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Valerie Parv's
WRITING TIPS

MUSE OBEDIENCE SCHOOL

Valerie's Muse Obedience School is in session.


Lesson 1: THE STAY COMMAND
Food rewards are good - small bites of chocolate or treat of choice given whenever Muse cooperates.

Muses are easily distracted so it's important to avoid Solitaire icons off the desktop, and turn off ringing telephones/chiming email signals.

If you keep focused, so will your Muse. Muses also enjoy variety, so if Muse is really frisky, it can help to take it for a walk to the outdoors, coffee shop, or wherever it gets new sensory input. But always bring Muse back to the keyboard and make it clear you expect Muse to stay for a set time, by the clock.

The command "stay" should be given in a firm, clear voice, making it understood that Muse is to cooperate for the agreed time.

Lesson 2: THE COME COMMAND
Getting your muse to come when called is one of the most difficult commands to accomplish. Most muses are reluctant to show up when required, and need considerable training before they master this stage, so you will need patience and persistence. It helps to establish a series of rituals that alert your muse that you want her to come. Some writers play music, others do emails, tidy the desk, make to-do lists or read over the previous day's work.

All these are fine provided they don't go on too long, making your muse think she isn't needed. You don't have to use an actual "come" command - some muses are stubborn and resist being called. It's better to create an atmosphere where she feels welcome and arrives of her own accord as soon she sees the ritual start. Sit quietly in the same working environment each day, allowing her to join you.

Remember to praise her when she does. It helps to practice this step at the same time every day without fail, so muse will know when she is wanted. Soon she will start showing up almost before you do.

Lesson 3: THE FETCH COMMAND
This is a fun step for both you and your muse. It's your reward for persevering with your efforts to get her to master the difficult Come and Stay commands.

Getting your muse to fetch, especially new ideas, opens up whole new areas of trust and friendship between you. The Fetch Command is learned through games and enjoyment, never through fear or intimidation. Many of the games can be played indoors in any weather, and of course, suitable rewards and treats should be given when muse cooperates. Say you need a new plot development.

Encourage Muse to come and stay, then set up a sheet of paper and pen with a question at the top. Muses love challenges, especially if you are not critical of her efforts. Criticism at this delicate stage can undo all the good you've done so far, so only praise is allowed, however outlandish the ideas she Fetches. There's plenty of time to refine her efforts later, when the game is over.

Set your muse the task of answering the question, say 20 different ways, and don't stop until she has given you all 20 alternatives. Some will be crazy and unusable, but somewhere in the 20 - more if your muse is playful - there will be the germ of the idea you sent her to Fetch.

Thank her and reward her at this point. You'll be playing this game a lot, so it's vital you both enjoy the process and be eager to play again at the same time tomorrow.

Lesson 4: ADVANCED FETCHING
As well as teaching your muse to obey you, it's important that you learn to trust your muse to deliver the goods. The more she knows you trust her, the more likely she is to fetch those all-important ideas and insights when you need them. Once you've taught her the basic come, stay, and fetch commands, there are many tricks you can teach your muse.

A useful trick is Clustering. This involves writing down a key word in the centre of a page, then spilling related words out in "threads" around the centre word as fast as they come to you until your muse spots a thread she can build on. When you see her get very excited, tail wagging etc. you'll know you're on the right track.

You may have noticed your muse likes to sleep a lot. This is a creative process. In the moments right before and after sleep, her brainwaves change measurably into more creative forms. If you give your muse a writing challenge just before she sleeps (like dropping a letter into a mailbox), she'll worry away at it while you sleep. You should keep a tape recorder or notebook handy to record any insights muse fetches for you.

Lesson 5: MUSE LANGUAGE
How you talk to your muse can mean the difference between one who cooperates and one who runs and hides at the sound of your voice. Muses are sensitive creatures. A soft manner and a gentle approach work best, along with food rewards or other treats of choice when muse does what you want.

Most muses have a problem with self-doubt so need constant reassurance that writing is a vocation, not a selfish activity, and worthy of your best time and effort. Muse also listens to your self-talk, so it's important to make such talk positive and encouraging. Write messages to your muse in the form of affirmations - simply tasks you want muse to perform, in written form and phrased as if they are already fact. Use personal pronouns such as "I enjoy writing" rather than "writing is a worthwhile activity."

Others your muse may respond to include -

  • I have more ideas than I can use
  • My writing improves with every day
  • My characters live in my mind and on the page
  • My words move the world
Even if your muse doesn't believe these messages at first, keep sending them and dismissing any negative messages that try to creep in. Negativity confuses your muse so keep the messages simple, so she knows exactly what you want from her.

Lesson 6: WHEN MUSE GETS STUCK
Everybody's muse has a bad day or several now and then, when she plays up and no amount of food rewards or other encouragement make her behave. The usual response is getting tough, or abandoning her altogether, but there are better ways to get your muse unstuck, such as the four listed here:

  1. Write for yourself alone. If your muse is used to performing for others, try writing something no one else will be allowed to see. Get in touch with your memories and feelings, painful and joyful. Drop your guard. Let your muse run free for a change.

  2. Let your muse play. Write whatever you want to say any old how, rather than to impress anyone. Tell yourself this is fun for you and your muse. You can fix it all later.

  3. Make muse time your priority. If you keep missing writing appointments with yourself, your muse gets the message that writing isn't your priority. She'll be more and more reluctant to show up. Spend an agreed time at your desk with her every day, even when things aren't going well. Set her realistic, achievable goals to boost her sense of accomplishment.

  4. Finish what you start. The world is full of people who are going to write a novel "someday". Finishing what you start reinforces your muse's self image as an achiever. She needs you to believe in her and trust her to fetch what you need.

Lesson 7: NO MUSE IS A MUTT
As we now know, muses are sensitive creatures, quickly turned off by demands or unkind words.

Some people even believe that only a gifted few are entitled to possess a muse - rather like Pekingese were once the exclusive preserve of Chinese royalty. Everyone is entitled to have a muse, in fact we already do. The difference is that some nurture and develop their muses, others nag and neglect them, then wonder why they refuse to perform.

Your muse can be encouraged to grow and become more reliable if you first believe in her. Helping her to take an interest in the world around her, and giving her time to daydream and fantasize are all essential to her development.

And next time your muse is clumsy, forgets something you want to recall, or otherwise behaves in unsatisfactory ways, don't berate her for her faults.

Say to your muse, "Next time, we'll..." and send her a positive message instead. Don't tell her what she's doing wrong. Tell her what she's doing right and you'll get more of what you want from her, given with joy and love. Stroke your muse!

This completes the basic Muse Obedience Course.

If there's enough interest, we'll continue with Advanced Muse Training at another time.

 

Valerie Parv 2005