Advice, Community Journalism, Writing

Writer’s Block vs. The Muse

Every writer I know has felt it. That sickening feeling when you have run out of ideas, when everything you type sounds stupid in your head, when you simply can’t find entry into the story. And suddenly you’re sure that everyone is going to find out you’ve been faking it all this time and you’ll never work again.

It’s writer’s block, and it sucks.

Lots of well known writers have tackled this problem, shared their tips and tricks, and many of those tips are miles away from applying to deadline writing. When the paper goes to press in an hour, you can’t go for a walk or put your story aside and work on something else.

So, when the going gets tough, what do I do?

I invoke the Muse, of course.

An equal number of writers have penned odes to their muses. The fabulous Anne Lamott calls her muse “Broccoli” in Bird by Bird, and Stephen King has this to say about his muse:

There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement kind of guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you.

All of these folks are pointing to the same experience, that of feeling the words come from something other than yourself, of tapping into some magic force that speaks through you. I’ve felt it while typing the most mundane of stories, like I wasn’t at the wheel anymore, and that lovely turn of phrase just sang itself onto the page.

So, when writer’s block strikes, I invoke the Muse. Those Greek guys had it right. I sit at my desk, breathe, and quote the beginning lines of Homer’s Odyssey out loud.

Oh, Muse! Sing in me and through me tell the story

0f that man skilled in all ways of contending,

the wanderer, harried for years on end…

And then I let it flow. Now, is this magic, or is it some kind of psychological hoo-doo that takes the anxiety away from the act of writing by placing it on someone else’s shoulders?

I’ll never tell. But that Muse has saved my bacon on deadline many times.

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