When the Muse Downs Tools Mid-Shift

The Muse
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System failure? No Signal? Use the Down Time.

You’re working on your latest novel. The plot, characters and setting are all worked out. Voice and atmosphere are established. It’s all flowing well – until that is, something causes the whole process to seize. It’s the equivalent of the blue computer screen or the ‘no service’ message on your mobile phone.

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It’s not writers’ block. You’ve still got ideas and motivation, but something is jamming the transmission from brain to page. The inbox is full but you can’t retrieve any of it.

It was a fellow writer, Cathryn Louis, whom I met on Twitter, who posed the problem. Cathryn (@CathrynLouis)  http://www.cathrynlouis.com made a plea, via twee,t for advice as to what to do when her ideas vanished  mid-sentence whilst working on her novel.

And round about the same time, another writer and Twitter friend Nettie Thomson, (@NettieWriter) http://nettiethomson.com  put a post on her blog about ideas being like buses, i.e. all arriving at once after a long time of no-show. Nettie pointed out that it’s often the case that when you’re busy working on one project, ideas for several other pieces start to appear. Now while this is inconvenient and distracting, I suspect the phenomenon can be used to solve the sudden signal failure problem.

When you experience a loss of service, you need to divert your brainwaves elsewhere. Leave your subconscious to ponder away on the work-in-progress. Trick your brain by being busy doing other writing stuff, or, even – gasp – non-writing stuff.

Such as:

  • Write a piece of flash fiction. This is sprint rather than a marathon and is good cross-training for a novelist. Pick something you can see as your stimulus – the scissors on your desk, the desk itself, your footwear, an ornament on the shelf – anything… Set your word/time limit and go.
  • Write an opening chapter or short story in a genre you wouldn’t normally work in. So if you’re a writer of romantic fiction, try sci-fi for example.
  • Write a letter to a loved one – alive or dead – telling them what they mean to you.
  • Write a review of the last book you read
  • Write down your earliest memory – use all your senses to recall the time – perhaps write it as a poem
  • Go for a long, hot bath.
  • Go for a walk or a run or a swim
  • Dig the garden
  • Listen to music
  • Meditate

The above is far from being a comprehensive list, but I hope you get the idea. AND the above is NOT procrastination. You are a writer all the time – even when you’re not actually writing. Don’t beat yourself up when you take timeout from the work-in-progress.

Let your creative processors do their maintenance and updates without intervention or force from you. You’ll only cause a complete crash if you don’t. And total writers’ block may well ensue.

When it’s ready your system will reboot and you should gain access to all your files again. And in the meantime you can enjoy a spell of letting go and letting be.

8 thoughts on “When the Muse Downs Tools Mid-Shift

  1. Great advice here, Anne, and lovely to have inspired such a great post. I’ll certainly try some of your advice next time I get stuck.

  2. I think this cuts both ways. It is procrastination in one sense, not in the sense as you say that you are still writing, but it is putting off the work in progress getting a step nearer to completion. I suspect this is allied to the anxieties of self-exposure and sending something out on completion.

    Not that I have any solutions mind you.

    Indeed the creative juices are opaque and while we can ponder on craft, technique et al, the origins remain clouded in mystery. In a way, that’s what writing any book does, it put us closer in touch with where all this stuff derived from in our psyches in the first place.

    • Thanks, Marc. Yes, I suppose it’s productive procrastination. And I agree the whole process of writing/creating is mysterious and mystical. That’s what I love about it.

  3. Yep, I spent four hours with only one sentence to show for it.

    Great post Anne! I opted for the long, hot bath – with chocolate scented bubbles. Since I was struggling with a love scene, it seemed appropriate. 😉

  4. Great tips, I always find that taking a shower or reading helps when I find myself in those situations. Something about it gets the words flowing in my brain again.

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