The Only Advice You'll Ever Need To Hear About Writing. I'm Serious About This.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 13.266% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I had a friend who was having problems finishing stories, in part due to physical difficulties in typing and in part due to writers’ block.  So when she got a chance to talk to one of her idols, arguably one of the most popular writers in America right now – a man known for being kind, wise, and generally friendly – she asked him what she should do.
He told her to not write physically, and tell her stories to people instead verbally.
She wasted a year doing that.
Did Big-Name Author give her bad advice?  Yes.  My friend is socially anxious, and worried about judgment already, and so for her, trying to tell stories to people led to a year of paralytic silence.
Was Big-Name Author wrong to give her advice?  No.  But what we experienced writers often forget to tell novice writers is that writing advice is not generic.
A muse is a very finicky creature – not quite a pet, but more like a wild animal you must tempt to your doorstep via a series of elaborate machinations.  And each is different.  I have a very businesslike muse clad in a three-piece suit, a great suited moose muse possessed of a Protestant Work Ethic, who shows up the more I show up.  And so I write every day.  But I have friends who have much more hedonistic muses, sinewy muses who arrive only after they’ve spent a weekend drinking wine in the company of good friends, and so they write well only when they’re in a fine mood.
Learning how to attract our muses changes our lives, if we’re serious about writing.  I make time every day to write, which isn’t easy when I have a godchild with a terminal illness – but if I don’t, my stories don’t flow.  My friends with the hedonist-muses have to structure their lives to have wonderful parties and friends staying over, so their environment encourages their muse to show up more.
If you’re lucky, your muse is very like your Hero Author’s muse, and you put the tin of cat food out on the porch and the stray-cat muse shows up!  But if you’re unlucky, you put the tin of cat food on the porch, and you’re inside waiting for the cat to arrive while there’s a flouncy dog-muse in the back yard waiting for you to show up with a ball.
And if you’re unlucky and inexperienced, you may keep putting the cat food out on the porch for a year, thinking all muses are identical.
Now, when I say “muse,” that’s a little artsy-fartsy for me (and of course it is, as my stodgy Business Moose muse wants charts and graphs), but the point is that every writer has their own unique process by which they produce good material, and they stumble upon those processes by continual experimentation.  Some writers need to do twenty redrafts, others smudge up their manuscripts and make them worse by overthinking solutions.  Some writers must plot to get things right, others do better making up the ending as they go along.  Some writers need critique groups, others need only their own feedback.
Your goal as a writer – your only goal, really – is to find out what gets you producing your best stories.
And your muse’s comfort often comes at the expense of your own.  I mean, I’d love to be a get-it-done-in-one-draft kinda guy, but experience has shown that four to six drafts is what gets me publishable – and so I have to do the ugly work of hard revision. I’d love to work in isolation, but I need three or four people poking at all my weak points because I can’t see them in my own fiction.  I’d love to think of character interactions in terms of “petitioner” and “granter” so I could raise tension in my fiction, but when I’m in the moment I just see two people and forget about hidden agendas.  I wish I could write a story in one sitting, but I need to contemplate each sentence carefully even if I’m going to throw half of them away in redrafting.
I’m not efficient.  But I get there.
Getting there is all that matters.
Each writer’s path is quirky and weird, because creativity is quirky and weird.  And when you hear some writer saying the things you have to do, what they’re doing is saying, “Here’s how I access my muse.  She hides from me otherwise.  If your muse is similar, then this will call her.  And if not, well, bring the cat food in and try another way.”
I got some advice from that same Big-Name Writer.  He told me I needed to buckle down and forget the short stories, write novels.  I ignored him, and wrote stories, because that felt right to me.  And lo, following my inner muse turned out to lead to Great Improvement for me.  But only because I was lucky and wise enough to say, “Big-Name Writer, I love you, but that’s not gonna work.”
Keep your ears open, because other Big-Name Writers (and small ones!) will mention techniques that do work for you.  But your only goal as a writer is to find whatever crazy actions get you completing and improving stories.  If you find something that’s stopping you from making good work, then shrug it aside no matter who told you.
That’s it.
Now go find better ways to court your muse.


  1. Mishell Baker
    Apr 4, 2014

    Just keep in mind that sometimes we don’t honestly know what’s best for our creative process, because it’s easy to confuse that with what’s comfortable.

    • TheFerrett
      Apr 8, 2014

      Very very true.
      It’s a really complicated process, and I envy those who’ve got it all the way down.

  2. Brandon Withey
    Apr 9, 2014

    It really is difficult to tell what will strike your muse and make her sing. For me it’s been everything from the right song, to the right words, sometimes it even takes me just plain getting pissed off.
    Other times, there’s nothing that will stir her, like a somnolent cat in a sunbeam, any attempt to prod her awake simply results in her rolling over, and burying her head under her paw.

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