Writer's Craft Article by Karen S. Wiesner
The Four Myths Your Muse Desperately Wants You to Believe, Part 2
by Karen S. Wiesner
Based on FIRST DRAFT OUTLINE (formerly titled FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS)
In Part 1 of this article, we talked about the first myth your muse desperately wants you to believe. Let's continue.
Myth Two: If you try to master your muse, it’ll leave you forever.
Like most writers who write based on the whims of their muse, I used to believe if I tried to master my muse, he’d punish me by leaving me forever. But I had to make a choice: I either mastered him and made him my assistant, risking the chance that he’d leave me forever, or I let my muse win, and I went into what had now become a career allowing him to direct me, if and when he deigned to. I took a gamble, and I decided it was worth losing my muse if I could be the one to make the decisions in my career. My gamble paid off—in spades.
So how did I become a master of my muse? With self-discipline. I made goals, and I stuck to them religiously. I also started using outlines for every project.
I had no opinions about outlines before I tried one, outside of simply believing I couldn’t learn to use one. I forced myself to try using an outline—my own version of an outline—for a novel I’d already written numerous drafts of. First I sketched out a couple chapters of the book, then I started writing the book once more. I completed the outline about midway through writing the first draft of the book. Not long after that, when I used an outline for a brand new project, I found myself brainstorming, productively and constantly. I was able to outline six to eight scenes of the book without writing a word of the actual novel.
With the outline complete well ahead of the novel, I was able to revise the outline instead of the novel. A wondrous thing happened in this process: I could now see the entire novel from start to finish, in one condensed place—including all the workable parts and all the unworkable. All I had to do was fix the unworkable elements in the outline in order to strengthen the book.
Now when I write a novel, I always start with a complete outline, which I can revise as many times as I need to. Writing a book has almost become a simple process, requiring only one draft and a final edit and polish (for most projects). I save time, effort, and many, many intense rewrites. I can also write more “final draft” novels a year, rather than a half dozen that need another overhaul.
There’s a big difference between authors who are slaves to their muses and those who have mastered it. Authors who have mastered their muses have left behind many of their monomaniacal ways and have re-directed their energies in more productive ways of accomplishment on each project. Some projects capture them more than others, but quality work continues regardless. They don’t wait for a fickle muse to bless them with divine inspiration.
They set their course with determination and purpose, and they don’t detour from it. These writers not only plans ahead project by project, but frequently plans their careers by the year (or more!) with challenging yet attainable goals. They seem very satisfied, almost laid-back with themselves and their work because they tend to finish what they start, a couple pages or a chapter a day. Generally, they write in a linear fashion. Writer’s block and burn-out are rare since the muse has become an assistant rather than the supreme ruler. These authors are nostalgic when they remember those day-and-night writing sessions, but a part of them is also relieved that they no longer have to rely on the whim of something so unstable to accomplish anything. Authors with muse assistants love their work just as much—possibly more—than a muse-driven author. The author and muse have formed a cohesive team, each respecting the other and working harmoniously with the common goal of wanting to produce the best book they possibly can together.
Your first instinct after reading the vast differences between muse-driven and muse-assisted is probably that there is one wrong and one right way to creating a book. In fact, it’s not about that at all. The first year or more of committing yourself to becoming a writer will be one of the most definitive in the life of any author. This is where you learn the very foundations of being a writer, where you learn what you can do. Your goal during these formative years isn’t to be a productive writer or even a published one. Writing, re-writing and re-writing some more is how you grow.
All writers deserve to give themselves the time they need to refine and learn to love their craft in whatever way works for them—even if it’s crazy, to believe in themselves enough to take the next, crucial step.
There is a time to move beyond that wonderful stage, if you believe you’re talented and ambitious enough to succeed as an author. I think you’ll know when the time has arrived for you. You’ll have at least one near-perfect, complete manuscript that you believe in with all your heart. Quite possibly, you’ll have many more than that. You’ll also feel a strong urge for direction and discipline as you approach each project. That is the time to rein in your muse, to train it to assist you instead of control you, and to get down to the business of becoming a productive writer who sells that near-perfect manuscript of your heart.
It’s a very different world for me than when I first started writing. I no longer believe in superstitions. They never got me anywhere except face-down on the ground, cowering. There are so many writers who believe that the muse is a magical being who either blesses us or curses us. Imagine believing your muse is your assistant in the process of writing. Imagine a world where it’s no longer up to the power-hungry bard you possess whether you write, when you write, how much you write, or how you feel about any of it.
Now is the time to take control of your writing, if you’re willing to gamble (and possibly wrestle until one of you concedes defeat) with your muse.
In the next part of this article, we'll talk about another myth your muse desperately wants you to believe.
Karen S. Wiesner is the author of First Draft Outline
Volume 1 of the 3D Fiction Fundamentals Collection
Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series. Visit her here:
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