Where oh where has my little muse gone?

Dear Andrea,

Since I started writing fiction, there have been a few times when the words really flowed. I was bit by the writer’s “bug”, blessed by the “muse”. These exciting times have lasted months at a spell. It’s very much like obsession. Under the influence of this passion, I can hardly think about anything else. If I’m not actually writing (like because I have to make dinner or do laundry or whatever) then I’m thinking about what I will be writing the next time I get a chance or I’m thinking about how to arrange said writing opportunity.

When my first obsessive period ended, I had a few theories why. My best guess was that it had to do with the failure of the product of those muse-assisted labors (a novel) to find an audience. I tried for several years to figure out why my muse left and how to get it back. Without the passion, I can’t get far. I tried, but my fiction is not only painful to produce, but stinks without it. I prayed about this. I wrote nonfiction and I did proofreading, editing, and critiquing. I also read how-to books and well-written fiction which could serve as inspiration.

My muse had abandoned me and left no forwarding address. Until about a week ago. I was watching a defunct TV series on DVD and one particular episode just jumped out at me as being “unfinished”. Yes, the series had been canceled a decade ago and I knew anything I wrote was doomed as unpublishable fan-fic because I didn’t own the characters or the setting, but I couldn’t help myself. I knew no one would ever read it, but, shockingly, my muse didn’t care. I *had* to write a resolution of that episode. Five years without a muse and I had maybe 5000 (bad) words of fiction to show for it. One week with a muse and I have 8000 words and no sign of abatement.

I love this condition and I love the way it makes my fingers flow, but now I want to know WHY it happens so I can induce it at will (during NaNo would be a prime example of a good time). What can I do to lure the writing “bug”, capture it and get it to be my friend and not an elusive visitor?

Museless in California

Dear Museless,

Honestly, we’d all love to know that, but you’ve stumbled onto one solution already. Take ownership of the plot. Remove from the novel anything under copyright: change the character’s names, and any too-unique identifiable character traits, or otherwise tweak them until they’re all yours.  The same principle applies to setting. Change all place names and unique landmarks and make the place your own. It’ll take work and care to keep the plot intact, but it can be done. Ideas can’t be copyrighted, so, as long as you’re careful to remove in your rewrites the actual, specific characters and settings from the show, you should have a salable manuscript at the end.

Sounds like you’ve needed a writer’s spiritual retreat, to take time to pray and reflect, and rededicate your pen to the Lord. And lick your wounds, of course, to lament. I know it’s hard when things don’t turn out the way we hoped. I certainly have a hard time remembering myself that God isn’t looking for results, but obedience. So let’s repeat it together: “God wants obedience, not results. God wants obedience, not results . . . .”

We need to be faithful to write what the Lord calls us to write, no matter what the numbers tell us. We never know what He can accomplish, what lives He can touch, through our foolishness.

This idea might come as strange, but the best solution I’ve found for writer’s block is to surrender our pens to the Lord and see what He does with it. He might surprise you. I started my WIP, Daughter of Eve, with the roughest of outlines for character and setting, a borrowed plot, and a wing and a prayer I might make it to 50,000. It’s now 75,000 with a totally different plot drawn from fleshed-out characters with minds of their own and a world rich enough to tempt my writer husband to play in it. I literally did not know what was coming next until I wrote it for most of the novel. That’s not me; that’s the Lord. (Obviously, the mistakes are mine. We do still need to edit and revise.)

On a practical note, you can write your way out of writer’s block, and badly written sitcoms begging for rewrites is one possible starting place.  It might well be garbage, but keep it up until you find your story. You can always delete what doesn’t work and change the copyrighted elements later.

In Christ’s Service,

Andrea Graham