How to Attract Your Writing Muse
Authors often refer to motivation as the muse. We discuss it like we’re hunters describing a legendary animal we saw in the woods. We notice that it shows up when we least expect it and disappears just as fast but never seek to engineer these encounters, instead letting the natural flow oscillate us between periods of productivity and procrastination. The reasons we come up with for pivoting are plentiful — burnout, getting stuck, or simply losing “the muse” after a week-long vacation. Consider, though, all the times you’ve forced yourself to work. In those moments, the muse remains elusive for a while then suddenly appears, right?
Science can explain this phenomenon. When we work on a creative project, dopamine (which Steven Kotler, Director of the Flow Research Collective deems a “performance enhancing neurochemical”) floods the brain, creating the rewarding sensation of a job well done. When that happens, our minds focus and we enter the flow state, a mindset you may recognise as feeling inspired to write. The science is clear on this one: you can wait for inspiration to strike but it’s not essential. Take action and it’ll be like putting out catnip for your muse. Work and your muse will appear.
The process works like a cycle you can start at any point. Inspiration creates motivation, motivation evolves into action and action leads to more inspiration. All three act as doorways into the cycle. However, action is the only one you can choose at will to kickstart the flywheel. Knowing this, it’s easy to see how some authors can hit the ground running at any moment. They know the secret. Still, even for them, starting with action isn’t always easy. Sometimes we need baby steps to help us reach for inspiration. That’s why, in today’s blog post, we will explore a checklist of simple tactics you can use to ease your way back into a writing routine and help you find your muse.
What has caused you to lose your creative spark in the past? Sometimes we stop writing because of uncontrollable circumstances — our laptop dies, we get hit by a truck or a family emergency swallows an entire week — but these scenarios are rare. Most of the time, roadblocks are both predictable and avoidable. Your issue, for example, could be setting unrealistic goals. Maybe your last ones killed your motivation. It could be a lack of foresight. Perhaps you didn’t factor in upcoming events and lost control of your schedule. Maybe it was just that being an adult got in the way and, before you knew it, two decades had passed in the blink of an eye.
Try to identify what has caused you to lose your muse because understanding will likely help you avoid spooking it again in the future. When you look at setbacks, don’t try to make excuses or view them with shame. Instead, stare nakedly at your inadequacies, for that’s the only way to improve. Were your daily goals too ambitious? Try again with a more sustainable plan. Did you forget to schedule rest? Add a zero-wordcount day into your weekly cycle. It’s fine as long as you don’t let a lazy day outstay its welcome. Did you write without an outline? Test how you fare after creating one. The more roadblocks you remove, the more creative you’ll be in the future.
Read an Unfinished Project
Authors often refer to the middle chapters of a book they’ve been writing as the “difficult middle” section… and for good reason. This is the point at which many of us lose sight of our original concept. It’s where we start to deviate from our outlines and our characters say things we never would have expected. Far from the intelligent, tight, profound and funny prose we imagined, the first draft no longer lives up to our expectations. By the middle chapters, it’s unwieldy. Lost in the difficult middle section, too close to our own words to judge them with objectivity, this is where many of us become disenchanted and jump ship.
Scan over an old project, however, and you’ll quickly find a manuscript that’s better than you remember. Indeed, having given a book distance, many authors find themselves reading their own work like a reader, finding inspiration where they used to scowl and unearthing holes in paragraphs that once resembled messes. Do this and the renewed clarity will lead you to tweak as you read, perfecting whatever’s on the page. When this happens, try to use the momentum to finish the project rather than start a new one. Not only will doing so reinforce a habit of completing work, but it will also give you more creative fulfilment than starting afresh.
Lower the Bar
Healthline, which publishes information about brain health, claims it takes 18 to 254 days to form a new habit and 66 days, on average, to make one automatic. Admittedly, those figures demonstrate that milage varies depending on the person. Despite variances in speed, though, what’s certain is that everyone forms habits the same way. First you act with intention, then you encounter resistance, then — if you persist — the friction erodes and a neural pathway forms, leading to a habit becoming your default routine. Habits are hard to form, but they’re easier to expand once you get to the point where you’ve formed the initial neural pathway.
Hence, if you want to start being creative on cue, make it easy on yourself. Lower the bar to form a habit. Instead of aiming to write 1,000 clean words a day, try 50 rough ones. You’ll find it more sustainable. Don’t aim to exceed your target or to create flawless prose. Just write 50 words every day, no matter what. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld used a similar technique when writing his uber-successful sitcom and comedy genius spawned from the routine. Once you’ve practiced for up to 254 days, according to multiple studies, you should be able to write every day without friction, and then you can work on upping the wordcount or editing what you’ve written.
Simplify Your Lifestyle
Life doesn’t need to be as complicated as many of us make it. Indeed, as creatives, we often make unique connections because we have diverse passions. We write in various genres under multiple pen names and enjoy a varied workday. On top of that, lots of us choose to lead busy lives, committing to social clubs, PTAs, workmates, and gym buddies. We try to learn languages, master instruments and take courses on subjects that have little to do with our writing. We try to do, have and see it all, and run ourselves ragged in the process. But what if you focused? Is it possible that you could be more creative by cutting needless busyness from your life?
You may think chaos is normal, and possibly healthy for a creative mind. However, what many authors discover when they try to simplify life is that a lot of the noise is self-inflicted and has been scaring away their muse. Ask yourself, “Is every commitment in my life necessary or am I just multi-passionate and can’t say no?” Each day, we all have finite decision-making power and waste a lot of it running in circles, leaving ourselves too tired to create. Want to snap out of the Groundhog Day? Close loops, wrap up projects, say no. Eventually, you’ll reach a place of simplicity that only contains vital tasks and space for writing — the perfect conditions for the muse.
Ask for Accountability
Picture this scenario: you’re a struggling writer who has lost their muse. None of your close friends write and, whenever the topic arises, all they do is make jokes, so you keep your writing a secret pastime. In this case, are you more or less likely to stay creative and practice your craft every day than someone who engages in a community of ambitious authors? According to the American Society of Training and Development, who have executed studies on the topics of achievement and accountability, the answer is clear:
“You have a 65% [greater chance] of completing a goal if you commit to someone. And if you have a specific accountability appointment with a person you’ve committed, you will increase your chance of success by up to 95%.”
The theory isn’t new — over 20 years ago, Jim Rohn popularised the idea that we become the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Plus, networking experts continuously endorse the psychological benefits of hanging out with high achievers. Not only will friends who are prolific creators help you to expel limiting beliefs but they will also provide encouragement, advice and accountability, all of which make you more likely to practice creativity and stay inspired. Thus, consider joining a community of authors and buddy up with one so you can keep each other accountable. It’ll almost double your chances of creating on a regular basis. No single trick can guarantee you’ll wake up every day feeling inspired. Deploy these techniques when you’ve lost your muse, however, and they will help you climb out of a rut and re-build creative momentum. The more you practice, the faster you’ll recover after a blip and the more you’ll gain control over your creativity. Have patience and, one day, you won’t just be able to attract your muse, you’ll tame it and have it sitting beside your writing desk every morning at nine o’clock sharp.
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