I started writing a new project a few weeks ago. Naturally, as with any new project, I was excited. The words flowed out of my fingertips. The pace was so electrifying, I thought I was literally seeing sparks. I couldn’t write fast enough to keep up. In a span of a couple hours, I had written thousands of words. The story had exhaled its first breath and I was starting to understand its heartbeat, which had quickly taken a life all of its own and letting me understand it.
Initially, I wanted to outline and plan out the series. I knew–and still know–very little about the series. It is a series. Nine books, actually, spanning across multiple genres and with enough plotlines to make me feel like I did after watching Inception the first time. I knew how the first book was going to start, but not how it was going to end. I wanted to know more, before starting it. I wanted to be more prepared, that way. So I tried to start outlining. A day went by. Then, two. My outline moved slowly, barely growing more than a few documents on Word, with many “figure out later” spots. The entire time, I had an itch to start the story, regardless of the outline’s stage, regardless of how much I actually knew about the story. I wanted to write it.
So I did.
*Cue electrifying writing day*
I was stoked. I felt reckless, but already, I could see the familiar patterns of my writing process taking shape. No matter how much outlining I did–and in my previous four books, the outlines were in-depth, researched and complete–the story was going to tell itself to me, not the only way around. I am simply the storyteller, not the creator. My stories have lives of their own and I’m just here to write them down and try to figure them out and do justice to them with my telling. Even only 10K in, I could see that Artemis had his own life, his own thoughts and his own plans. And I was excited he was sharing them with me, as for the first time, I hadn’t dug deep enough to understand them truly before I tried to tell them.
Yet when I sat down the next day to write, there were no sparks, no struggle to keep up with the words that poured through me. I barely wrote a paragraph.
*Cue repeat trudging for the next week*
Suddenly, the Muse that begged me to write for days, who I ignored and eventually gave into–and then was rewarded with an exciting, productive writing session–had disappeared. She was nowhere to be seen. I caught myself not writing during the times I set aside or during times I hoped to or times when I found myself free. Even the days when I actually tried, the output was poor. My excitement hadn’t died down–not in the slightest, as I thought about Artemis constantly and there were scenes I had come up with and wanted to get to, yet just hadn’t gotten there yet. Yet the words weren’t coming.
One afternoon, I had an hour before my shift at the desk started and I planned to write. So I put on a Skyrim atmospheres track, opened up my Word document and forced myself to write. At first, it was the same trudging. 15 minutes passed and I could barely get a paragraph down. But I pushed on, stubborn and determined. My hour before my shift passed and went. And I was surprised to find that I had written quite a bit.
And I was in no mood to stop.
However, my shift at the desk had started. Work–while nothing was waiting at that moment–could appear at any moment for me to complete. Plus, I had planned on writing a blog post and reading a friend’s manuscript during that shift, if no work came in for me to complete (I’m very lucky to have a part-time position where I can work on personal things, like this blog or writing or reading, during the lapses when there is no work to be done). Not the ideal writing conditions. Plus, I had made other plans. So there was no possible way I could keep writing.
Yet the Muse was there. After pushing past whatever boundary had been stopping me for over a week, I could feel her there, encouraging me and helping me write; rewarding me for my stubbornness and effort with scene after completed scene. So I pushed replay on the music, put in one headphone and kept writing.
And kept writing.
And kept writing.
Eventually, my six hour shift ended and I had to close down the library, so there was no chance to keep writing. I had to adhere to real life. But during that time, I wrote a solid seven thousandish words. I didn’t write a blog post or read my friend’s manuscript or read a book. I didn’t joke with my coworkers or be social. I obeyed my Muse and I wrote. Because I remembered how it felt to not be writing. I hated it, yet I couldn’t seem to get anything down that pleased me enough to keep writing. How could I ignore the mood to write, with words flowing, even if that feeling interrupted my plans and the environment wasn’t ideal, sometimes being interrupted by a phone call or a book request?
Here’s the thing: as a writer, I love writing. But that doesn’t mean I always am in the mood to write, even though I always want to be writing. I know that seems contradictory. I wish I could write all the time and I try to block out time to do so. When I sit down to actually do so, my current mood doesn’t always match that constant desire to write. Sometimes, I’m not in the mood because I want to do something else, like play video games or read a book or talk with other writers on Twitter about how we should be writing. Sometimes, there is a mental block that stops me, whether it is doubt or fear. Sometimes, it just isn’t working. Sometimes, it feels like work.
And other times, I can’t keep up. It’s like the characters are telling me exactly what needs to happen and how it should be said, the words just flow so freely and feels so natural.
During those times, you must try your hardest to write. I think I speak for many in saying that having the mood to write and the time to actually do so aligning up perfectly is a very rare occurrence. Obviously, there are instances when that just isn’t possible; you can’t give into your mood. It’s called real life getting in the way. And that’s tough shit. But don’t ignore your Muse when you have the choice to listen to her. She is fleeting and insufferable in her rarity, but when she visits and you heed her, the reward is worth all the frustration.
The only thing more important than obeying your Muse is forcing her to show up; by writing when you’re not in the mood to; by being stubborn and persistent and protecting your writing time; by scheduling time and actually using that time; by accepting a writing session where you write “only” 100 words or know everything you wrote is going to get cut later. Because if you wait for your Muse–your inspiration–to strike, your progress will be slow or even non-existent. Yes, it doesn’t matter how quickly you finish a project. But that is no excuse to wait and write only when you want to. What does matter is that you learn how to obey your Muse and how to survive without her, with both instances resulting in positive writing outcomes. Your work depends on that skill. Your work depends on your dedication. Your work deserves that attention.
And your future readers–those souls you haven’t yet met, who haven’t realized they need your work and will thank you for it, one day–demand it.