To Catch a Muse (overcoming writer’s block)

My writer’s block comes and goes. Mostly it comes- arrives from the darkness of self-doubt and struggles within my personal relationships. And being that I have no one breathing contractual fire down my neck, I am free to wallow morosely in my frustrations since there isn’t a deadline setting me aflame, sparking me to write. This is where I become aggravated. Deadline or no deadline, Forced Writing isn’t fun, it isn’t inspired and it isn’t magical. It’s laborious, dull and dispiriting. But, when Creative Flow does show up- when it’s whooshing by an artist’s mind in brilliant waves of a million colors- it’s the most splendid swim into something far beyond a human’s genius. It’s ethereal. And once you’ve dived in, you want it all the time, you long for it, pant for it, desire it. You want it to consume you so that your work, your art, can be beautiful. But that delightful Creative Flow is elusive, and most times ephemeral.

I’ve been following different authors online, trying to sniff out and grasp how they find and hold on to their Creative Flow- what is it that makes them successful writers? My biggest question, of course, is how do they overcome writer’s block? From what I’ve read, even best selling authors like Maeve Binchy have days where they just don’t feel like writing. In most cases, authors just forge ahead despite their mood and/or lack of inspiration. When it comes to novice writers mooning about, waiting for their genius to show up, Stephen King in On Writing says, “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 or computer. He may not be much to look at, that muse-guy, and he may not be much of a conversationalist, but he’s got inspiration. It’s right that you should do all the work and burn all the midnight oil, because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic. There’s stuff in there that can change your life. Believe me, I know.”

I was watching a TED Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) and she made a lot of sense when it came to WANTING to write, but feeling bereft of that magical spark. She said sometimes she would sit down, ready to work and create, and she just couldn’t feel her muse. And then one day she said out loud to the corner of her writing room, “Listen you… thing, you and I both know that if this book isn’t brilliant that is not entirely my fault, right? Because you can see that I am putting everything I have into this- I don’t have any more than this. If you want it to be better, you’ve got to show up and do your part of the deal. But if you don’t do that, you know what, the hell with it. I’m going to keep writing anyway because that’s my job. And I would please like the record to reflect today that I showed up for my part of the job.”

Before starting the endeavor of writing Faithful Lies, I imagined that the life of an author wouldn’t be “hard” work. By that I mean I assumed an artist’s life is happy, divine, elegant, sprinkled with a bit of brooding, perhaps a tad of emotional torture, and just enough dysfunction to make their creations profoundly deep and maybe a little recherché. Specifically, when I read Rosamunde Pilcher I envision her writing in a beautiful English garden filled with gorgeous and colorful flowers. She is in the middle of it, sitting up to a pretty white writing table with a typewriter and a cup of tea. She is dressed charmingly, her hair arranged in an attractive style. Her stylish reading glasses dangle from a neck chain, waiting to be used at any moment to assist in clarifying a sentence or changing a boring word to a descriptive one. (Not that Rosamunde Pilcher would ever use boring verbiage.) Probably that whole scenario is nothing like how she really writes, but that’s sort of the romantic lilt on how I view an artist’s world: tranquil, precious and always inspired.

The reality is, it’s very, very hard. Because, unlike a black and white mathematical career where 2 + 2 = 4, Creative Flow is subjective, grey and cagey. Julia Cameron says in her book The Artist’s Way: “… the entire thrust of intellectualism runs counter to the creative impulse. For an artist, to become overly cerebral is to become crippled.” Countless authors believe no amount of schooling or classes or seminars will help a writer- many believe writers are born, not made. You either have the talent or you don’t. And the only way a writer becomes a better writer is to write ALL. THE. TIME. Not just when we feel like it. Not just when the mood strikes. For if we waited on those things then nothing would ever be written. The toughest lesson I’ve had to learn is this: writing CAN be magical the way I dreamed it would be, but those moments are fleeting and not the norm. The only way to catch my muse is to sit and write.

And, Creative Flow, if you’re out there and you’re reading this, know that I appreciate all that you’ve done for me. Writing has always been my First Love. I’m either finally brave enough or finally stupid enough to pursue it. My writing coach told me, after reading several chapters of my manuscript, that I was meant to be a fiction writer- it’s what I was born to do. It is my hope that I can do the work to make that a reality. And doing the work is key- especially if you believe (which I do) that the beauty of Creative Flow does not come from within our own minds, but from an outside source. As Martin Ritt said, “I don’t have a lot of respect for talent. Talent is genetic. It’s what you do with it that counts.”


Who knew hopes and dreams and magic could be boiled down to those three simple words?  Sometimes life is less complicated than we think. And that’s nothing short of delightful.