June 3 – 9: “When the muse abandons the writer: How do you avoid falling into that dreadful pit?”

This week we discuss muses, and the lack thereof. “When the muse abandons the writer: How do you avoid falling into that dreadful pit?” Join ITW Members Toby Tate, Catriona McPherson, Mary Louise Kelly, Paul Kemprecos, Andrew Kaplan, Jeanne Mathews, Walter Walker, Lisa Brackman, Diane Kelly, Lisa von Biela, Robert Rotstein, Rick Anderson and Yvonne Walus. It’s a full-house Roundtable this week that you won’t want to miss!


Robert Rotstein is an entertainment attorney with over thirty years experience in the industry. He’s represented all of the major motion picture studios and many well-known writers, producers, directors, and musicians. Corrupt Practices is his first novel (June 2013, Seventh Street Books). He lives with his family in Los Angeles, California, where he is at work on the next Parker Stern novel.

Lisa von Biela worked in Information Technology for 25 years, then left the field to attend the University of Minnesota Law School, graduating magna cum laude in 2009. She now practices law in Seattle, Washington. Lisa’s first short storyappeared in The Edge in 2002. Her short works have appeared in various small press venues, including Gothic.net, Twilight Times, Dark Animus, AfterburnSF, and more. THE GENESIS CODE is her first novel.

Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press, including Bones of Contention, Bet Your Bones, Bonereapers, andHer Boyfriend’s Bones.  Like her anthropologist sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust and she sets each of her books in a different part of the world. Originally from Georgia, she currently lives in Renton, Washington.

Lisa Brackmann‘s debut novel, ROCK PAPER TIGER, set on the fringes of the Chinese art world, made several “Best of 2010” lists, including Amazon’s Top 100 books and Top 10 Mystery/Thrillers. Her second novel, GETAWAY, a thriller in Mexico, was chosen as an ALA Summer Reading Pick and an Amazon Best Novel of the Month and was a finalist for SCIBA’s T. Jefferson Parker Award. Lisa’s upcoming book, HOUR OF THE RAT, features the return of ROCK PAPER TIGER heroine Ellie McEnroe, on another ill-advised quest that will take her to some of China’s most beautiful and surreal places. Lisa is a California native and a former film industry professional who has lived and traveled extensively in China.

A former CPA and tax attorney, Diane Kelly spent several years at an international accounting firm where she had the pleasure of working with a partner later charged with tax fraud. She also served a stint as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Texas under an AG who pled guilty to criminal charges related to the tobacco company lawsuits. Given this work history, Diane decided self-employment might be a good idea. She also realized her experiences with white-collar crime made excellent fodder for a novel. Her fingers hit the keyboard and thus began her humorous “Death and Taxes” romantic mystery series.

Catriona McPherson is the Agatha, Macavity and Left Coast Crime Award winning author of a series of (preposterous) 1920s detective stories, including DANDY GILVER AND AN UNSUITABLE DAY FOR A MURDER (Minotaur), set in Scotland where she was born and where she lived until 2010.  AS SHE LEFT (Midnight Ink) is the first in a second strand of contemporary stand-alones. Catriona now lives in northern California with two black cats and a scientist.

Mary Louise Kelly spent two decades as a reporter for NPR and the BBC. Her assignments have taken her from grimy Belfast bars to the glittering ports of the Persian Gulf, and from mosques in Hamburg to the ruined deserts of Iraq. As an NPR correspondent covering the spy beat and the Pentagon, she reported on wars, terrorism, and rising nuclear powers. Kelly was educated at Harvard University and at Cambridge University in England. She lives in Washington, D.C.

Toby Tate is the author of two adult supernatural thrillers and a young adult sci-fi thriller, THE GOD PARTICLE, released June 4, 2013 by Crossroad Press. He was a newspaper reporter for five years and is also a songwriter, musician and studio engineer. Toby lives with his family near the Dismal Swamp in northeastern North Carolina.

Paul Kemprecos collaborated with Clive Cussler in writing eight books in the best-selling NUMA Files series. He is the author of a six books in his own detective series. His first novel, COOL BLUE TOMB, won a Shamus award for best original paperback from the Private Eye Writers of America. He and his wife Christi live on Cape Cod, Mass.

Andrew Kaplan is the internationally known author of the NY TIMES bestselling Scorpion spy thriller series, including his latest, SCORPION DECEPTION. A former journalist and war correspondent, he covered events around the world and served in both the U.S. Army and the Israeli Army. His books have sold millions of copies and have been translated into twenty languages. His film writing career includes the James Bond classic, GOLDENEYE. He is the author of the highly-anticipated,  HOMELAND: CARRIE’S RUN FROM WILLIAM MORROW; an original prequel novel based on the award-winning hit television series, HOMELAND.

Walter Walker is a trial lawyer in San Francisco and the author of five previous novels, including the award-winning A DIME TO DANCE BY. He has degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California and lives in Marin County, California, and on Cape Cod.

Richard Craig Anderson started out as a fire fighter in 1971, became a highly decorated Maryland State Police trooper, and went on to accept a position as a counter-terrorist operative. An accomplished aviator and world-class scuba diver, Rick has enjoyed a life well-lived, thanks to the relationships and friendships he’s made along the way–and that includes Kobi, his Rhodesian Ridgeback.

Yvonne Walus is a member of generation X. Born in the communist Poland, she grew up in the apartheid South Africa and now lives in New Zealand. Although writing is a big part of her identity, Yvonne has a PhD in Mathematics and currently works for an education company as a project manager, business analyst and general trouble-shooter. She’s also a mother, a wife, a slave to two cats and a master to one dog.

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  1. Hello, everyone. Thanks for inviting me!

    How do I avoid this problem? The short answer is that I hoard ideas for a rainy day. For example, I’ve kept what I call a “seed list” for quite some time. It’s just a handwritten list of ideas I capture when they arise. The seeds range in size and degree of complexity. Some are just a turn of phrase or a mental image that might launch a short story or novella; some form the premise for a novel-length work.

    Depending on one’s preferred subject matter, other sources of inspiration may present themselves. When I was in law school, I edited a weekly newsletter of biotech developments. Not a week went by that I didn’t find at least one item that could be developed into a novel. (Of course, during law school, I had zero time to follow through!) Nearly all the new developments had a certain “what could possibly go wrong?” aspect that could be mined for biotech thriller concepts.

    On a more finite level, I may have the main idea but be stuck somewhere in plotting. That’s when I start handwriting. I’ll noodle through alternatives in a sort of conversation with myself, but in handwriting in a medium-sized notebook—and with a wildly colored gel ink pen. I know this sounds weird, but I think it draws out some other portion of the brain’s activity. All I can say is it works for me—the way forward will materialize and off I go.

    And sometimes, it’s just good to take a break and do something else for a while. Let the batteries recharge and come back to the task fresher.

  2. Having a lack of story ideas is a writer’s worst nightmare. That’s why I try to keep a steady stream of ideas by going for long walks and just thinking about different things. Sometimes ideas for stories come to me while driving, while in the shower; it’s probably the same for most writers. Then I write them down. I have a document with a list of ideas for several books, book series and even some short stories.

    But the muse isn’t just about ideas. It’s also about keeping the story going forward, about not getting stuck. Believe me, that’s the worst feeling in the world, and it happens to me all the time. In those cases, I like to get out of the house, go for a walk, a drive, whatever. Clear my mind, let things settle down up there a bit.

    There have been times when the muse never returned, and when that happens, I realize that specific story is not going to get off the ground. It’s time to throw in the towel. I was once over 10,000 words into a book before I realized it just wasn’t happening. Wasn’t going anywhere, couldn’t make it go anywhere. Dead in the water. So, I started over. The result was LILITH, and it was published this year by DarkFuse Publishing. So, in retrospect, the best thing I could do was let it go.

    Sometimes, when the muse won’t dance, it’s best to find a new partner.

  3. Hi everyone! It’s my pleasure to participate in this roundtable!

    I keep a loose-leaf notebook handy. Whenever I see, hear or feel something, I jot it down. It might be something as simple as a person’s name, or remarks from a stirring speach and even speaches that weren’t so stirring.

    Later, I’ll decide the theme of my next story. It could be, “betrayal and forgiveness” or, “how far will a man go to protect those he cares about.” Next, I flip through my notebook and read everything I’ve gathered during the past 30 years. In time–perhaps within minutes, or maybe not until the next day–I’ll settle upon something that provides that all-important first sentence, the “Call me Ishmael” if you please.

    My next step? I use a spreadsheet patterned after Larry Brook’s “Story Engineering” and stare at it awhile. It doesn’t take long before I’m making notes about what will be my first plot point, my second plot pinch and all the other “stuff” that I use while fleshing out a story.

    Finally, I sit and write. Sometimes it’s junk. At other times, I smile as the story components come together. Regardless, I abide by this rule of physical fitness: “even a bad day at the gym is better than no day at all.” Some part of the old bod ends up strengthened. A bad day at the computer is no different. My story gains improvement. Perhaps not much, but more than if I’d wasted my time sitting on my butt to watch reruns of Lucy and Ricky.

  4. Hello, everyone! Thanks for having me!

    I have been thinking about this particular topic a lot as of late. For a number of years, I’ve believed very strongly in the “treat it like a job” approach. Set a schedule, set reasonable goals, sit down, do the work. You don’t wait for the Muse; the Muse comes when you do the work. That’s her invitation.

    Things I’ve done to get unstuck when I’m stuck: research, which can include travel, since my books are set in places like China and Mexico. I also use a lot of real-life material for inspiration. I strongly second what Richard said about getting some exercise. It’s the nature of our work that we spend way too many hours sitting on our butts, and this has serious health implications. For me, I can’t write effectively without an infusion of oxygen to the brain! I love long walks and lately have discovered the joys of old-fashioned weight training. There’s nothing like a few rounds of dead-lifts to clear the head.

    For some reason, ideas often come to me in the shower. I don’t know what that’s about, exactly, but I’ve talked to a lot of writers who say the same thing!

    Sometimes, however, none of this is enough. What we tend to forget when we focus on our writing as a job is that it’s also a creative activity. You can’t keep draining the well and not filling it back up. Eventually you’re going to run dry. This has happened to me twice in the last couple of years, and it’s a scary thing. I was overcome with feelings that I absolutely could not write the book. I just couldn’t. The book would suck if I tried. I remember at one point this hit me so hard, that I was going to fail, it felt like a physical blow.

    What I learned from this is that I had to surrender to it. Let myself hit bottom and experience those feelings. Realize, “Okay, this is as bad as this gets. Now you can pick yourself up and start again.”

    We’re professionals, but we’re not machines. At least, I’m not. It’s important to me that every one of my books contains inspiration as well as effort. And for that to happen, sometimes I just have to let go.

  5. Hi all,

    Thanks so much for the opportunity to participate. I also echo the comments about exercise. Ideas and clarity often seem to come when I’m away from the keyboard and taking a long walk or working out. I also agree with Lisa’s advice to approach writing as a job. I’m an attorney who wanted to write for many years but didn’t find the muse until I decided to treat writing a novel as I do writing a legal brief. I gave myself a deadline, pretended that I had to get it done, wrote even when I didn’t feel like it, and relied on the editing process to improve the first draft. It worked.

    I’ll also sometimes “overwrite” — exaggerate a character’s quirks and behavior, even make a scene melodramatic. I can always cut back or abandon the material, though very often I end up keeping a lot of it. And though it might sound strange coming from an author of a legal thriller, I find that writing poetry helps get me “unstuck.” There’s something about focusing on words and ideas in a small space that helps spur the creative process and carries over to fiction.

  6. Hello, Everyone,

    My latest book is set in Greece, so I’ve been thinking a lot about the original nine muses. Their father was Zeus (he of the hurling thunderbolts) and their mother, Mnemosyne (the goddess of memory). The muses were the embodiment of creative inspiration and the ancients revered them. Writers talk a lot about their muse, not so much when she’s whispering great stuff in their ears. The subject crops up most often when the words aren’t flowing and ideas have stopped striking like thunderbolts. There you are, sitting ready and receptive at your computer. You’re stoked on caffeine and racing against a deadline and you’ve got nothing to say. Who you gonna blame?

    When the muse goes AWOL or clams up for long stretches, we begin to feel panicky. I think it’s because we don’t fully understand where our words come from. Superstition takes over. Did I really coin that clever phrase? And who is that bizarre character? What dark place in my psyche gave rise to him? Surely some invisible spirit dictated those words in my ear. And now this spirit of inspiration is playing hooky, refusing to show up for work on time, leaving me alone to stew. At moments like these, I remember Jack London’s advice. “Don’t wait for inspiration. Go out and hunt it down with a club.” This is the point at which that recommended long walk becomes essential.

  7. Hi everyone! Totally agree with the advice above, including long walks and plenty of strong coffee.

    But my basic strategy remains… just keep writing. It’s that simple. Of course, it’s also agonizingly difficult, because writing ain’t fun when you are feeling uninspired. But sometimes it’s only by writing sublimely awful passages that the good stuff starts to flow.

    I’ve spent miserable afternoons at my keyboard, cursing every sentence as worse than the last, convinced (accurately) that I’m writing drivel. After carrying on in that vein for a few hours, I’ll reach a point where I’m shrieking at myself – “That is the worst dialogue EVER. That character would never react like that; she would be furious instead!” Then, all of a sudden, something clicks: “Yeah, she WOULD be furious. She would tell him to go to hell. And then she would steal his car…” Before you know it, I’m pounding away at my keyboard, rewriting the scene entirely, happy as a clam. But it can take writing a hideously awful version or two, to get there.

  8. Hello Writers and Readers alike! Here are my thoughts about fickle muses.

    When people ask me what a writer’s typical day is like, I have to tell them that there is no typical day. Some days it feels like my fingers are on fire, with my subconscious channeling words so quickly they hardly have time to register in my brain. Other days it’s . . . like . . . pulling . . . teeth . . . to . . . get . . . anything . . . on . . . the . . . page.

    Problem is, there’s no rhyme or reason to productivity or the lack thereof. The muse is like an easily distracted high-school kid you hire to help with yard work. Some days he shows up on time, works hard, and you two get the job done in record time. Other times he shows up late without his tools, does a half-ass job, and calls it quits before the job is complete. On the worst days, he forgets his commitment to you altogether and runs off with friends, leaving you frustrated and behind on your tasks.
    have a theory that our muse lives in our subconscious, and that the panic that sets in when the muse goes AWOL scares the muse deeper into our mental recesses. When my muse forgets to clock in for work, I can often find her when I stop actively thinking about my work and perform a mundane, routine task, such as driving an oft-traveled road, weeding the flowerbeds, or walking in wide, repetitive circles around the dog park. The key is to move the panic aside, so that it no longer blocks the creative juices.

    May all your days be productive and may your muse always have your back!

  9. Hi everyone. Am I last? My flight back from Book Expo was a bitof an adventure. Okay, if we’re talking Muse as opposed to the B-word, here are my initial thoughts.

    1. If the Muse has flown and you’re not in contract – why worry? Enjoy life instead of writing.

    2. If you can’t enjoy life unless you’re writing (and I’m assuming that’s most of us) then be sure it’s the Muse that’s the problem. She doesn’t do much of the work. Maybe what’s missing is the team of singing, mining dwarves who come along behind her and – Stephen King’s image – chip the story out of the ground without breaking bits off.

    3. If it really is ideas you’re out of, here’s what I do. I look for photographs of my characters. I can’t do this until they’re fairly well-developed in my head, but once I know who they are, I can trawl through material looking to see if I recognise anyone. Then I cut the picture out (online doesn’t work for this for me) and prop the photos up where I can see them when I’m writing. The characters then bug me or silently nag me and become more insistent until stuck story pops.

    I realise this sounds a bit like the kewpie dolls in Red Dragon. It’s not creepy in reality. Does anyone else do this?

  10. Sorry, I’m just back from a week’s holiday, and now I’m running madly from one place to another with my latest book being published on Thursday, so apologies if I seem a little frazzled!

    I find that the main cure for any sort of block is just to write more. The worst thing for me is, that being a historian it’s so easy to fall into the trap of continual research. There’s a kind of comfort zone of reading more and more and putting off the fateful day when I have to actually put pen to paper. But the sad fact is, I have to write.

    My own way of avoiding black holes and work displacement activities is to make sure that I carry a notepad with me at all times, and no matter how stupid the idea, I will note down everything that occurs to me. It may be a scene I see, a snatched conversation, a young person’s fashion accessory, or even a news headline, but no matter what, I put them in my working notepad. Whenever I feel a gap appearing on the horizon, I reread a pile of these daft note. Most, of course, are pointless and no use, but every so often something occurs to me and sparks an idea.

    There is a risk, of course, that these random ideas can throw my story off course – but that’s a risk worth taking, because their sheer randomness normally fires some spark in a synapse and gets the Muse back into gear again.

  11. Good morning everyone:
    The Muse was sitting on another writer’s shoulder today, but I’ll do my best to answer the question without her. I’ve only had what is commonly referred to as writer’s block a few times, but there have been occasions when it has been hard to muster the inspiration needed to write that next sentence. The feeling is akin to walking out on thinning ice. We’d probably all agree that much of what we do takes place in the subconscious. I think writer’s block is the brain telling us that, in our haste to get through the damned ms., we haven’ haven’t devoted enough effort to research or simply thinking it through. The mind is telling us that the ice will soon turn to open water, and we’d better move back to dry land. That’s when I stop, grab a yellow legal pad and a comfortable chair. Then go back over what I’ve written to develop areas that I’ve glossed over. It works for me, but I’d be interested in how others lure the Muse back

  12. Eavesdropping is a great way to spark those synapses, although eavesdropping in my suburban neighborhood Starbuck’s doesn’t tempt the muse to return. But take her to a seedy dive in Podunk, buy her a beer, and let her listen for a while to the regulars arguing about the events of the day and she can’t wait to get back to the business of writing.

  13. Hi everybody. Seems I’m jumping in late on this. The short answer is: You can’t. That is, you can’t always avoid having the muse abandon you. There’s two occasions when this might occur: 1) When you’re in middle of a book or story, and 2) When you need an idea for a new book.

    The cure for the first is to do what Hemingway always did: never end your day’s writing without knowing what comes next in the story. Even if it’s just the rest of a scene, or what the next scene is, or just what the next sentence is going to be. Know that. If necessary, leave a keyword or two as a note for yourself, and you won’t fall into that pit.

    The second is a lot harder. In fact it happened to me when I was looking for an idea for my next Scorpion book, which became SCORPION DECEPTION (which was just released a few days ago and opened at #3 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases for Thrillers, right behind John Le Carre and Daniel Silva. Here was the situation: I had a contract to write the next book in a popular series (OK, not top of the NY TIMES bestseller list popular, but Bookscan and Amazon top 20 popular), a looming deadline, and I didn’t have an idea in my head. Not a clue. What did I do? Well, instead of taking up a vast amount of space here, I wrote the explanation on Janice Gable Bashman’s blog. Here’s the link. I hope it helps. http://janicegablebashman.com/andrew-kaplan-writers-block-scorpion-deception/

    1. Congrats on your new book, Mr. Kaplan – that;s awesome! Sounds like something I need to read. And I did not know about the Hemingway quote – I definitely agree. A very wise man, Hemingway.

  14. Now I’ve had a chance to read what everyone else wrote I’d like to say: “What Lisa B said.” And a world of yes toi what Michael, Richard, Lisa von B said about writing it down. I was in a queue/line with Jonathan Mayberry on Friday and between us we came up with a fab idea for a ghostly mystery short story (like what I need for a submission coming up). He said I could have it and I can’t remember it. D’oh.

    I love the way we’re coming over as such a wholesome bunch with the fresh air and the exercise!

  15. It happens to all of us. My advice is so simple it will sound pedantic, but here goes: Keep writing. Write anything. Half a sentence. A whole sentence, a paragraph. A combination of words. Write down whatever comes into your head even if it has nothing to do with what you were planning to write.
    I once sat down with a pile of yellow pads and simply wrote out ideas, thoughts, concepts. This went on for several days and the vast majority of it (90%?) had to be discarded. But gradually the good stuff began to coalesce and what had not been a conceived story line became increasingly viable.
    Not right for you? Then try this: Scan the newspapers on a daily basis, particularly the local news sections. Reporters and editors are trying to provide you with stories of interest. Right now there is one going on here in California. A wealthy man was found murdered in his mansion. Under his fingernails was material that carried the DNA of a man whom the police promptly arrested. But now the authorities have discovered that at the time of the man’s death the suspect was so drunk that he was in a hospital with a .40 blood-alcohol level. How did the man’s DNA get under and remain under the victim’s fingernails? I’m thinking about it…how about you?

  16. Coffee and alcohol definitely. But a word of advice having nothing to do with the Muse–don’t spill liquid on your computer keyboard. I know from sad experience that doing so doesn’t promote the writing process.

    1. Sure it does! When I spill something on my keyboard, I write great prose while trying to clean it up. Such brilliant things like “yhn yhn hnyhnyhnyhnyh.”

  17. A deadline – looming! – is the only thing that helps me. Honestly. I can spend months looking at inspiring photos, rewatching favourite movies, pondering issues that matter to me, stare at other people at the coffee shop trying to put a book character label on them… and… nothing.

    Then my calendar will ping to tell me the first draft needs to be done tomorrow and suddenly my writing muse is kicked out of the trade union, the strike is over, and I start to Write with a capital W….

  18. As Walter says, writers block happens to all of us. There’s even a wine called Writers Block, a wine which I have consumed in significant quantity. Musicians, composers, painters, inventors — all creative people have their productive periods and their fallow periods. Writing is a streaky business. You can have an inspired morning and go into a slump in the afternoon. The important thing is to have confidence in the regenerative power of your imagination and keep writing. .

  19. Since we’re segueing (sp?) from The Muse (=ideas) to The Block in general (= fear of failure, fear of success, really needing to re-organise your plastic plant pots by diameter . . .) here’s my top tip for getting through it. Pretend you’re in a documentary about a writer and you’re being filmed doing what writers do. Tell yourself you’ll chuck out the by-product of your role. But then don’t.

    It sounds daft but I wrote about half my doctoral thesis using this method.

    Dr Catriona McPherson, PhD.


  20. I believe I have an explanation for why showers work. They certainly work for me, and not just in writing, but in figuring out some tough problem at work as well. I read somewhere that the optimal temp for brain function is just a tiny bit higher than normal body temperature. A hot shower gets you to that temp. There you go.

    1. Wow, that’s interesting! Maybe this is why hot coffee frees up the mind? Or why there are so many writers from the south? : )

  21. The last couple of days I’ve been finding lots of things to do besides write. Taking long walks, scrubbing myself to a fine glow in the shower, hauling myself out of the house and into stimulating environments — trusty notepad in hand. In spite of these terrific cures, I’ve got a stubborn case of the blahs. My story doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Maybe I should follow Raymond Chandler’s advice and have a man burst through the door with a gun. Stephen King suggests to throw a tragedy at the characters. Something awful and unexpected. Aha! An earthquake would shake things up. It’s never dull when people are forced to fight for their lives.

  22. Interesting conversation folks. It’s good to see the tactics others use to get over the hump of muse silence. I’ve been running into this lately and found it very frustrating.

    My two lovely muses, full description of the muses linked below, with whom I’ve flirted adventurously for the past several years, have recently taken to showing up less often. I fear they may be hunting for younger more energetic flesh on whom to push their desires. There is only so much energy a man of a certain age can maintain.

    Or it may be that they were getting scared of the violence their flirtations seemed to be conjuring in my writerly soul.

    Truth be told…I always have a hard time after the first fifteen or twenty thousand words, especially if life is spinning about me, which it often is. My best trick to get over that hump is simply to take long walks (by long I mean nothing less than three or four miles and sometimes covering more than ten) just thinking about the story, imagining it, talking to the characters. Then the dry spell usually lifts, and voila … more people getting killed and heroes heroing … mayhaps with a bit of romance about somewhere as well.

    I just got back from one such lunch morning walk of and I…


    there’s a knock on my frontal lobe…

    Excuse me for a moment.

    “Oh! Ladies!”

    “Basil, we’re sorry we left you. Will you take us back?”

    “You girls may have left, but I never did.”

    Big hugs, lipstick marks on my cheeks.

    They look at each other slyly, closing the door and push me into the writer’s comfy chair. The perky one kneels beside me, cradling her chin as she leans against the arm of the chair and looks up with mischievously sparkling eyes.

    The poetess slides onto my lap, and whispers. Her lips brush against my ear, hot breath sends a quivering tingle down my spine that evokes a giggle from perky.

    “Now…what do you know about this new Chinese assault rifle, and do you want know what the general plans for the target’s wife?”

    My Muses: http://basilsands.blogspot.com/2010/01/muses_30.html

  23. Hilarious, Basil! Listen, if anyone is really struggling – Simon Woods has a working method that sounds compeltely alien + moderately bonkers + a little bit genius. I learned about it in a workshop he ran. I’m going to ask him for a link to post here . . .

    It had the best introduction ever too – he used to design oilrigs and learned the importance of getting things right there because ‘oilrig construction is not a place to wing it’. Hard to argue.

  24. I usually know the setting and what I’m trying to convey, and what type of book it is. But every new book starts with a big panic attack regarding the plot. I just don’t think in scenes. So unless the characters are talking to me and doing things all by themselves, I sit there for days trying to beat the plot out of my keyboard….

  25. As you may be able to tell by my hoarding of pearls from The Muse, I’m a little compulsive. I’m someone who must outline. That’s just my nature and it’s also critical because I work full time and often simply won’t be able to touch my fictional work-in-progress for days, often a full week. (Then I binge write on the weekend.)

    The outline enables me to very quickly pick up where I left off when I sit down to write the first draft–no need to wait for The Muse to appear when I’m at that stage. It enables me to visualize the balance of the book before I start wrangling a large number of words of prose, and it forces me to work through plot problems ahead of time, at least for the most part.

    Also, I’m a very visual person. When I’m really “on” in drafting, I’m following that outline and I literally see the scene unfold as I go. I’m a fast typist, and when this is going at its best, I have clocked myself at 1000 words an hour. That would be on first draft. I work differently for the editing cycles.

    I see Basil is a rather visual person! 🙂

    1. Sounds like we have similar writing styles, Lisa. I outline, as well, although that doesn’t mean a scene or a character or even the plot line won’t change down the road. But it does help me keep track of where I am in the story.

  26. I had a professor in college who shocked his classroom of low-minded sophomores one day by announcing that he had an “afflatus.” When the sniggering subsided, he informed us that afflatus meant inspiration, “the divine imparting of knowledge or power,” as when the Muse breathes into your ear. Well, we weren’t complete idiots. We knew it meant a wind of some kind.

  27. Lisa, I’m also visual. One of the best aids I found was Syd Field’s “The Foundations of Screenwriting.” Sure, I’m writing a novel but the concept of visually grabbing the reader at the outset is the same. I read Syd’s book years ago and liked his straight-forward approach. When I feel I’ve hit a wall these days (or should I say, “daze”), I pluck the book from my shelf and browse a bit. It doesn’t take long before I’m feeling excited again. (He’s also an outling advocate, and that helps get me back on the track).

  28. My problem with outlining is that if I do that, it’s difficult to press on and write the actual book, because, hey, I’ve already written it in the outline. Any advice on how to avoid the creeping boredom?

    Harlan Coben says he knows the beginning and the end, kind of like driving from A to B, but not the route he’ll take to get there. So I’m guessing he doesn’t outline, not really.

    Having said that, I’ll check out Simon’s book. Always better to read about writing than to actually do the writing, right? 😉

  29. I confess that I can’t outline, Yvonne. I know in my heart that outlining must make writing a book all the way to the end far easier and faster and more efficient. Everybody tells me so, but I just can’t do it. For me, part of the pleasure of writing is in surprising myself — discovering the story as I go. I often quote Flannery O’Conner who said, “I don’t know what I think ’til I see what I say.” The muse isn’t always sitting on my shoulder and I frequently stall out, sometimes for days or weeks. But the only times I panic are when I have a deadline. The pressure to produce a book on a publisher’s schedule complicates the writing process. Writers aren’t automatons and our muses aren’t clock-punchers. Creativity comes in spurts and flashes and it’s important not to panic or give up on a story. Keep on writing even when you know the day’s output isn’t up to your high standards. You have to believe in yourself and the ultimate rightness of your story. Have confidence that the muse will eventually return and know that every other writer in the world has experienced that feeling of “abandonment.” It’s part of what it means to be a writer.

  30. Ah, see I like to get all the glitches (well, it’s never *all* of them, but the bulk of them) out of the main plotline before sitting down to actually write–this allows me to focus on the language I use to bring that outline to life. Outline says “thus and such needs to happen, this character does that, use his POV.” Oh, but there is so much more to to be done. That’s what I enjoy, working out the “how shall I tell it?” aspect, and really crafting the language to do it in the best way possible.

  31. When it comes to outlining, I like to quote Ian Rankin, who said something along the lines of “If I knew what was going to happen, why write the book?” (as I recall, he actually generally did have an idea of the main story but a lot of it he pantsed)

  32. Lisa con Biela, what do you do when your muse deserts you during the outlining process? As in, you can see the characters and the setting, you know it’ll be a thriller, you’ve already done viruses and earthquakes and aeroplanes, now what?

  33. Yvonne, I use the goofy gel pen and handwriting method to work at it until something starts to sparkle/feel right. Indeed, I’m in that phase right now on my third novel! Just starting to figure out that main plotline superstructure, and it’s a little tougher than my prior novels, more complex. Gel pen time, for sure!

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