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When You Can't Catch Your Muse

Updated: May 13, 2019

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by Andy Lee May 12, 2019

Derek Jacobi is such a great actor that everyone, cast, audience, even the directors, are convinced that D’Arcy Carden is a pathetic untalented wannabe actress, like, even in real life. She outperforms in suit, incredulous, dumbstruck. She calls up some hidden reserve of self-respect and gives him a piece of her mind, and he looks at her without blinking and tells her to use it, use the anger. When she does, she takes a step onto a path she thought she’d been on for a long time, but actually she wasn’t. She was walking alongside it, on the Frontage Road parallel to the byway of her desired career. Until she wasn’t anymore.

What they’ve done (and that scene in the pilot episode of Barry isn’t particularly original, but it is superbly well done) is generate so much emotion that it forces a change in an artistic performance. She couldn’t have continued acting the same way, even if she’d tried. How does that work for writers?

Sweeping aside the possibility of chemically altering yourself with pills or drink or smoke or – whatever else is out there - and risk addiction, familial detonation, and financial ruin, not to mention your health, there are definitely things writers do to inspire themselves, to find their muse.

1. Be willing to work without a muse. Wait, what? Yep. A lot of really good writers write a lot of crap. They (refrain) write and they write and they (go to refrain a lot of times) and none or very little of that ever makes it to the published page. Be willing to put in the time, the tears, the frustration. Be willing to keep coming back to it. Because this job is not unlike most jobs, a lot of it is boring paperwork.

2. Be willing to put it all on the line. If you write and you read and you still aren’t sure if what you’re writing isn’t instantly a multi-national best-selling novel, be willing to have people read it before you know. Whether they are friend or foe, people will read your words and tell you things. Some of what they say may make you cry, or make you want to go to bed (possibly forever), or make you want to whip out your laptop/pen/voice recorder and fix things (or push on, or start over). Whatever words you are given, though, these are words you must hear (you don’t necessarily have to do anything about them, we all know that no one piece – even Pulitzer prize winning work – appeals to everybody). You asked that person to read your manuscript for a reason, and whatever their opinion, you should hear them out. If it can improve your work, you owe it to them and yourself and all your future readers to improve it. If you feel misunderstood, that’s a message too.

If you don’t put your work into the world, it is akin (though in ten million ways not remotely the same as) birthing a stillborn. It’s so sad, and in this case, you could do something about it; bereaving mothers of stillborn babies know there is usually nothing they could have done to save their baby. Save your newborn books! Put them out there, even though it’s scary and not always friendly. Do it, take in the feedback, and move forward.

3. Expose yourself. I’m not referring to trench-coat style exposing. You’ve heard it before, you know it in your heart. Art makes better writers of us all. Well read people have been exposed to more than the Peter Jackson’s vision of Hobbiton (admittedly phenomenal), or Steven Spielberg’s of Southern slavery. So much of the world is art – living and created. Exposing ourselves to as much of it as we can is medicine, food, air, shelter, and water for writers. It brings us more than joy, it brings us closer to our goals and dreams. It shapes what is otherwise only in our heads. The last turn before you sleep, be thinking of something new.

4. Help yourself. If you haven’t already gotten help, look at any of the millions of published books and you’ll likely see the last little section that most writers include, called Acknowledgements. They thank editors and family members, readers, publicists, teachers and the clerks at all-night Slurpee places. None of us do this alone. Every voice and every idea is a knife that shapes and hones the work, making it tighter, cleaner, usually better. Do yourself a favor and take the help. And if anyone is offering to help with laundry, food, or house cleaning, take them up on that too. And thank them.

Being willing to continue to work on your story, to put yourself out there, and to listen to the world, is what will make your book-baby something of which you can be proud. Get your ire in the game!

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