On Missing Muses

I imitated one of my fictional stories and joined a writers’ group at the nearby library last November.  The group is fluid, consisting of about five older regulars and a revolving number of newcomers (to me).  They meet the second and fourth Monday on the month to read our stuff and have it critiqued. 

My attendance had been interrupted by first by the holidays, then visitors and finally an unshakable writing paralysis.  I’d submitted an old ghost story for the group to review and happily survived the process. Nobody skewered me; they’d enjoyed the story (although it needed a few tweaks) and looked forward to seeing more of my work. 

But my muse was missing in action.  How could I critique others’ work when I had nothing really to offer up?  Many in the group were working on novels and bringing in chapters.  I hadn’t written anything for quite some time and felt like a fraud. Walking past the library to the local cantina, I remembered that it was again the fourth Monday of the month.  I mulled over a rather delicious strawberry margarita. Should I go?  Sure, said the margarita.  There will be other muses there.  Maybe you’ll catch one!  Making a mental note not to order a big drink next time,  I rushed to the meeting, hoping to catch a muse that was non-alcoholic. 

The regulars greeted me as if I’d never been away but no muse jumped me at the door.  The usual suspects pulled out their book chapters.  Wait, I blurted out.  Does anybody have writer’s block?   One man raised his hand.  We exchanged battle weary sighs.  You just have to write, said the novelists.  You just have to sit down and do it.  Don’t wait for a muse.  Try to write a sentence differently.  Write nonsense.  But you just have to write and the rest will come.   The facilitator asked who would submit a story for next time?  Well, I had a short story.  It’s old, I added as if an apology.  We wouldn’t have known that until you told us, they said.  It doesn’t matter.  Then they bowed their heads and began critiquing. 

I looked around the room at the writers laboring over their literary children.  Some were inspired, some weren’t.  Then I recalled that the man with his writer’s block had yet to submit a completed story while I was there, but he never missed a meeting.  That’s tenacity.

Even though I already intellectually knew their advice, there’s nothing like a group of writers poring over their work, saying it aloud that puts things in perspective.

3 thoughts on “On Missing Muses

  1. You know, sometimes it’s a question of changing your writing space – go write in the park, at the beach, in the mountains, maybe the local coffeeshop. Sometimes the whole thing has to be jumpstarted.
    I’m not a believer in the ‘write every day’ philosophy unless you have a raging need to get words on paper. I think you write when you feel you want to.
    And if you only write a paragraph, so what? It’s words on paper and they’re your words written from your soul. Just take your time and let it flow when it wants. No pressure.
    That’s the most important thing of all – no pressure.

  2. The only writing advice that’s ever been of really significant use to me is the first part of Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way — about the morning pages. That’s turned out to be really useful (in ways beyond writing). Interesting that a drink got you to go to the meeting — maybe it lowered your inhibitions? (I have the opposite experience — beer kills ambition). Other than that I read books about writing from time to time and think, huh. I wonder why people write about this.

    I do think the “write a sentence” advice isn’t bad — I got over some of my academic writing issues that way, at least temporarily.

    As I said the other day, the other thing that has helped for me is to make it low stakes. It’s easier to write when I assume no one else will ever see it. But I’ve gotten to the point where I’m just happy to be writing; the other consequences have paled in importance.

  3. Hi Judiang, Glad that you’re enjoying your writers’ group! You’re your own “boss” as a writer. So you can set the terms, the pace, the topic, etc. And taking a “vacation” from it now and again, is part of it, too. Love & Hugs! Grati ;->

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