Here’s a battle every writer faces: What do you do when you can’t find your muse? We’ve all been stuck when the words just won’t come. What to do? Even when we consult the experts, we can’t get a definitive answer. Here are two extreme approaches to the problem, each from an accomplished author. First, let’s hear from one of the greatest voices in Southern literature, and one of my favorites, Flannery O’Connor:
“I must do do do and yet there is the brick wall that I must kick over stone by stone. It is I who has built the wall and I who must tear it down. I must force my loose mind into its overalls and get going.” – Flannery O’Connor
Then there’s this from poet, novelist, and literary bad boy Charles Bukowski:
“You don’t try. That’s very important: not to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more.” – Charles Bukowski
So – when you’re hit with a bad case of writer’s block, should you damn the torpedoes and do SOMETHING, ANYTHING, or do you wait for inspiration?
Bukowski felt that a writer shouldn’t ruin a perfectly good piece of paper with overworked, forced attempts at self-expression, advising instead to let the psychic pressure build within until the words “come bursting out of you.” On the other hand, farm owner Flannery O’Connor saw writing like any other chore, which required rolling up one’s sleeves and wading into the task and not quitting until it was done.
I think the real lesson here is that writing, like any other artistic endeavor, is a craft and calling defying all formulas. Effective personal expression demands a personal approach, and discovering your own requires dedication and effort and plenty of wrong moves. As for myself, I can go for agonizing weeks researching and plotting and outlining before I dare put down the first word. Even then, it takes a while until I gain insights into characterization, setting, and crucial plot points. Then, gradually, momentum builds, and, when it works, I’m absorbed in a half-formed world that slowly reveals what I must do to help finish it.
Bottom line? Until the writing lifestyle helps you discover your own particular approach, remember the counsel of author Elissa Schappell: “The muse only shows up when you put your ass in the chair.”