Posted in Writing

Why Waiting for the Muse is a Waste of Time

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In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King writes,

Don’t wait for the muse. As I’ve said, he’s a hardheaded guy who’s not susceptible to a lot of creative fluttering.

The muse isn’t real. The muse is a myth. The muse… is an excuse!

I’ve heard of writers who sit around for days not writing anything because the muse hasn’t visited and inspired what they should be working on next. And since the muse hasn’t arrived, there’s no need to actually write anything because whatever ends up on the page will be insufficient, poor, cliche, whatever.

I’ve heard of all sorts of excuses from writers for not getting their words down for the day. Too busy, long work day, family obligations, illness. Many of these are legitimate excuses. Which is why I often tell writers with little time during the day to start slow, write something between 250 and 500 words a day in that tiny chunk of time they can manage.

What’s important is not finding that one day a week to write 5,000 words, like on a Saturday or a Sunday. What’s much more important, and what will make your writing better, is putting in a little work every day. Even just a single half-hour a day of total concentration on your writing can work wonders, trust me!

And you know what? Whether you have a half-hour to spare to do your writing for the day, or if you have ten hours, nothing’s going to matter if you sit around waiting for the muse to inspire you. If you sit around trying to find that perfect idea, that perfect moment, before you begin your work, odds are you’ll talk yourself out of doing any work for the day at all.

Roger Ebert once said, and I’m paraphrasing, that inspiration comes in the doing of writing, not in the before of writing. You can spin around in your computer chair for an hour thinking of ideas and ways you can make the next scene of your work-in-progress absolutely perfect, but in my experience what gets the magic started is actually writing. This can be free-writing, or taking notes in your notebook, sure, but the best thing to do is not to wait around for the muse, but to sit down at the laptop every day with a plan.

This is why, since the first novel I ever wrote back in 2010, I implemented a strategy that has always helped me get my words down for the day. It’s not waiting around. It’s not hours of intensely thinking. It’s stopping my writing the day before at a point that I know exactly what’s going to happen in the next part. Therefore, when I sit down the next day, there’s not that long lull of trying to figure out what the next scene is, what the next chapter is. That can be death to a writer, sitting there in front of your laptop without a clue what you’re going to write for the day.

So no, don’t wait for the muse for inspiration for your writing, and that extends to ideas for entire novels as well.

I plow through my 2,000 words every day while I’m working on the first draft of a new novel, but what about coming up with the main idea for the novel in the first place? How do you decide what novel to go to next, if you have five glorious ideas, or, worse, if you have zero ideas? Do you wait for the muse then?

Still no. I get lots of ideas for novels. Probably one every few weeks, certainly at least one a month. Many of these ideas hit me out of the blue, at the most random times, but only a select few stay with me. I don’t write any of my ideas down on a notepad or on my laptop. I firmly believe the best ideas linger in the mind forever, that is until you finally commit to writing the novel.

A novel I plan to write this coming summer has been in my head for at least three years, and I think about it at least once EVERY DAY. This idea has just been sitting there month after month, year after year, and for one reason or another I’ve decided to write other projects during that time.

I’m passionate about this idea, and I’m super excited to write the novel this summer. But I’m also ready, after all these years, to get the idea, finally, out of my head for good and down on paper. It’s only then that the idea sort of evaporates from my mind because I’ve done it, the story is at last before my eyes. And it’s not that the story is done by any means. There are still plenty of revisions to go through over many, many months, even years. But now that idea has left my head, ready to let something else new and exciting enter it and linger for an equally long time.

People ask me how I’ve written nineteen novels in nine years. There are loads of reasons how I managed to accomplish this, but one of the reasons is that I never waited for a muse to give me inspiration. Don’t wait around! Get smart, and make a plan to get some writing done every single day.

Inspiration is in the doing. Remember that.

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