Train Your Muse Like You Train a Puppy
Strategies for Writers – Part 1 of 3
One of the difficult things about being a writer is having those days when you’re lacking inspiration, the words aren’t flowing, and you feel stuck. Pile enough days like that on top of one another and pretty soon you have the dreaded writer’s block. Ugh.
But that never has to happen to you…because you can train your muse to perform on command, right? The secret is to think of it like a puppy. You know — cute, rambunctious, frustrating and surprisingly teachable. Like a puppy, your muse only seems unmanageable. Here are some tips on how to get your creativity to show up when you need it.
5 Puppy-Training Basics for a Muse That Behaves
1. Develop desirable habits.
The secret to puppy training is getting your adorable fluffy friend to develop routine behaviors he can perform without even thinking. To help him develop good habits, repetition is key—doing the same thing over and over again. That’s the number one way to train your muse, too. Keep to a schedule; have a routine that works for you. Have certain “cues” that signal to your muse that it’s time to work: sit in a certain place, turn on certain music, get your favorite drink, whatever you need to do. Schedule + repetition = habit.
2. Have fun with it—make it a game.
Like a puppy, your muse loves to play. Throw your creativity a ball now and then by following writing prompts (find new ones regularly here at Writers Digest). Take a break from your manuscript and entertain your muse by putting your main character in a completely different situation (outside your book) and writing their response. These kinds of activities are especially helpful on those “blah” days when your muse seems to have called in sick. It might show up if gets to play!
3. Be liberal with encouragement and rewards.
Punishment and harsh correction don’t work with puppies, and they won’t work with your creativity either. Be kind to yourself. Don’t berate yourself for unproductive days or crappy drafts. Talk to yourself like you’d talk to your puppy—in soothing tones. Give yourself little rewards for accomplishments. If you write a thousand words, treat yourself to a walk in the spring sunshine. Your muse might be more motivated to appear if there’s the possibility of a treat.
4. Keep training sessions short.
Puppies respond best to brief periods of training at regular times of day. You certainly can’t expect to keep their attention for several hours at a stretch. Similarly, don’t expect to sit down and write for eight hours at a time. Break it up into blocks, separated by other activities (like the above-mentioned rewards) for maximum productivity.
5. Expect mistakes
Your precious puppy is going to mess up sometimes, but rubbing his nose in it isn’t the answer. Similarly, you’ll have some unproductive work days, you’ll write some pages you have to throw away, you’ll get distracted reading blogs and waste your entire allotted writing time. It’s gonna happen. When it does, refer to #3 above and be kind to yourself. Then go back to #1 above and get back to your habit and routine. Don’t sweat it—tomorrow’s another day and you’ll get another chance. Ruminating on a bad day will only make it more likely to happen again.