Calling the Muse

scattered museHow many times have you started a story and gotten stuck partway through? You hit that wall and just don’t know where to go from there? Or maybe you write your way into a corner and don’t know how to get yourself out. Or you get all the way through to the revision process and find you have plot holes you don’t know how to fix?

You’re not alone.

I’m always exploring new ways to improve my own writing skills. Lately, I’ve been going through some courses created by author Patti Larsen on writing and outlining. (Yes, I just mentioned the dreaded outlining… which I happen to enjoy, thank you very much.) Patti is a prolific author and she’s come up with some pretty handy tips to avoid these pitfalls. Check out her site if you want and see for yourself.

But back to my topic. There are ways to court your muse. Being organized, as Patti suggests, is one of them. I find that is often one of my own problems when I write. I spend all day editing for clients (for whom I’m very grateful!), and by the time I get to work on my own writing, my brain feels rather scattered. I re-read what I’ve got so far, go over my notes, and basically have to start from scratch every time. By the time I do all the catch up, I’m tired and it’s time for bed, so I don’t get much writing done. That’s why I picked up her courses. I wanted to enhance my own organization skills so I could skip all the catch up and just get to writing. I figured there must be methods to keep my muse engaged to fit my limited writing time.

If you’re not into outlining, maybe you’re an imagery person. If images speak to you, perhaps keeping images handy (Scrivener lets you keep a file of images or other references in the same file you’re writing in) will help. When I was writing Titanic Deception with my husband John, I found it helpful to look up reference images. I had blueprints of the Titanic, photos of several of the state rooms, the dining rooms, the decks… photos of some of the key players who were on the ship, that sort of thing. I looked up information on clothing of the era, I looked up menus for the modern part of the story, chatspeak translation, bomb defusing, and all sorts of things. I could keep all this information handy for when I needed inspiration. That helped keep my muse at my side.

It helped me to have a sounding board. John provided that. Since he was the main idea guy on our team, we spent countless hours going over plot lines, ironing out wrinkles that caused me writing angst, and working out physical actions so I could describe them with words.

So, what do you do to keep your muse at hand? Please share your tips in the comments!

Apologies for being missing in action last week. A pesky spider bit me on a crucial finger and it got infected, greatly affecting my typing abilities due to pain and swelling. Went to the doctor and have been on antibiotics since. It’s finally beginning to look like it’s responding and I’m almost back to normal. Thank you for your kind patience! :)

Planning is Not a Bad Word

Not everyone plans their novels. That’s okay. But sometimes, planning can really help you avoid those gaping holes in your plot. It might help you avoid writer’s block. It might even help you write your book more efficiently. Why? Because not only have you thought out your plot line, you’ve taken the time to analyze why this action leads to that one.

One of my favorite lines from Plot vs. Character by Jeff Gerke goes something like this: In life, one thing happens after another. In novels, one thing happens BECAUSE of another.

In order to keep your plot barreling along, one thing must lead to another. Writers who don’t plan often end up rewriting whole scenes later because it occurs to them afterwards that one scene might work better if it were to happen because of another scene. By planning, you can avoid that and get it right the first time, making your rewriting and editing time more efficient.

I’ve heard so often, “But I can’t plan! It ruins my creativity!” Sigh. Even if you plan, nothing is written in stone. Think of a plan as a guide. A path through the woods, even. It doesn’t mean you can’t wander off on the path to the left, it just means you have a map to get back to your story line. If the path to the left works out and adds some great element to your story, that’s wonderful. If it doesn’t, you’re not lost on page 227 with nowhere to go.

Planning is not an enemy. Planning lets you flesh out your characters so they’re more believable. It gives your plot somewhere to go. Make changes all you want, but having at least a basic plan can really help you work through your story.

Let’s suppose that Ben has plans to take Linda out on a romantic date. It occurs to you as you write that his friend Bob shows up earlier that afternoon, and they completely space on the date because they are having too much fun, leaving Linda feeling like Ben is a real jerk. Later, you are writing a romantic scene between Linda and Ben, only to have spaced on the fact that Ben stood her up. You won’t remember all the details until you reread what you’ve written, leaving you the task to rewrite that romantic scene. Not so romantic now, is it? Planning could have prevented this, because you could refer to a few notes and you could jot in the new ideas that occurred during your writing session.

Okay, I know planning doesn’t work for everyone. But for many writers, especially those working on their first few books, planning can really help. This is especially true if you have a complicated plot or many characters to keep track of. At least give it a try. Use whatever works for you, you don’t have to outline the story. Post-its work well for some people. Others use specialized programs like Scrivener.  Play around with various techniques and see what works for you.