Writing Help for the Hostage Muse

As a book writing coach, I often get “True Confessions” emails from my students. 

These messages – which are full of angst and guilt – start with, “I haven’t forgotten about my writing assignment…” then spew forth every conceivable excuse for ignoring that student’s HEART-FELT WRITING DREAM.

(Sometimes I think my novel-writing students confuse me with the dreaded Phonics Hag.  You know the type:  the mean, cackling crone with the ruler, who hovers over defenseless 3rd Graders so she can crack their cramping fingers while they scribble.)

Recently, one of my students emailed me in real torment.  For weeks, she reported to her computer and sat with her fingers curled over the keyboard.  She fixed her eyes on that insidiously blinking cursor.  For every three words that she typed, she deleted two.  After countless hours of effort, she finished writing . . .


Driven by the pain of a writing dream that wouldn’t subside (and visions of my mug, apparently, superimposed over the face of that Cackling Crone’s,) she signed up for a critique group.  She created lots of pretty plotting charts.  She read a slew of how-to books. 

In short, she stopped writing.

how to write novels, book coachingWhen your Expert Mind is discarding ideas faster than your Muse can create them, you’re heading nowhere fast.   So if you want to write more than three words per sitting, you need to exercise mental discipline.  You need to stop your Expert Mind from bullying your Muse.

Your Expert Mind thinks it knows all the answers.  It deplores any idea that emerges from the creative side of your brain because the Expert Mind thrives on familiarity.  To the Expert Mind, familiarity is safety. 

The Expert Mind hunts for statistics.  It worships writing rules.  It adores outlines, graphs, and pie charts. The Expert Mind wants to identify one or two solutions that work EVERY SINGLE TIME.  It pitches a fit when past experience fails to solve your current writing dilemma.

Needless to say, the Expert Mind sounds the death knell for Intuition, Imagination, and Creativity. 

Creative writing is messy.  It requires you to face characters that refuse to behave and plots that twist out of control.  You can second-guess your Muse all day long, but you can’t anticipate every problem that might crop up in your manuscript. 

When you're writing fiction characters and plots, the process is organic. The outcome rarely looks like your original vision.  New ideas will occur to you as you write forward; that’s the exhilaration (and frustration) of creativity. 

So stop letting your Expert Mind hold your Muse hostage.  Welcome your disorderly Muse with open arms.  Return to the land of the Innocent Mind, where finger-painting is always allowed and Master Artists color outside the lines. 

Only by surrendering to the uncertainty of the Unknown can you discover – and learn to trust – your unique creative process.