Thankful Thoughts: How to Encourage Your Muse

It’s November, and thoughts during this month naturally turn to thankfulness. Many friends on social media sites have taken the “30 Days of Thankfulness Challenge,” and I’m enjoying reading multiple posts on a daily basis. But this is a post about encouraging your muse, and you’re probably wondering what thankfulness has to do with getting that contrary gal (or guy) to work. Well sometimes it’s all about being thankful.

Mr. Darcy (Colin Firth)

My muse is an odd bird. You might assume she’d enjoy rainy days filled with thoughtful music, multiple cups of tea and all the dark chocolate she can find; that a little over-the-top emotion from me is all it takes to get her creative juices flowing. You know, kind of like the scene in Pride and Prejudice where Darcy pours his heart out on paper to Elizabeth (although he was pretty disgusted with her at that moment). The all-night vigil he keeps with feather pen in hand, desperately trying to explain how wrong she was about him (except for the part where he purposefully keeps Jane from Bingley). He writes with abandon, sealing his words with a big blob of red wax, and instead of going straight to bed, heads towards the grove where he hopes to find her (I’ve watched it way too many times).

But I’ve recently realized there’s a better way to get my muse moving. “Tell us please!” you say. “Don’t keep us waiting one more minute.” OK, here it is…BEING THANKFUL!

Yep, you heard me. One of the best ways to get my muse in the writing frame of mind is practicing thankfulness. Here’s how it goes…

I get up, pack lunches and help get breakfast. I send my husband and daughter off to school, look at my computer and sigh. “I don’t want to sit there all day!” I moan. “I don’t have anything useful to say to anyone. I don’t care about deadlines. I’m tired.” Then I walk by the offending machine to get a shower (and hopefully an attitude adjustment). By the time I’ve had my caffeine (Diet Coke), I’m feeling a little better, but not good enough. So I read my devotional and Bible and spend some time meditating. I close my eyes and open them, and there it is; the blank screen staring back at me. “It’s time,” I say aloud, “for some thankfulness.” My list goes something like this:

I’m thankful for…

  • The chance to work from home. When there’s three feet of snow outside, I don’t have to commute, put on a coat or even get out of my jammies if I don’t want to (but I always do). This is a very good thing.
  • My family. When you’ve seen your kid go through two major surgeries in two years and watch him graduate, get a great job and get married all in a few month’s time, that is something to be thankful for. I write to help all of them realize their dreams while I’m realizing mine.
  • My health. When you get diagnosed with RA and you think you’ll never write, or do anything, again, you don’t take little things for granted. Each time I wiggle my fingers or get up from my chair, I remember a time when I couldn’t.
  • The ability to think and process information in a way that others can read and understand. We writers take this for granted regularly and we shouldn’t. Just like you might wish you could run a marathon or play an instrument, there are many people who would love to be able to do what you do.
  • God’s grace in my life. Even if God never blessed me with one more thing, He has been very good to me. That is reason enough to work hard and be grateful for the gift each and every day.

My list gets much longer when my muse is especially contrary. But most days, after these five things she gets the message that it’s time to get back to it and be joyful in the process. And if there’s a little dark chocolate somewhere in the house that makes her even nicer.

Even if you don’t practice the “30 Days of Thankfulness Challenge” in your life this month, at least take time to be thankful for the gift of language and story and the heart to use both to bring others joy.


Sensibility- The ability to put words together into stories or information that can benefit others is a gift. Use it and treasure it.

Sense- If your muse isn’t showing up for duty, inspire her by creating a “Thankfulness Journal,” or “Family Diary.”


How do you encourage your muse? What are some things for which you are thankful?

 

Aside

YeeHaw!….Back in the Saddle

The entrance to the Charleston City Market.

The entrance to the Charleston City Market.

I’m just getting back from a lovely vacation with my family to beautiful Charleston, South Carolina. Ah, Charleston, where ocean breezes blow (really hot ones), palmetto trees sway, and history is in and around every corner. Since I’m thinking about taking children’s author, Kristen Fulton’s nonfiction writing course, Charleston piqued my author interest at just about every turn. I was also doing some research for another project I’m working on, so I guess you could call this kind of a working vacation. But don’t get me wrong, I did more relaxing, enjoying my kids and my husband, eating and exploring than I did working. So now that I’m back at my desk, how do I take all the things I learned as I was letting my muse rest by the pool with me and turn random thoughts into something productive? I mean, vacations are amazing, but Monday always comes. It’s time to hitch up my big-girl overalls, tighten my saddle and get back to work.

So here are a few suggestions for getting back in the writing saddle and turning all that R&R into something productive:

  • Ease back into your writing schedule. I tend to let the work take over, and before I know it, I’m just as tired after two days back at my desk as I was before I took time off. Take baby steps after a vacation and give yourself at least two days to ramp up to full speed unless you have a looming deadline.
  • Organize your vacation thoughts. Many writers carry notebooks with them wherever they go. I do not do this. My brain stores lots of information and so far, my memory hasn’t failed me (for the most part). If you are a notebook carrier, then this will be easy for you. If you’re like me, you’ll need to sit quietly at your desk for a few minutes each day as you get back to work and write down thoughts, experiences and places as you recall them. I do this right from my keyboard and into a computer folder.
  • Give yourself a break. If you’re having trouble getting back into a writing rhythm, stop beating yourself up. It could be that your muse needs a few extra days to rest. While you’re waiting, find other productive, writing-related tasks that need attending to. Read a new book on plot or characterization. Organize your desk. Answer your backlog of emails. Send out some queries or submit a few manuscripts. Take the opportunity to do some of the things you’ve been putting off while your creativity revs back up to before-vacation mode.

Whether you’re just getting back from vacation or looking forward to a few days off, enjoy the moment, knowing that time away is sometimes just the boost you need to get back in the writing saddle.

Me and my husband at the Charleston waterfront park.

Me and my husband at the Charleston waterfront park.


Sensibility- Vacations are gifts. Use yours to heighten your senses and enjoy the life that is happening all around you.

Sense- Rushing creativity when you get back from a much-needed break can increase writing anxiety and derail the writing process.


 

How do you “get back in the saddle” after a vacation?

Aside

Just Brush Your Teeth! A Little BIC Primer

I saw something pretty crazy on television the other day (and no, it wasn’t a reality show).

It was a toothbrush that plays music while you brush your teeth. Designed with tweens and teens in mind, this amazing tool is supposed to have your kids up and dancing while keeping their pearly whites clean and healthy. Forget the fact that dental hygiene is just a part of what you have to do every day. Throw away the idea that having no cavities or gum disease is a reward all its own. No! Now boogieing while brushing is apparently the only way to get teens to brush! What’s next, floss that sings while sliding between your teeth? Seriously, when we saw that commercial, my family and I exchanged glances– two teens included—like “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

So what does a be-bopping toothbrush have to do with writing? Well, like brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing once a day and using mouthwash is the only way to keep your mouth healthy, BIC time (butt in chair for those of you unfamiliar with the term) is something you must do to keep your writing moving forward. There is no magic bullet when it comes to producing quality content that readers will love. You have to sit down, look at that empty screen and start typing. Something, anything, until the words begin to flow and you realize an entire hour has passed (or two even), and you hardly even noticed. BIC time is hacking out that rough draft, making those revisions, taking care of line edits and then doing the whole thing over again the next day. Lather, rinse, repeat. And just like brushing your teeth does not include looking in the mirror, putting the toothpaste on the brush, and getting a cup ready for rinsing, BIC time does not include answering emails, reading the latest publishing news, tweeting, posting or working on a writing course. BIC time is writing, plain and simple. Without those nervous moments of waiting for the flow of words to do just that- flow- your muse will never have a chance to speak to you in that magical way she does when all is quiet and it’s just you and a blank screen.

Not everything in life is meant to be 24/7 fun. BIC time in writing is a lot like brushing your teeth. It’s just something you have to do. Unless of course you want your teeth to fall out or your characters to never come alive. Does it get easier? Sure! Just like brushing your teeth has its own routine, the more BIC time you have the easier it is to get in the “zone.” So turn off the tunes and just brush your teeth. You may find yourself singing a song of your very own!


Sensibility- Writing can be a magical experience if you give yourself quiet moments to hear what your muse is trying to say.

Sense- Look at your schedule and set aside BIC time. For beginners, set a goal of at least three one-hour writing sessions each week.


How much BIC time to you set aside each week? What do you do to help yourself get in the “zone”?

Aside

Enriching Your Writing Life

Thanks to so many of you for commenting on my new and improved blog, Sensibility and Sense. And thanks for joining me here for conversations about the writing life from right where we are. You’ll notice at the end of each post I provide a two-sided take away- the sensibility and the sense. Think about it as two little truth nuggets “to go;” a gift for stopping by even if you don’t have time to read and comment on the entire post.

Today I want to talk about setting aside writing time. You’ve heard it on every writer blog, author website and at every conference: “You must write every day in order to be successful.” And after more than 20 years in this business, I absolutely agree. In order to be your best-writer self, you must write something every day. But if you’re in the middle of raising kids and helping your husband finish his education and get his business off the ground, like I was many moons ago and still am, some days writing time is hard to come by. So, rather than beat yourself up for not working harder (which parents who are also writers often do), or beat yourself up for writing when the floors need vacuuming and dinner is waiting to be cooked (which writers who are moms are very prone to do), let me suggest changing the mantra from, “you must write every day,” to, “do something every day that enriches your writing life.” But what does that look like?

Enriching your writing life may be as simple as taking your kids to library story time, digesting as many picture books as you can while you’re there, and then checking out a bag full to read during the week. It can also be keeping a small journal or notebook with you and jotting down things you see in the lives of your children and their friends that might make an interesting story. It might just be taking a walk and clearing your mind of clutter so great ideas can come pouring in, or having a conversation with another lover of children’s books about the latest award winner. How about opening a file on your laptop before you put in the next load of laundry and jotting down a few thoughts before the dryer buzzes? Daily writing-life enrichment comes from so many places if you’re paying attention. Because in this hard-working writer’s opinion, writing is as much about being an expert observer as it is about being a gifted storyteller.

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  • Sensibility- Your love of reading and writing is a wonderful gift. Nurture it by finding ways to feed it every day.
  • Sense- Nurturing writing looks different for each person. Accept where you are on your journey and find practical ways to enrich your writing each day, even if you don’t have time to sit down at your computer and get in the “zone” for three hours.

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What are some ways you enrich your writing life on a daily basis?

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