Muse Wrangling 101

Good morning Minions. The Evil Mastermind asked me to speak to you today on a subject that is close to his heart – productivity prose.

Now I know the P-word can strike fear into the hearts of the bravest of you, but it is a subject that must be addressed. We are all writers. Writing is how we produce prose, and prose is how we earn our daily gruel.

But what happens when our Muse refuses to co-operate? What happens when that gender-neutral beast sits in its cage, sulking and refusing to come out?

We get no gruel, that’s what.

I can see by your faces that most of you know what it’s like to own a stubborn Muse, the kind that forces you to stare at a blank screen for hours on end, or goes on strike mid-way through a piece, leaving you to face a deadline on your own.

It is well documented that such Muses can play havoc with a writer’s life. But what, if anything, can we do about it?

I’ve met many Muse wranglers who will tell you to march into that cage, wrestle your Muse to the ground, and drag it kicking and screaming to the keyboard. They further advise that you should do this, day after day, until your Muse finally gives in.

I will not lie, this method does work, but it is often as hard on the wrangler as it is on the Muse. And it can lead to unexpected outcomes, such as stilted, limping prose. And none of us want that now do we?

My technique, developed over the last thirteen years, is based on the old carrot-and-stick approach. Whilst I do chain my Muse to the keyboard every day, once it is there, I put away the whip, and instead pamper it with music.

Yes, music. I can see your looks of disbelief, but surely you have heard the old saying ‘music hath charms to soothe the savage breast’?

Well, believe you me, there is nothing more savage than a surly Muse! However the right music can help tame it, especially if it’s one of those flighty ones that delights in fantastical worlds and lyrical prose. For them, music seems to induce a trance-like state particularly effective for those tricky first drafts.

“But what kind of music?” you ask.

The choice of music is where science gives way to art, and may require some trial and error. I personally have tried opera, classical music, and the soundtracks to games and movies. All have blissed my Muse out at one time or another, but the one common thread to all my music choices was the lack of lyrics, well lyrics I could understand [I don’t speak Italian].

For some reason, my particular Muse finds lyrics distracting, and will ‘sing along’ instead of churning out words of its own. Yours may be different, which is why choosing the right music is so critical.

I should, however, warn you against letting your Muse become bored. If you notice it staring out the window, or taking too many coffee breaks, it may be time to change the music. A small investment in time and effort now could save you hours of distress later.

In Muse Wrangling 201 I will discuss what to do when music is not enough to keep your Muse happy, and it escapes the cage entirely.

Until then, I’d like you to try three different types of music on your Muse. Explain why each did, or did not work in 140 characters or less.

Class dismissed.

41 thoughts on “Muse Wrangling 101”

  1. I love this, and congratulations on your inaugural post! I normally need complete silence to write, but after reading about a few writing friends who needed music for inspiration, I thought I’d give it a try. Lyrics distracted me, and at first I fell back on Miles Davis. That was nice, but he’s often my dishwashing or rainy-day music. I tried Radiohead’s instrumentals, which put me in a very different mood. Then on to Sigur Ros, a band from Iceland, which has some lyrics but since it’s mostly in Icelandic (or whatever they’re singing in), they’re fairly unobtrusive. Then I decided that for me, dead silence worked best, so I save the music for other things.

    1. Oh dear. 🙁 Well no theory is perfect. Or perhaps you have a particularly well-trained Muse? Yes, that must be it. 😀

  2. Tango is good unless I get up to dance. A language I don’t speak is best to prevent singing along. But the music tends to mark the story, so the news humming in the background like white noise is also an option.
    (more than 140 but…)

    1. I was going to mark you down for going over the character limit but you said the magic words ‘white noise’ so you get an A!

      Back in the dawn of time I used to do all my studying in a busy cafe. After five minutes the background hubbub not only disappeared, it actually placed me in a bubble of concentration.

      Music too becomes white noise, but you’re right, it does subliminally influence the ’emotion’ of what we write.

    1. -grin- You know for years and years I used to think my daughter was crazy for working with music – especially rock music. But apparently a heavy rhythm can actually raise your heartrate and make you feel more energetic. 😀 True!

  3. Here’s my assignment, Teacher A.C.:

    20 years in broadcast news, writing with police scanners, music, etc., in the background, make me cherish silence when I write these days.

    (For extra credit: I also don’t keep the TV or radio on “for company.” But I know lots of folks do. To each his or her own. 😉 )

    1. For me, music shuts off the logic and builds pictures in my head. What I write inevitably needs editing, but it has… life?

    1. You write steampunk? I didn’t know that. 😀 I don’t change the music for every scene but I do for a change of ‘mood’.

  4. I’ve seen other authors talking about the music they write by, and it mystified me. I canNOT write if there is any music other than what’s already going on in my head.

    I always thought it was because I’m a classically-trained musician, but other people here are saying they can’t listen to music while they write either, so I guess it really isn’t that.

    It’s nice to know I’m not the only one. 🙂

    1. You’re definitely not the only one. 🙂 I can’t speak for others, but I know that for me the music is a way to shut off the logical, tech writer part of my brain. Without it I doubt I would have ever finished even one story. 🙁 But I don’t think your Muse is as recalcitrant as mine either. 😉

    1. Hmm… that is a tricky one. Maybe try it on Techno as that’s mostly beat and little melody? Apologies to all Techno officionados!

  5. Music definitely makes me trip: Mozart, Joan Armatrading, Joe Satriani and many more; eyes closed, I may get a vision, but to actually do the yards ‘silence is golden.’ (140)

    Excellent post, AC, nicely delivered.

    1. lmao – another A+!

      It’s amazing how diverse our writing styles are. There are patterns to be sure, but no hard and fast rules.

  6. Thank you guys! For getting into the spirit of the post, and for providing so much interesting info about how you write. 🙂

  7. It all depends on my mood, relaxing music when I’m relaxed, shouty music with a beat when I’m feeling like jumping around. If I put on the wrong kind of music it just drives me crazy instead of helping! 😀

    1. Oh yes, it /has/ to be the right kind of music. I’ve wasted hours looking for that one special sound. And it’s always a case of ‘I’ll know it when I hear it’.

    1. Carmina Burana is one of my Muse’s favourites as well. I’ll definitely have to try her on the Killers though. Rock? Pop? Other?

    1. Wow, now that’s what I call covering all the bases. I can understand the Stones for a character, but Vivaldi for chase scenes? I love The Four Seasons but isn’t most of his work a little… laidback? Oh and A+ for you too. 😉

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