Brace yourself: this ultimate guide to finding your inner muse and writing more creatively isn't short! It may be one of the most important things you ever read, though.
Learning how to write with more creativity will not only improve the quality of your writing (i.e. make it more publishable). It will also make the journey a lot more fun.
The good news is that us humans are a naturally creative bunch. The bad news is that this creativity tends to get hammered out of us from middle-childhood onwards.
Watch young children at play and you will see pure creativity at work...
And then adulthood comes along and spoils everything. We put away our childish things and get on with the "serious" business of life (which for most people does not involve anything like writing a novel).
And we are all the poorer for it.
"The genius keeps all his days the vividness and intensity of interest that a sensitive
child feels in his expanding world. Many of us keep this responsiveness well into adolescence; very few mature men and women are fortunate enough to preserve it in their routine lives."
~ Dorothea Brande
This article is about reawakening the creativity we all possessed as children. Just as importantly, it is about using the skills we have acquired in adulthood to channel that creativity effectively – or knowing when to use it and when not to use it.
You see, the creative spirit is only one aspect of the successful writer's makeup. The other is a deep, almost scientific knowledge of the craft of writing novels.
You use your creative side (or your writer's muse) to supply you with great raw material. Then you use your logical side (or your inner-critic) to make sense of it all and knock it into shape.
Many beginners (and some seasoned professionals) struggle to write because their logical, critical side does all the work. For these writers, producing raw material that is true and alive is slow and painful at best... and sometimes impossible.
A less common problem is writers who excel at being creative but can't get in touch with their logical side – which they need to hammer their free-flowing musings into some sort of shape.
What kind of writer are you?
There's no need to answer that because it really doesn't matter. The fact is that you will need to make full use of both sides of your personality.
"There is a muse, but he's not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter...Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you're going to be every day from nine 'til noon or seven 'til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he'll start showing up, chomping his cigar and making his magic."
~ Stephen King
Who is this muse, exactly? And who is his or her counterpart – the critic? What characterizes them? What strengths and weaknesses do they possess that might help (or hinder) your writing? Allow me to explain...
Incidentally, I'm referring to both the muse and the critic as "he" because I am male and that is how I think of them... and because writing "he or she" all the time is kind of a pain!
If you would prefer to think of your muse and critic as female (whatever gender you happen to be) then go ahead and do so.
I could go on, but that's hopefully enough for you to recognize the influence of both of these characters on your personality. We all contain them, in varying degrees. And, like I say, we need to draw on both these influences if we want to write novels (or do anything creative) to the best of our ability.
The trick is to not prefer one over the other, like a favorite child, but to love them equally. Not only will this help you to live a better life (it will make you responsible when you need to act responsibly, but willing to seek out fun and adventure and spontaneity in between times). But it will also help you to write better novels...
The muse and the critic, then, must learn to work together as partners, not be forever trying to outfox the other. And it is your job as the writer in whom these two characters exist to ensure that they do form a perfect partnership. How?...
Simply by understanding what each of them is good at (and not so good at)... and then ensuring that you perform each stage of the novel writing process using the best man, or woman, for the job.
With that in mind, let's run through the broad stages of the writing process (finding ideas, planning, writing, editing) and talk about which aspects of your personality are best suited to each of the tasks.
This is where your writing muse comes into his own. You know all that staring into space you do when you are brainstorming for inspiring ideas? That's your muse at work.
The muse, as I have said, can be prone to laziness, so the critic has to give him a nudge from time to time to keep him focused on the task (and not start daydreaming about next year's vacation instead). But, still, you need to give the muse as much time and space as is reasonable to do what he does best.
Does the critic get a look in? You bet, but not during the brainstorming...
The final novel idea must satisfy both of them. It must be bursting with creative possibility (this satisfies the muse). And it must adhere to the rules of good storytelling (this pleases the critic).
It's interesting to note here that, whenever you sit down to search for a novel idea, the muse will provide you with similar material every time. We all have subjects and themes and people and places that interest us far more than others, and the muse will always suggest them.
This is good, up to a point. After all, most writers' work tends to be variations on a theme...
And so on. Fans of a writer become fans because they like what they read and expect more or less the same thing in the next book.
That said, it is clearly important that each novel has enough that is different about it to stop it being a carbon copy of the one before.
And so the critic's job, when the muse provides him with similar brainstormed material every time, is to select and combine the material in such a way that the final idea is both similar to what has come before but fresh and original enough to be unique.
The muse, as you can imagine, hates planning novels. (As a matter of fact, he hates learning the rules of how to write novels, which is why your inner critic is in charge right now. Your muse is taking a snooze!)
Given his way, the muse would take the first idea that comes along and immediately start writing chapter one. The critic in you must prevent this from happening.
Yes, the muse will sulk at the prospect of all that planning. But it isn't like he will have no input whatsoever during the process of turning a one-sentence novel idea into many pages of plan...
Again, you need to use both sides of your personality. You need to allow each side to do what it does best at the right time and keep the other side well out of the way while it does it.
As a rule of thumb, let the writer's muse create and the critic attend to the more logical writing tasks.
This is where the muse and the critic can seriously get in each other's way if you allow them to. The basic division of labor here is that the muse writes the first draft and the critic later revises it. Although the process is not quite as straightforward as that...
The muse, as you know, doesn't like to be disturbed while he is writing. If the telephone rings in mid-flow, the muse is liable to rip the cord from the wall.
And so to save the muse from being disturbed (and to save you from having to buy new telephones), allow the critic within you to prepare the ideal working conditions before work gets underway...
In short, the critic must do everything necessary to ensure that the muse has no excuses to snap his pencil in disgust and go shoot some golf instead. (The muse loves the good thwack of a golf stroke; what he can't stand is the critic pointing out that he failed to rotate his shoulders through ninety degrees.)
Ideal working conditions all set up? Great. That means it is time to write. But be warned...
The muse isn't through with playing games yet.
Given the choice between writing words on paper (or typing them onto a screen) and staring out the window at the clouds drifting by, the clouds win every time. The muse, remember, is lazy. Strangely, when he does finally get to work and the words begin to flow, it's difficult to convince him to call it a day.
But only once he has started.
The critic's job, therefore, at the beginning of every writing session, is to nudge the muse into activity. He must allow the muse to do a little window-staring first (because this is how the muse "warms up").
But not for long...
After a few minutes of inactivity, the critic must declare that it's time to make a start. The muse won't respond well to this. "If you're so great," he will say to the critic, "you can do the writing!"
And that is precisely what the critic must do: get the ball rolling...
Without the muse's help, the words won't come easily at first. And even when the words do come, the critic will find it difficult to fight his natural tendency to edit what he has just written.
Sooner or later, though, the muse will tell the critic to budge over and give him some space. And then, like magic, one sentence will lead into the next sentence, and that will lead to another, and so on, until the writer's body is barely able to keep up with the mind.
Where is the critic when the muse is in full flow? As far away as possible...
If you ever find yourself re-reading what you have just written, wondering how you might improve it, or searching too long for the perfect word when any old word will do for now, it means the critic is still looking over the muse's shoulder.
Tell the critic that his turn will come later, when it is time to revise the draft. Then kick him out the writing room.
Do you know why revision, generally speaking, is an easier process than writing the draft in the first place? Because it is a more mechanical process, one carried out by the efficient critic, not the temperamental and work shy muse.
Not that the muse isn't needed at all during revision...
The critic is good at applying the "rules" of novel writing to the scene the muse has just written – checking it for consistent characterization, proper plot progression, and the like. He is also good at checking the spelling and punctuation and looking out for
But when it comes to revising the language itself – altering sentences and replacing weak words with stronger ones, until the language acquires a kind of musical fluency ‐ only the muse will be capable of "hearing" the music in the words and knowing when they are pitch-perfect.
However talented and capable you may be as a writer, and however willing you are to work at it, you still have plenty to learn (because every writer does). One of the best ways to learn is from your mistakes, and that means receiving constructive feedback positively.
Here is the thing, though...
When you do receive criticism (from friends, family, folks you meet online, whoever), make sure that it is your inner-critic who listens, never your muse.
The muse is very thin-skinned and doesn't like to hear anything but glowing praise. At the slightest hint of negativity, he will either slump into a depression or dismiss the giver of the feedback as a moron (and quite possibly both).
Not only will this make you look bad if you happen to be in the same room as the person providing the feedback (they will be able to see it on your face, however hard you try to disguise it). It will also make you deaf to their potentially invaluable comments.Your inner-critic loves praise, too. But he is wise enough to know that constructive criticism can be very useful indeed, and so he will receive it like the gift that it is.
And if the feedback is indeed moronic, the critic will at least accept it with good grace... before respectfully ignoring it.
When you tell people you are writing a novel, they will naturally ask you what the book is about. Take my advice: don't tell them!
Okay, so you will need to say something if you don't want the person to think you are rude or stupid (or both), but keep it vague. Give them the most concise synopsis imaginable ("It's a love story")... and then move on to talking about the weather.
Why all this secrecy?...
Because if you get into talking about your story in any depth, you may not be able to stop at talking about those parts of it that you've already figured out. You'll start "thinking out loud" about where the novel is headed. And that can be fatal.
The muse, you see, simply likes to create. He doesn't much care if this creativity happens in the writing room or around the dinner table. And if it does happen at the dinner table, you'll expend all of your creative energy when it doesn't count.
Not only will some of the pearls the muse provides you with at the table be lost the next day (memories being what they are). But the next time you sit down at your desk to write, the muse – having already "done his thing" – will remain stubbornly silent.
Creativity doesn't only need to be encouraged; it sometimes needs to be restrained. As I mentioned earlier, the muse's natural tendency is to skip all of the "boring" planning stuff and push straight on with writing the first draft. The critic's job is to hold him back.
The writers who fail to do this are the ones with two chapters of an abandoned novel gathering dust at the back of a drawer. They started the project in a creative frenzy... but soon said everything there was to be said. So they quit.
If you view the planning process as tedious, you will probably suffer the same fate. You'll pour out 30 or 40 pages of wild prose and then stop.
Art is good. But it needs craft to give it shape.
So if craft must always come before art (i.e., if planning must always come before writing), how is the muse meant to fill his days during the long process of planning a novel?
Well, as we've already seen, the muse is required to help plan the novel. He's the one who brainstorms for ideas, for example, and who puts the flesh onto the bones of the skeletal plan the critic draws up.
But, still, what the muse really wants to do is write the first draft. And the planning might drag on for weeks and weeks.
What to do?...
The answer is to start writing from the very beginning of a project, perhaps for twenty minutes a day. Ideally, write those parts of your novel you have already figured out. Failing that, write anything...
... anything you like. And don't worry about writing well. In fact, don't even read it afterwards. Just write.
Not only does this keep your writing muse from growing restless, it keeps him in peak condition, too. Just as athletes need to run every day, so writers need to write.
A great habit to get into, other than writing every day, is to write every day at a certain time...
In other words, train the muse to write on command, not just when he feels like it. The muse, as I've said, is naturally lazy. He might have an urge to create, but only at times and places that suit him.
This is no good to you.
When the time comes to stop planning your novel and write the first draft, you need to get creative every morning at nine o'clock or every evening at six.
By writing for twenty minutes (or whatever) every day during the planning phase of novel writing, and by writing at a certain time - during your lunch break, perhaps - whether you feel like it or not, you will train the muse to be creative when it suits you, not when it suits him.
Too often, we spend our days wrapped up in our own petty concerns. We scurry around like worker ants, always focused on the immediate task ahead and never finding the time to tick everything off our "To Do" list.
Moreover, we rarely deviate from our daily habits and routines. That's why days away from home are so refreshing... we leave our routines behind and instead have to make - the - day - up - as - we - go.
Us writers need to take regular time out from the daily grind.
We need to have fresh experiences all the time in order to replenish our stockpile of raw material (raw material that we may one day use in fiction). And we need to truly experience these fresh things, like children, in order to fully appreciate them. So...
These moments of fresh experience are a great way of feeding your writer's muse. And the way to make sure that you do have such moments regularly is to consciously shut down your inner-critic.
The critic likes habit and routine; he hates newness. He will fight you when you try to deviate from the norm, telling you all the practical reasons why you shouldn't do this. But you must ignore him, if only for ten minutes a day or a day every month.
The muse will thank you for it. And he'll reward you with richer writing.