NaNo Tip No. 20: Don’t Wait for the Muse to Strike

It’s day twenty and I’ve seen some talk on NaNoNoWriMo blogs of muses showing up or, more often, not. I’m sure for some of you muses are a very useful metaphor for your creative process. However, sitting on your arse waiting for them to show up? Frequently not a good approach to actual writing.

“Oh noes! My muse is not here! I cannot write! Instead I will play Left 4 Dead 2 until muse shows up.”

This method will leave you with kickarse zombie killing skills but will not be much chop when it comes to, you know, writing.

Now, I’m not a very spiritual or mystical person, so feel free to ignore me. But I can tell you that even my most mystical woo-woo writer friends do not sit around waiting for their muse to show up. They write when they’re feeling inspired. They write when they’re not. Depending on deadlines, they write when it’s a gorgeous day and they’d much rather be cycling, they write when they’re supposed to be at a movie with friends, they write when they haven’t had enough sleep, they write when they’re ill. They write because it is their job to do so.

One of the cool things about NaNoWriMo is that it gives you a taste of what it’s like to be a professional writer. Of what it’s like to write day after day after day even when you don’t want to. What some of you may discover is that it’s not for you. That you truly cannot write without inspiration. That deadlines don’t galvanise you, they freeze you. In which case the life of a full-time pro writer is not for you.

That does not mean you can’t still write. At all. There are many published writers, who write in their spare time, for whom it is not their main source of income. The majority of published writers are like that. There are even more unpublished writers for whom the writing is the thing and getting published is not the goal. Many writers of fanfic have zero desire to turn pro.

Which leads me to revise my position: it’s perfectly fine to wait for your muse to show up if writing is not your job. But if you depend upon writing then you have to learn to make it a habit, a way of life, and not depend on totally unreliable muses and inspiration and the like.

Don’t forget to check out Scott’s NaNo writing tips.


  1. Stephanie on #

    I really enjoyed this post–looking around the NaNo forums, I see so many people losing steam because they think they have to wait for some magical inspiration. But I once read that the ABC (apply butt to chair) rule was the best way to go. You don’t write until you’ve, well, written. And sometimes, I find, I get the best results when I don’t want to write. Or I tease myself with a scene I AM inspired for, to drudge through the parts that leave me banging my head against a wall.

  2. Cyndy Otty on #

    The flip side of this is to not let your muse run off without you. Or more specifically, if inspiration hits one should most certainly take that opportunity to write. And if that’s not possible, start scribbling notes so the awesome idea isn’t forgotten. (Of course, this has the less awesome side effect of leaving me with tons of scrap paper in the bottom of my purse or very confusing text messages to myself.)

    Anyway, more on the topic, I’ve been speaking with a few people who haven’t jumped on the Nano bandwagon this year and think they’d like to next year and it is this very thing that stops them. They feel they won’t have the discipline to write without real inspiritation and if they force themselves to work passed that they’ll find they hate it. But for me, I’ve found those uninspired times to sometimes be the most fruitful – and frankly, I think working through that has only made me a better writer. Possibly a crankier one, too. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Ellen on #

    Elizabeth Gilbert gave a fantastic TED talk about the idea of muses/geniuses/artistic inspiration, and dealing with the pressure society tends to place on creative people (in case anyone hasn’t seen it, and wants to procrastinate writing NaNo for 20 mins or so: Very thought-provoking.

  4. wandering-dreamer on #

    I’ve actually been pleasently surprised to see that even when feeling relatively unspired I’m still able to write. Not as much and it takes longer, but I still can move my story along and get into the mood of it. I blame years of school papers on deadlines for this though, it certainly gave me loads of practice.

  5. Samwell on #

    What an excellent post. Succinct, direct, relatable. I’m not doing NaNoWriMo, but everything you say here is applicable to writers in general. Thanks.

  6. AliceB on #

    I second Ellen’s suggestion to listen to Elizabeth Gilbert’s inspirational TED talk. You may have a muse, but you must do your job, and that’s to write. If the muse shows up, great. Maybe you’ll be once-in-a-lifetime brilliant. If not, it’s not your fault and it’s okay, too, because you’re doing what you’re supposed to do. Write.

  7. Chris on #

    I don’t wait for the muse, however, whenever she has something to say, I listen.

  8. Philip on #

    I’m pretty good at making myself sit down and look at what I’ve already written and at what I still need to write. But I mentioned a couple days ago the problem of making time to work on the same large project on top of my regular job and other day-to-day issues. Or more importantly drumming up the enthusiasm to return to the same project. I imagine as a professional writer it’s not as much a problem for you. You have all day (or at least a lot more time than just the evening) to work on your book/story/whatever and maybe don’t have to force it as much.

    Weekends are usually good for me in that regard. I have all day to work and will eventually end up with two or three thousand words at the end of the day.

  9. DWongster on #

    I’ll have to check out the TED talk too, but so far, anyway, with the exception of yesterday when I was physically out of the house and didn’t write all day — I’ve been able to crank out the 1700 words of so per day. I’m now actually trying to up it to 1800 so that I can finish a day early! Ha! Still, I actually need to catch up from missing most of yesterday.

    Reading both your and Scott’s blog have been quite helpful. I wrote an interview with the main antagonist, and it’s a blast having him talk about his evil plan, all the while taking up 1000+ words! It will eventually get dropped, I’m sure. But it was fun! Thanks again for the tips!

  10. Finny on #

    I’m one of those people that just wrote about the muse not wanting to work with me, but as you indicated, it is really a metaphor for my particular creative process.

    I enjoy reading posts like this one because it reinforces the idea that I must, absolutely, write regardless of whether or not I feel like it. I’ve heard the advice time and again, but until this past year, it hadn’t clicked. Or, I had my excuses in place (I mean, really, wasn’t I doing enough writing while I was in college?). But these days, it is about sitting down, setting up, and plugging away…

    To echo the prolific Nora Roberts, “There ain’t no muse.”

    Thanks for the reminder, Justine!

  11. Finny on #

    @PHILIP who wrote “I imagine as a professional writer itโ€™s not as much a problem for you. You have all day (or at least a lot more time than just the evening) to work on your book/story/whatever and maybe donโ€™t have to force it as much.”

    I just wanted to respectfully point out that before a lot of these authors were able to quit their day jobs to write full-time, they started out as most of us do — with day 9-5 jobs, with spouses, with children to shuttle to school/practice/etc, and with all the other distractions that come with, well, life. They had to contend with all the same things a lot of NaNo-ers do (and who’s to say they’re not still contending with those things now, even as professional authors who probably earn enough to not necessitate working the typical 9-5 job?).

    Plenty of published authors maintain their jobs and families while writing on the side/part-time/etc. I know a friend of mine churned out something like 20 novels before she could officially quit her day job and make a living off writing alone. So, I think a lot of authors are actually a lot like us – writing in their “spare” time as much as possible. ๐Ÿ™‚

    NaNo gives us a chance to see what it might be like to be a pro author. It challenges us to be able to write on a daily basis despite life’s distractions/issues/etc… which, I suspect, is something most authors do already.

    Happy writing.

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