Your muse is a liar. You need to know this if you’re going to succeed as a writer.
Your Story Needs to Be Told
We imaginative folks have a gift. We see stories all around us, spot the threads in people’s lives, and can weave them together in a way that makes sense out of emotion, pain, joy, victory, and loss.
This is nothing to scoff at. We writers have a duty not to just enjoy our gift, but to share it – and in order to do that, we have to contend with the muse.
Good hell, that muse is capricious.
It shows up when it wants and vanishes when most needed.
It delivers incredible and inspirational tales, then up and leaves when we need specific help to plot those tales out.
The muse sucks. It is not reliable. It also doesn’t define you as a writer.
That needs repeating:
How do I know this? Because I’d never have finished a damn thing if I let my muse dictate when/how/if I write.
Your muse is a liar. I’ll show you how, and in the process, arm you to fight it.
The Problem With the Muse
Part of the muse’s problem is it falls into the traps of “what if”.
Yes, what if can be a great question to brainstorm, but that only works if we feel creativity and confidence. My what ifs are far more often like this:
- What if I fail?
- What if I do my best and it’s not enough?
- What if I’m fooling myself and I can’t tell stories after all?
- What if someone I know/love/respect finds out/makes fun of me/fires me/hates me forever?
Yup. You heard me. The creative inner voice – that beautiful darling who shows up at inconvenient times to spur you on to glorious bouts of creation – is responsible for your fear.
- Your muse is really good at asking what if, then filling in the blanks with horrible futures.
- Your muse is deeply skilled at thinking up unreal scenarios – including catastrophic failure and imagined ostracization/nightmares/problems.
- Your muse is great at coming up with characters, and that includes people who may or may not exist, loathing your writing and denigrating you because of it.
- When your muse lies, it takes all your passion, all your drive, all your creativity, and pours them into fear.
So what do you do?
First: learn to identify when it’s lying.
Times to Ignore the Muse
Here are your clues that your active imagination and passionate heart are working against you:
- You spend time daydreaming about your future as a writer (agents, awards, reviews, etc.), but now, the future you see is filled with shame and regret.
- Suddenly, you find yourself believing with paralyzing power that you can’t “do it” – can’t think of the next thing, can’t figure out how to write it, and can’t overcome the obstacles ahead (time/money/talent/etc.).
- All your ideas suddenly seem dumb. Yes, they energized you two days before, but now, they seem stupid, trite, done-before, useless.
- Suddenly – and most crucially – no one’s positive words about your writing penetrate. You just know that you’re terrible and your ideas will never go anywhere, regardless of proof.
This is all your muse lying to you.
Can you see it? Can you close your eyes and see how carefully and frighteningly all your passion, skill, imagination, and storytelling ability have been twisted into a stick to beat you and a blade to stab you?
Listen to me: on those days, in those times, your muse is lying. But there’s good news.
When your muse tells you such an effective tale of failure and fear, it’s showing you just how much power you have as a storyteller.
You CAN Tell Your Story
See how effectively your muse weaves the tale of doom for your writing career? Well, damn, but she CAN tell a story, can’t she?
So your muse’s overactive imagination fills you with dread, showing you precisely the images guaranteed to give you shame, fear, and anxiety? Why look at that – it’s effective use of show-don’t-tell.
Your muse is using all five senses to lie to you. It’s using imagery, creativity, and communication to tell you things that aren’t true. Those skills are all yours to command. The muse has to use your own talent as a storyteller to lie to you.
That’s why I say that when your muse lies to you, first of all, recognize it as a lie. Then, pay attention to why that imagery affected you so much.
Why did you feel fear or shame? Consider the facial expressions you imagined; consider how that feeling affected your body (shame always goes straight to my stomach – my face goes hot and sweaty, and my hands shake). Think of the tone of voice you heard in your head. How would you describe it?
If you didn’t have the skill to tell stories, your own mind wouldn’t be able to screw you over like this. Take advantage of these times and see them for what they are: talent, just stretching itself in the wrong direction.
When your muse lies to you and turns all the power of your creative soul against you, here’s what you do: instead of listening to the lies, take a step back so you can objectively analyze why those lies were effective. Your lying muse is actually giving you the tools to become a great writer.
So what do you think? It’s your turn to wrestle with what I’ve said here. Reply in the comments and tell me what you feel. Tell me what happened the last time your muse lied to you, and what you learned about how to show, not tell, those feelings.