That Moment When It Clicks

We all have those moments when it clicks. When doing suddenly becomes infinitely easier.

Perhaps it’s the moment when you are learning to ride a bike and you finally make more than a few inches before scraping your knee.

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About how it’s going teaching my daughter.

Maybe it’s the moment when you can finally see the image a differential equation represents without needing a graphing calculator. Yeah, that moment didn’t happen for me either.

A friend of mine makes and sells jewelry, and she has repeatedly told me how she’ll be bombarded by ideas one day and then will have no ideas for weeks after. She has to quickly write down the ideas as they come because they are flashes of inspiration. If she doesn’t write them down, they’re gone.

I have my own experience with this on a regular basis. My muse comes and visits me, and together, we can produce one-thousand words in less than an hour. Good words. Stuff that will get refined, but stuff that I think will still be there in the final draft.

Then, there’s the days she doesn’t visit. Like a Saturday not long ago where I managed to squeeze in three hours of writing. I got less than a thousand words during those three hours, and I’m not sure any of them are good.

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But, I did get them down. So, progress. I can edit something that exists, but I can’t edit a blank page.

Still, I understand why people get discouraged. When the muse is here, we can create in hours what would take days of toil. Yet, those days of toil are still important.

You don’t get to ride the bike without the hours of learning put in beforehand. You don’t understand the differential equations in a moment unless you’re that one kid in my second semester calc class. Okay, maybe you never understand them completely, but if you don’t do the work to get there, you’ll never have the chance understand them.

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Yeah, I know they’re not differential equations.

I sometimes think this is what inspiration is all about. Basically, the motivational poster that says it’s 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration, yet, I think it’s true even if I’m not much for motivational posters.

I’m trying to treat the hour my muse visits me as the reward for the previous three hours of grinding work. If I just wait for her, she won’t come. She’s waiting for me to put in the work before giving my prize. Maybe I’m right on this, or maybe its complete garbage to make me feel better, but at least it gets stuff done.

 

How about you? Do you find you have to struggle for things and then there’s a magic moment where it clicks? Do you wait for inspiration, or do you plod through? Maybe you were the kid in the back of my class that just “got” differential equations so your muse is always ready to go?

 

 

Morning Children: A Special Torment to Writers

My husband and I are both night people. We’ve learned to adjust our internal clocks to take into account work and other grown-up responsibilities. While it’s not nearly as hard to get up at 6 am now as it was when I was a teenager, I didn’t have to get up at 6 am on Saturday when I was a teen.

Our oldest child is a morning person. Always has been, and she’s never had a concept of “weekend”. We had to get her a digital clock before she was three so that we could forbid her from leaving her bedroom in the morning before her clock said 6 on it. And yes, she learned numbers early so we weren’t getting up with the sun in the summer. Where there’s a will, there’s a way…

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While I’ve been able to adjust myself to getting up long before a night-person should, I haven’t convinced my muse to join me.

As much as I’ve sat diligently in front of my computer during afternoon nap-time on the weekends, my muse is nowhere to be found. Sure, I can pound out a few words, but it’s not the same. Whether you write, paint, compose music, there’s this creative zone that you get into that allows you to achieve more in an hour than you can in three. There’s something magical about this time. It’s like fairy wings and unicorn farts have jumped into the mortal plane.

For me, this ultra-creative time always, always, always comes after 8 pm. Usually later, but given my current need to be up with the birds, I try to be in bed before 10:30 because 6 am comes around awfully early.

There are those days when inspiration strikes, and I seize upon it, blowing through my bedtime even though I know will pay for it in the morning. And oh do I! Nothing quite like a chipper preschooler bouncing around the house rather than getting ready for school to put your previous night’s choice into perspective.

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Of course, my preschooler isn’t making the beds, eating her breakfast, or getting ready for the day. Heck no!  These are days that she requires the most wrangling. It’s like she knows I’m struggling and chooses that time to drown me rather than throw me a rope. Because children smell weakness and will exploit it at every opportunity.

I wish I had something insightful to offer. Some way that I’ve conquered the muse and brought her to my side before the owls come out. But I haven’t. I still have to make the choice most nights as to whether I’m on a roll and have to keep going, or whether I need to be a grown-up and go to bed. I’d love to say the grown-up wins most nights…

 

How about you? Are you a morning person or a night person? Does it work for you? When do you find yourself most creative? Have you figured out how to get your muse to come on your terms?

Black Friday 2016 – Not According to Plan

It’s the day after Thanksgiving, also known as Black Friday. While many Americans are out starting their Christmas shopping, I’m not because I’m almost done.  All eight of my nieces and nephews are bought for and wrapped. My children are done, and we have them half wrapped. The family gift exchanges are purchased. We’ve bought the gifts for our extended family.

I have one gift left to get for my ninety-year-old grandmother. Yeah, she’s hard to shop for.

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Can’t even imagine the stress…

So, yes, I’m one of those people. I plan ahead. I like things to be organized and predictable. When you combine this  with my crazy work schedule from mid-November until the end of the year, I want my shopping done so I’m able to enjoy the holidays as much as I can. And, I like to have the best possible selection of gifts available so what I’ve planned to buy isn’t back-ordered.

I do, indeed, make an Excel spreadsheet of everyone I have to buy for what, I plan to get them, and whether it’s been purchased and wrapped yet. Making a list, checking it twice…

While Christmas shopping has followed my plans, the rest of the year hasn’t. From my daughter having some medical issues we’re still working through, to a more recent job loss and the potential loss of medical benefits, stress has been a constant companion.

My muse doesn’t much care for stress, and she takes a vacation to a tropical island at the first hint of trouble.

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If you look closely, you can see her in the water.

 

Of course, my response is pretty predictable. I keep looking for her, trying to get her to come and play, before the realization sinks in. She’s left me, and she’s not coming back.

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Muse?!?  Don’t leave me!

No, she’s not terribly reliable, especially when you need her. I guess I don’t blame her. When I’m that tired and anxious, I’m not much fun to be around.

But I’ve still been writing and reading. Maybe less of both than I should.Especially reading. I can be a critical reader, and have been trying to train my brain to do a better job of dissecting why a book is good or why it isn’t.

When I’m stressed, however, my ability to handle stupid characters drops to almost zero. If the characters are too stupid to breathe, I’m done with them. I don’t care if they get their happily-ever-after. I was 30% of the way through a book last week, and I just put it aside. I didn’t need to add to my stress or frustration with fictional characters.

Despite all of this, I’ve managed to finish two novels this year, and I’m working on revising them for publication. Then comes the really awful part of querying them, but that’s still a ways away.

My work isn’t as inspired as it would be if my muse would hang around more, but I am pushing through. I need to prove to myself that this endeavor is worth the time commitment, even when things aren’t going as planned.

Me and My Big Mouth

Ever say something you wish you could take back?

Most of us do, and this happened to me the other day. Don’t even remember where it came from, but I said I had managed to put 50,000 words on the page for a new story in a month. I figured another 10,000 words should take me to the end of the first draft (I write skeletons, remember?).

My muse heard that, because of course she did, crossed her arm over her chest and flew away.

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In case anyone’s seen mine.

I am not sure what to do to convince her to come back. Perhaps she needs me to eat a bag of oreos while trying to finish the chapter I’m working on, knowing full well I don’t like oreos.

Not sure what her demands are as she’s made herself rather scarce.

It’s not writer’s block because I can still make some headway, but it’s not the magical page devouring progress I was making.

And no, I know better than to take a break and wait for her to come back. Uh-uh. Played that game and lost more than once.

So, time to apply bottom to chair and bleed out as many words as possible.

Perhaps when she sees I’m sincere, she’ll return. If she doesn’t, I’ll scratch out the rest of the words to the ending of the story the hard way. Even with her inspiration, when it comes time to edit, there’s no easy way about it.

Magic

But if you’ve seen her, please tell her I’m sorry. I’ll shut my mouth until the book is finished, and she’s booked her vacation to Cancun while I start the revision process.

 

How about you? Have you ever lost your muse? Why? What did you do to get him/her back?

 

Balancing Act: Left Brain vs Right Brain

Life is a regular balancing act of creativity and reason. Of balancing the left and right side of the brain. (And yes, I know this has been thoroughly debunked. And here’s Neil DeGrass Tyson doing it style. Still, you get my point.)

Whether you write stories, paint, sing, do performance art, make jewelry, or arrange flowers, most humans have a creative outlet. It seems to be wired into us, and there are lots of sites out there that will tell you how important creativity is, even in business:

While I think it’s important to foster this creativity in myself and others, I don’t really know how as I never had it fostered in me. As I was growing up, creativity was something for young children. When you reached a certain age, you put your imagination behind you and focused on the important and grown-up things like math, science, and tearing apart literary books looking for meaning rather than writing your own novel.

So, I’ve had to figure out ways to coax out my own creativity, especially when I’m writing a first draft of a story.

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This first draft is when I’m making something out of nothing. Piecing together electrons on a page to tell a story. Granted, my first draft is strung together with paperclips, duct tape, and pipe cleaners, but it has brought into being something that didn’t exist before. Something ready to be engineered into a coherent story driven by the characters.

Getting that first draft onto the page is hard. I’d love to say I’ve found the magic bean that lets your fingers dance across the keyboard as worlds, characters and plot fill the screen. Man, oh man, do I wish I had that bean. Mostly, my creative process involves butt to chair as I struggle to turn off my internal editor and throw words onto the page.

If I poke at those words too much, “edit as I go”, the creativity dies and I’m back into edit mode.

The magic bean is gone.

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So what if my magic bean looks a little bit like coffee…

But, like most things, if I practice turning off that internal editor, I get better at not listening to her and better at letting thoughts become words on a page.

Eventually, a story materializes. Then comes the editing to make those paperclips and duct tape into something I’d want to read.

And there lies my issue.

I have two books written and in various states of revision. But I haven’t figured out how to turn on the editor to get those books publication ready while not losing the skill of getting words onto the page.

I recently got some great advice from an editor, but I haven’t acted on it as I know I’ll lose momentum on the story I’m currently writing. I’ll forget, as I have so many times in the past, how to let the words fill the page.

This may sound silly to you, but my magic bean is a fragile little thing.

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I’ve learned from experience how hard it is to write new stuff after setting it aside to spend time on revisions. I’ve also learned putting a story on hold to go back and revise earlier parts of that story or even revise another story altogether is a death sentence for the story in question. I simply won’t go back to writing it. Or if I do, it’ll only be after “revising” everything I’ve already written a dozen times (which will just be cut in a later true rewrite once the whole book is written).

I clearly haven’t figured this out.

But I have to find a way. I have two completed manuscripts waiting to be revised then queried to agents or self-published.

I need to find a way to squeeze this revision time in between my full-time job, family, and creation of new work.

I need to figure out a way that once the editor brain turns on, I can turn it off again so I can put new words to the page. I just don’t know how to do it yet.

 

How about you? How do you get in the zone to do your creative activity, whatever it may be? What’s lures your muse to you? What sends her running off and how do you get her back? Do you have any issues balancing your creative and analytical sides?