A muse will not get you published. But writing even when you don’t feel like it will.
[This vintage post by journalist Kathy Sena hits every note, every point about writing. I’m bringing it to the fore because it’s so great. Why? Everything about it rings true. — m]
If I hear one more person blathering on about (or see one more book about) “inviting the muse,” “waiting for the muse” or dealing with writer’s block, I’m going to puke. The muse hangs out in the land of the Tooth Fairy, people. And even as a gap-toothed first grader, I knew I was never going to make a living sticking lost baby teeth under my pillow.
There’s really no big secret to putting words on the page. Sit your butt in the chair, research, start writing and then rewrite until it works (AKA until your deadline). Lather, rinse, repeat.
Writers often seem to expect The Muse to appear and for a piece of writing to come together in a flash of light, fully formed. But that’s not the way of the world. “Life is not orderly,” says author and writing teacher Natalie Goldberg. “No matter how we try to make life so, right in the middle of it we die, lose a leg, fall in love, drop a jar of applesauce.”
And so it is with writing. My own essays have often come about because I was feeling pissed off, feeling overwhelmingly loved, feeling guilty, feeling scared at 2 a.m. The thoughts come in a tangled mess sometimes and they just need to be captured — whether you’re sitting at your computer at home, talking into a digital recorder while walking the dog or scribbling on a Jet Blue cocktail napkin at 32,000 feet.
Let the thoughts come in any order. Get them down. If you want to write today and they don’t come, start writing anyway. Do mind-mapping. Make a bullet list. Just get going.
And forget even aiming for perfection. It’s not only the enemy of the good, it’s what drives us to take a short break from a perfectly serviceable writing session and then find ourselves on the couch, two hours later, full of Lay’s potato chips and wondering what Susan ever saw in George Costanza. “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people,” says author Anne Lamott. “It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.”
If Lamott doesn’t sit around holding her pen aloft, waiting for perfectly formed first drafts — and if Goldberg tells us to not only embrace the lack of order in life but to write about the applesauce and trying to keep the dog from licking the broken glass on the kitchen floor — who are you and I to stare into our Starbucks cups and twiddle our thumbs, waiting for The Muse?
Kathy Sena is a freelance journalist and blogger. Her work has appeared in Newsweek, USA Today, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, AARP the Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Shape, Chicago Tribune, Child, Weight Watchers and more. Follow her at Twitter @kathysena. For more about Kathy visit her website.