I have this guilty pleasure thing with BBQ places. At home I drink all kinds of healthy freshly squeezed vegetable juice and green smoothies and eat whole foods, but when I’m on the road, I have a positive weakness for barbecue places. One of the best things about Kansas City wasFiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue, which seriously? Amazingly tasty. Another guilty pleasure was Pappas in Houston, where I took in some barbecue with my son and the Houston Comicpalooza gang. (More on that to follow.)
So I was on the road yesterday on my way to pick up my daughter from school, and hit up a Famous Dave’s. I asked for a table for one. I had my kindle, and I was reading Mary Calmes book cause yeah, who can resist a book with a motorcycle racer on the cover. (Heart of the Race)
I don’t exactly know how the subject came up but my waiter asked me what I do, and I said I’m a writer. He was delighted. He writes, he’s been writing since he was a kid, and has even been published.
But lately, he said, he has had a hard time feeling inspired.
I’d just come from an RWA meeting a couple days before, where Elizabeth Boyle talked about moving out of your comfort zone so it struck me that I had a bit of advice I could offer, especially having heard her talk, because I’m not the only one who would offer it. (Mentors, in fact, have offered it to me.)
Muses are all very well and good. They’re like a lot of convenient things. Like napkins and cell phones and cars. It’s a wonderful thing to have them. They make life a great deal easier when you need them. But when they’re not available, it’s not an option to say well, too bad, I don’t have that, I can’t therefore wipe my face, call my mother, or drive to work. When these modern conveniences are unavailable, one must Make Do.
Muses are often unavailable. It’s unrealistic that in one’s long tenure as a writer, the muse will remain seated coyly waiting for you to ask her to dance every morning. It’s especially unrealistic if say, life has called and you’ve had to attend births or deaths or graduations. You’ve raised children. You’ve undergone colonoscopies or MRIs. In fact, you’ve had to attend any number of events at which the muse is not happy to be a plus one, like unfulfilling day jobs or changing tires or waiting in line at the DMV.
These are the times when a writer places his or her butt in the chair and writes anyway. Because writers knows one thing for certain. They have words. Words don’t belong to any specific entity. A writer can arrange them any way she likes, she can stack them up and knock them down. A writer can use all caps or all small letters and he can assume as he fills the pages, that if he doesn’t like what he’s written, he can hit that magical delete key and they will all go away. We’re free to a-muse ourselves.
To become a writer who always has words, a writer has to be using words, all the time.
Writers write. Period. Full Stop.
Professional writers know that on average, they must write a certain number of words daily to make books happen, whether or not those books are a success. Writers stay focused on words. They stay in the moment. The don’t look at past successes and they don’t borrow future problems.
What happens is that eventually, the words themselves become the goal.
The shiny bauble.
The writer says, hey, look there, I’ve said something interesting. I’ve created something new to me. I’ve begun something I can finish as long as I keep going because it really is that simple.
A writer takes all the qualifiers out of his work ethic and simply assumes he will write, whether or not he feels like it.
Does this mean writers don’t schedule much needed breaks, attend family functions, or go on hiatuses where they don’t write? Is taking time off the kiss of death?
No, of course not. It wouldn’t be much of a life without those things. Every professional needs down time. Sometimes it takes longer to get back into the swing of things, into the routine of writing, but that’s true of anyone who’s been away from the job. It takes time to get up to speed.
I guess what I’m saying — the advice that I offered my waiter was — the professional writer takes responsibility for his words. She knows they don’t come from outside her. They come from within her, she owns them, and she can’t afford to wait for inspiration. A professional writer must work with or without it.
Given that, there’s never a time when a writer has to stare at a blank page.
A writer simply writes.
And I can assure you, as anyone who has ever met a muse knows, the best way to get a muse to hang around is to show you could be having fun without her.