Muse Wrangling 201 – AWOL

We have a great deal to cover today so I’m going to jump straight in. First and foremost, an AWOL Muse cannot be wrangled. Neither whips nor carrots will work. An AWOL Muse must be wooed.

But how do you woo a Muse?

There is no simple answer to that question because each Muse is different. Nonetheless, there is a way to prevent your Muse from leaving in the first place, but it involves knowing and listening to your Muse.

Does your Muse have a strong work ethic? Or is it flighty and easily distracted?

If your Muse is easily distracted then it may have gone AWOL because it was bored. Yes, I know, that is an awful thing to say to an author, but sometimes we have to face facts – Muses get bored just like readers. If your Muse is bored with what it is doing then perhaps that is an indication that readers might find the prose boring too. If this is the case then a rethink is the only thing that will lure your Muse back into the fold.

However what if your Muse is not the flighty type? Why would it suddenly go AWOL?

The first thing you have to understand is that ‘sudden’ is like ‘overnight success’, a misnomer. It is more than possible that your Muse has been trying to tell you that something is wrong for quite some time… but you have not been listening.

All of us know when our Muse is happy because the prose almost leaps from our fingers. Sadly, most of us are far less perceptive when it comes to an unhappy Muse. We ignore the slow downs, the reluctance to work, the procrastination, and keep cracking the whip until one day we wake to find our Muse has gone, and we have writer’s block.

Yet if those slow downs were symptoms of an unhappy Muse, what was it unhappy about?

The thing you must understand is that Muses are like dogs. They sense things we are incapable of seeing, but they cannot warn us about them in words. Instead they growl, and clamp their teeth in our clothing. They plant their feet, and try to drag us backwards, away from the precipice. And if we ignore them long enough they will eventually run away.

My own Muse used to run away at least once a year, until I finally learned to recognize the danger signs. Now when I feel the first, chilling symptoms, I stop writing and start hunting for the problem I know must be there somewhere. Sometimes it turns out to be a gaping hole in the plot, or the realization that my protagonist is acting completely out of character. At other times it can be as simple as not seeing the obvious.

Once I find whatever is wrong, and fix it, my Muse stops trying to bite my bum, and everything is fine once more. So listening to the subtle messages coming from your Muse really does work… if you are a pantster. Plotters may have to use different techniques.

For your assignment this week, I’d like you to write a paragraph – a short paragraph – on how you stop your Muse from going AWOL. Alternatively you may discuss how you get it back once it has done a runner.

Class dismissed.

18 thoughts on “Muse Wrangling 201 – AWOL”

  1. Great post, AC, thank you! During tonight’s writing time, I had a good lesson. I’m writing too fast. I’m not slowing down to catch the details. This leaves me confused and agitated. So I stepped back and filled in a few things. It makes me think of Anne LaMott’s Bird by Bird, one of my favorite books on writing. She writes about feeling bombarded by the whole story all at once. Well, no wonder my little writing brain wanted out! She recommends focusing on a one-inch picture frame at a time. And only seeing the story through that. Look at Uncle Wilfred’s bow tie, for instance, or the way the guy in the corner is gazing out the window. A great lesson to keep coming back to!

    1. That’s really good advice, I mean homework, Laurie. 🙂 I know the accepted wisdom is to just write like crazy and not worry about the details until later. But… Those details give the writing its flavour. And sometimes those details beg to be written because something else hinges upon them, something important that may not become obvious until later. Thanks. 🙂

  2. The most recent time when my Muse went walkabout, it was because I was coming up on a very important scene that I was reluctant to write. I felt like, if I screwed this up, people would hate me for dragging them through five books to get to this crappy scene. I finally just plunged in and did it. Well, bribery — probably in the form of chocolate — might have been involved….

    1. -wince- Yes, living up to expectations can definitely sour even the best of Muses. The chocolate was a cunning strategy. 😀

  3. I think I screwed up. I put out what I thought was a *mouse*trap a few weeks ago, but I didn’t read the label close enough… needless to say, does anyone have any space in their backyard to hide a body?

  4. I’d offer mine Rich, but unfortunately the postage to Australia would be prohibitive. A quiet spot in the woods perhaps?

  5. Thank you for this. Bored was the key word here. Sometimes while I read one of my pieces, the voices say they’re bored. If I answer that yeah but…as in yeah, but I need to get this done…or yeah, but it’s good enough…or yeah, but no one will notice it’s boring…then I’m in trouble because the voices respond with “have it your way.” Then my wife reads it and says it’s boring here. That’s when I remember the voices said it first.

    1. lol – my personal favourite is ‘No, it’s not boring, it’s just a bit slow’. I never manage to fool that Muse though. 🙂

  6. Good advice, AC–NEVER bore the reader. If you feel even an inkling of a yawner coming on, change the scene! As writers we can become overly-enamored of our prose. Kill them darlins!

  7. Very good post 🙂 I like the part where you say the muse might have been trying to convey their message for quite some time… reminds me of a friend’s hubby who just got sick of it, and just up and left! Like dogs, cats, hubbies, friends we have to value our muses and treat them kindly… but they are funny things, and like cats often wake you at 4am looking for attention, or just go AWOL.

    1. lmao – yes Muses can be like errant husbands, and cats. One of mine [cats not husbands] regularly disappears. Thankfully he always comes back. So far my Muse has been the same.

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