How do you manage the muse? That is a question that comes up a lot, and I admit I haven’t entirely figured it out. But I’ve muddled my way into strategies that work for me as a writer. And yes, there have been wrong turns, as well as bumps and moments when my motor wouldn’t turn on at all. But those dormant days aren’t so bad. Perennial plants during the winter focus on nourishing their roots. It’s a period of necessary restoration on a cellular level, so they can burst into spring. There is a big difference between productivity and creativity. And sometimes, in order to have a burst of creativity, we do need to winter our muse.
Still, there are ways, even during the dark and cold days of winter, you can coax the muse. The b.i.c. (butt in chair) method is certainly important. And yet that alone doesn’t always suffice. For me, it’s helpful to have an inspiring writing space. Above my desk, for example, is a lithograph of an eden of animals along a stream. And sound is important. For the most part, I require soothing repetitive sounds that become white noise, where I stop paying attention to what I’m listening to and focus on my writing task at hand. This is because I’m easily distracted. In film, there’s diegetic and non-diabetic sound. Diegetic music, for example, means music that the characters in the film can hear. Where non-diegetic music would be the soundtrack that the viewer can hear but the characters can’t. I guess, in a sense, I’m character surrounded by non-diegetic music. If you stroll past my my office, you will hear the gush of a waterfall on Spotify, but I will be essentially unaware as I lean into a trance-like state. The sounds of waterfalls or rainwater soothe me as I can get very anxious while writing.
Being busy can help with anxiety. When I have a tight publishing deadline, I don’t have time to be self-critical. During those periods, I don’t even notice the clock. Yet sometimes the idea of too much b.i.c. is daunting, especially when I strive for balance. Time for friends, family, cooking, exercising, nature time. It can be easy to look at those with alleged free time with envy. But when I have too much unstructured time, I find that I read way too many newspapers, or scroll through Instagram Reels that just pop up about lots of random celebrities and animals. In other words, having “free” time doesn’t necessarily always give you an edge as a writer.
Some writers have busy work lives and find that they work a bit at a time. While others like to write for hours and hours and then recover for days and days. It just goes to show that there is no one way. For example, some writers love to write in cafes. Others can only do it at their desk. I have to confess that while I can write almost anywhere, I am easily distracted so if I write in a cafe, I absolutely need noise cancelling headphones.
This is all to say that there is no one writer’s bible for managing the muse. But you can create your own and see what works. But remember your life will change. Circumstances will change and your writing routine may change with it. And that’s okay.