether the person is a writer, graphic artist, musician, etc. It helps examine and reprogram all the ways our creative impulse is squelched–by our own fears, by our families, by the outside pressure of society. If you work through all twelve weeks of this program faithfully, you will experience a sea change in the way you approach writing, the way you approach life. I had already been writing for two decades when this book was given to me by a friend, and I found it so transformative that a few years later I went through all twelve weeks again. It was fascinating to see how much of it I had internalized. And also how far I still had to go. The Artist’s Way treats a creative life as a spiritual journey, making writing into your art, into a way of life, not something you try to do in between your day job, kids and soccer games, and your next session of World of Warcraft.

I hope someday to discover another gem and be as enlightened, invigorated, and inspired as I was when I discovered these books. Everybody needs a shot in the arm sometimes.

About the Author: Travis Heermann

Heermann-6Spirit_cover_smallTravis Heermann’s latest novel Spirit of the Ronin, was published in June, 2015.

Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, roustabout, he is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of Death Wind, The Ronin Trilogy, The Wild Boys, and Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Perihelion SF, Fiction River, Historical Lovecraft, and Cemetery Dance’s Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including content for the Firefly Roleplaying Game, Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and EVE Online.

He lives in New Zealand with a couple of lovely ladies and a burning desire to claim Hobbiton as his own.

You can find him on…

Twitter
Facebook
Wattpad
Goodreads
Blog
Website


A Little Healthy Envy

While on Facebook earlier this month, I saw a fellow author requesting beta readers for a story she’d just finished. Normally, by the time I see such a post, others have leaped into the breach, and the author has more than enough volunteers. This post was just a few minutes old, so I was the first volunteer.

The story was excellent, impactful and clever and tightly written, not an easy hat-trick to manage. I have no doubt it will find a publishing home. Among my (minimal) feedback, I included in a comment I only reserve for short stories that really speak to me. “This is one of those stories that fills me with unseemly, writerly envy because I didn’t write it!”

I’m confident I’m not the only writer who feels this way. I suspect envy over another writer’s excellent work is something we all have to grapple with from time to time. I remember laughing out loud when Pat Rothfuss blogged about a blurb he’d been asked to provide for Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings and one of his suggested blurbs was “Brandon Sanderson’s writing is so good it’s starting to piss me off.”

A little envy and a latent sense of competition now and then is unavoidable, but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. As with most emotions in life, it’s what you do in response to them that marks your character. Below, I’ll break down the spectrum of responses a writer might have to this situation.

Writer’s Envy, a bad response: “I’ll never be able to write anything that good or be that successful, so I might as well give up!” If this is the route your thoughts take, you need to get some perspective. Trust me, no matter how confident the writer may feel about the story, at some point they looked at it and wondered why they were bothering with something so terrible. And that seed of doubt lingers on, sometimes even in the face of positive feedback.

Writer’s Envy, a worse response: “I’ll never be able to write anything that good or be that successful, so I’m going to do everything I can to subvert this person and their career!” Sadly, this can happen, and not just in the field of writing. Don’t be one of the people that makes it happen. Despite what you may think, writing is not a zero-sum game. Have you ever noticed how the more great stuff you read, the more you want to read? We writers are all in this together, and we can all help each other and make things better for everyone, or we can tear each other down and make things worse for everyone.

Writer’s Envy, a response where everyone wins: “Wow, I’m really impressed with this. I should consider what about it worked so well, and see if I can use what I learn to improve my own writing. In fact, seeing this piece of quality work produced by a peer inspires me to go work on my writing right now.”

Real world example time. When I was back in school getting my engineering degree, I learned that my own department, Aerospace Engineering, was very different than the Computer Science department. Computer Science had an email listserv of all its students, and they were permitted to email a certain number of lines of code out to one another to help in figuring out homework programs. It was meant to foster community. Instead, what happened was that certain bad eggs would email out lines of code they knew were wrong, trying to sabotage their fellow students to keep their own class rankings high. What was supposed to be a community of support turned into an ugly morass of paranoia and mistrust.

By contrast, my own department managed to cultivate a tight-knit group of engineers-in-training. The professors encouraged us to work together on homework problems that were too complex by design to be easily solved by one person. This is how engineering works in the real world, and they were trying to replicate that. We students obliged, sometimes staying up all night to finish homework and going out for 4:00 AM McDonalds. The best students often took additional time to help the average students (right here) work through complex concepts they were slower to grasp. It was a tough major, and we needed a good group of guys and gals to get through it with our sanity (mostly) intact. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I’d had to worry about my peers sabotaging me at every turn.

Writing professionally is a tough gig, too. As Kristin talked about earlier this month, in the age of the internet, everyone’s a critic, and someone who doesn’t know your personally isn’t going to be worried about hurting your feelings. This is the value of a writing community. We learn from each other. We lean on each other. And sometimes, we get a little kick in the butt when we see each other succeed and think “I want to feel that way too.”

 

About the Author: Gregory D. LittleHeadshot

Rocket scientist by day, fantasy and science fiction author by night, Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (sometimes during) classes. His first novel, Unwilling Souls, will be available later this year. His short fiction can be found in The Colored Lens and the upcoming Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology. He lives in Virginia with his wife and their yellow lab.

Feeding the Foundation

As we grow not only in our craft but also as people, it’s important to establish or re-establish the foundation of why we write, what success means to us at this moment, and what fulfillment means across our lifetimes. And yes, those things can completely change in the span of a few years. Our perspectives shift, our goals change, our focus narrows. As that happens, it’s essential to revisit the foundations on which we built our dreams and goals in the first place.

Here are some general questions to help you consider the root of your inspiration for writing.

1. Why do you write?

This question gets passed around a lot, it seems. But dig deep. “Cause I’ve just gotta!” is a fine answer, but what compels you to do it? Dig deep. “Because I have unresolved issues,” is probably a more honest answer for all of us.

2. What do you want?

“Duh, to be famous.” Sure, that can be your answer. But consider the possibility you won’t be the next J.K. Rowling. Now, what do you want?

3. What is your writing routine?

Has it changed in the past few years. Does it need to change? What’s not working about it?

4. Are you still chasing dreams and goals that are rooted in a genre in which you no longer write?

For example, when I started writing, I wanted to write literary fiction. At this moment, I write mostly YA, which is a much faster market and demands faster manuscript turn-arounds. My goals need to change to fit the genre I’m writing, at least for now.

5. Do your short-term goals need re-evaluating to reflect where you are right now?

I had to re-evaluate my short-term goals when writing YA, as mentioned above, and those will constantly need to be reconsidered depending on the project.

6. Do your long-term goals need to change to reflect where you are right now?

For example, because I’m not writing literary fiction right now, and I had not considered I’d be writing YA, my long-term goals for my career need to adjust to include YA.

A Writer's Guide to Persistence by Jordan Rosenfeld
A Writer’s Guide to Persistence by Jordan Rosenfeld
The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

There are some great resources out there to help you reflect on these things while also help you build your craft and routine.

I highly recommend The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron for an all-out overhaul, but be warned, it takes a lot of commitment to finish. Finish it. Commit to it. It’s worth it.

A Writer’s Guide to Persistence by Jordan Rosenfeld has been extremely valuable to me recently. I see it a lite version of The Artist’s Way. That’s not to demean it in any way; I simply mean it’s shorter and more compact.

Both books have been extremely valuable to me, and I hope they are for you as well.

About Kristin Luna:
Kristin Luna copyKristin Luna has been making up stories and getting in trouble for them since elementary school. She writes book reviews for Urban Fantasy Magazine and her short story “The Greggs Family Zoo of Odd and Marvelous Creatures” was featured in the anthology One Horn to Rule Them All alongside Peter S. Beagle and Todd McCaffrey. Her short story “Fog” recently appeared on Pseudopod. Kristin lives in San Diego with her husband Nic.