Essential writing skills: pinning down the muse when deadlines press

So there you are, NaNo target or deadline just hours off – and your muse has disappeared so fast you can’t even see a patch of dust on the horizon.

Mars imaged in 1995 by the Hubble Space Telescope - with blue cast due to Rayleigh scattering. Cool. Photo: NASA, public domain.
Mars imaged in 1995 by the Hubble Space Telescope – with blue cast due to Rayleigh scattering. Cool. Photo: NASA, public domain.

One of the challenges writers face is that problem of forcing the stuff out even when the inspiration to write has decided to take a holiday on Mars.

What do you do? Other than run around in circles shouting ‘I’m a teapot’?

There are all kinds of tricks to nudge that inspiration back into action – taking a break for twenty minutes and doing something else, like going for a walk or getting some housework done. But what happens when those tactics don’t work either?

The key to all of them is to analyse why you’ve dried up – work the problem, then tackle it. And sometimes, brute force is the only answer. Try these:

  1. Is it because you’re simply flat out of enthusiasm? It’s become a chore? Tough. Writing isn’t a fun pastime. Push through – keep writing.
  2. Are you stuck because your ideas have dried up? Go back to your plan. Er – you DO have a plan, don’t you – and look it over. Is there anything else you can write in the story, then backfill?
  3. Have you worked your writing into a corner? Got stuck on plot? Go back to the plan (yes, THAT plan) and see where it went adrift. Is it to do with character arc, plot narrative, or something else? Luckily, NaNo is purely about words-to-time, which is an important skill of itself. Bash through anyway and finish it – you can revise later (and I’ll be outlining how).

Do these techniques work for you? How do you tackle those ‘stuck’ moments?

Copyright ©Matthew Wright 2014

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6 thoughts on “Essential writing skills: pinning down the muse when deadlines press

  1. Great stuff here. I’ve “written” myself into a corner a few times when attempting longer pieces. I think it’s a conflict between the “pantser” part of me and the “planner” part. I want the story to finish a certain way, but after awhile I realize that logically, “you can’t get there from here.” That can be really frustrating.

  2. For me, getting stuck can become a “black hole” very quickly so I adopted what I call percolating. As we discussed with August on FB, the idea of letting some writing sit–percolating–has energized my writing every time, if my recall is accurate. It also helps me not to get pushed up against a deadline for it takes the panic out of meeting a word count or submission date. In other words, percolating is like meditating, I still my thoughts and they gather. Thanks, Matthew!

    1. I suspect there’s a close link between meditative technique and ‘percolation’; the mind works behind the scenes but the resulting ideas are often masked by the ‘clatter’ of everyday events and life. Curiously, just the other day I discovered that Arthur C Clarke used to do exactly the same thing. He apparently spent years writing his books, often by first setting up the ideas and concepts, then letting them percolate.

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