Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Finessing Your Muse - Wednesday Writing Tip

Okay, after my mini breakdown last week, I'm feeling back in form this week.  Thanks so much for everyone's support and ideas on how to get my motivation back!

This week, I thought we'd talk a little bit about where ideas come from.  For new writers, the prospect of learning to talk to your right brain (your Muse) is a little scary. In the beginning, I resisted the idea that there are two separate people in my brain, and I didn't want to give my Muse her own identity.  That was the hardest part for me.  Once I got past that, it was just a matter of listening. It's really a training program of sorts, learning to do that.  Once you get used to listening to the cool stuff your Muse pitches, you'll see story ideas everywhere.  Eventually, your Muse will never shut up! But that's a good thing...most of the time. :-)

The first method I practiced when trying to open up my Muse was actually something I first learned in third grade.  We called it brainstorming there, or making a spider graph. One writing class I took called it making a sweet spot map. Another class called it mind mapping. Yet another mentioned something about bubbles.  Whatever you want to call it, making a spider graph is an excellent way to prompt your Muse to start talking.

I never could figure out what the classes were telling me to do exactly, so I did what worked best for me.  I told my Muse I wanted to write a novel length story and I wanted it to be a mystery.  Then, I wrote the first word that came into my mind in the center of a piece of paper.


I put a box around this word and waited.  The waiting is very important.  Don't think of anything, just look at the word.  My Muse is like a bored child being forced to sit idle in the corner when I use this method. Since I'm refusing to think of anything consciously, she will start trying to get my attention.

"What about aliens?" she asked.

"No," I replied.  "We want a mystery, remember?"

She became a little huffy, but I could tell she was still thinking. I simply stared at FEAR, waiting.

"Fine!" she screamed.  "I see a girl."

Well...this was better than nothing.  After all, every novel needs a main character.  "What's her name?" I asked.


I quickly drew a line off FEAR and put Rachel, drawing a circle around that word.

Next we got boxes for Rachel's past and the stepfather who murdered Rachel's mother.  Every time my Muse pitched something I didn't like, I simply told her no and waited.  She worked faster than I thought possible. We discovered our mystery together, making circles as we went.  Rachel's stepfather is about to be released from prison, and Rachel wishes he would just fall off the face of the planet.  When he turns up dead the morning after his release and Rachel wakes up covered in blood with no memory of the night before, things heat up.  Men start entering Rachel's life who may or may not be there to help her.  People from her past start to appear, and Rachel learns she has multiple personalities as the story progresses.  Are one of her personalities committing horrible crimes?

You can use Mindmeister to make this on the computer, but I actually work on real paper.  I used lined paper in my writing notebook (which is literally just a fancy journals for me) but I've heard some people say they prefer blank paper without lines. Either way, this is a great way to learn to communicate with your Muse.

Boredom is always the key factor for me. This might sound crazy, but folding laundry works even better for me than staring at a blank page. Laundry bores my muse to tears.  She can't wait to give me ideas if I'm just standing there with clean clothes in my hands. If there is a certain thing I want, I ask for it first before I start the "bore my Muse to death" campaign.  If there is a certain word I already know I want to build around, or maybe a certain problem in my book that I need my Muse to work on, I will write that down to start us off. She has all the good stuff, just sometimes she keeps it to herself.

In Always & Forever I had a character who I didn't really know his purpose.  I told my Muse, either find me a purpose for him, or I am going to kill him, then I went and mopped the kitchen floor (works as good as laundry, but I hate this chore so wouldn't recommend it).  Boy, did she ever come up with the best idea! It made the entire plot of my book that much better when I forced my Muse to figure out why that character was in the book.

Your Muse knows all the answers to your story issues, too.  Sometimes, you just need to ask the right questions.

Unfortunately, Rachel's story is one of those I gave up on after a while.  I over planned it.  I'm very much a seat of my pants writer, and knowing the entire story beforehand takes out the fun for me. However, I think of Rachel from time to time, and maybe one day I will find a new twist to her story and give it another try.

Oh, a parting suggestion.  Never, ever tell your muse what she says is stupid. If you don't like an idea, just say no with a gentle reminder of what you are looking for.  If you say "What the heck did you say that for? How stupid!" s/he will run to the furthest corner of your mind, stick his fingers in his ears, and make a raspberry sound at you for days!

For more suggestions on mind mapping, check out these sites:

Happy writing, everyone!  May your Muse be totally cooperative!!


  1. Loved this post! I like the idea of starting with a single word and working from that. I might give that a try next time I'm stuck. It's funny you wrote on your muse today, because I did the same thing on my blog! Me and my muse had a heated discussion in the car this morning. Thanks for making me smile and feeling like I'm not alone. Some people just think I'm talking to myself!

    1. I love your post, Denise! Sounds like your Muse was getting sassy! I hate when they do that. Glad to hear she finally buckled and gave you story ideas!

      Yeah, I think only other writers understand about there being a whole other person inside your head! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Great post, Chantel! I love my muse, but - true enough - she can be a little sensitive! :)

    I've never used mindmeister, I'll have to go over and check it out! I agree, you need to play until you figure out what works with your muse. It is always fun to check out new toys.

    1. Yes! You have to handle your Muse with kid gloves sometimes, don't you? They stop talking for the darndest reasons.

      I did think mindmeister was fun, though I will likely still just use my regular sheet of paper. Somehow, I like the physical act of writing things down when I'm doing this. But yes, new toys are always fun! Have a great week, Lorraine!

  3. Muses are definitely very fickle creatures, but without them we wouldn't have stories so it's important to be nice to our muse and not fight with them.

    Fun post!

    1. Definitely so! Besides, they can easily get the upper hand if you pick a fight with them :-) Thanks for stopping by, Michele!


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