Category Archives: monday muse

Monday Muse: Perfectionism Sucks


The perfect is the enemy of the good. That’s what our old buddy Voltaire said, and you have to admit, the man knew a bit about writing. One of the hardest things for me to overcome in my writing journey is the quest for perfection. I get so hung up on wanting to find the perfect word, use the perfect phrase, make the scene perfect, that I sometimes end up staring at my screen in despair. Nothing I write is as good as I want it to be, and that can lead to absolute paralysis.

I think Voltaire would have agreed with another one of my favorite writing gurus, the fabulous Anne Lamott. If you haven’t read her Bird by Bird, stop reading my little bloggery and go get it. Now. I’ll be here when you get back.

Ok, now that you’ve read dear Ms. Lamott’s thoughts on writing, you are familiar with a concept that changed my life: the Shitty First Draft. Apologies for the language, but seriously, I’m talking about first drafts that are beyond, bad, awful, or even crappy. The only word for them is the one Ms. Lamott chose.

See, you have to start with the idea that you can’t edit a blank page. Only by getting something, anything, down on paper (or up on screen) can you begin to write something that someday, with a lot of editing and love, may convince someone to spend several hours of their life reading it. Get the barest minimum down. Doesn’t matter how terrible it is. This first draft is, as 007 would say, for your eyes only. No one will ever see it, so break all the rules. Use the passive voice. Tell, don’t show. Head-hop like an Easter Bunny on meth. It matters not.

Don’t spend time thinking of the perfect word. Just write one that is close. Or do what I do – put an asterisk and note several words that come close to what you’re trying to say – you will go back and edit them into something usable. Don’t waste time trying to figure out names – once again, our old friend asterisk will mark the place where you need to plug in “hero’s cousin’s dog’s name.” Just write.

Try this and see how freeing it is. Sometimes my writing buddies reminisce about the good old days, when writing was fun, back before we’d gone to workshops, entered contests, and learned “da rules.” Da rules can take all the joy out of it for the writer, although I admit they do make things more appealing to the reader.

But your first draft should be fun. Ignore the rules. Just tell a cool story. Then, once you’ve got your reeking pile of doo-doo that vaguely resembles a first draft, go back and be ruthless. Make your high-school English teacher look like the reincarnation of e.e. cummings. Be the biggest, most anal-retentive enforcer of da rules on the face of the earth.

But your story will still have the fresh, inviting tone that only comes from letting your imagination run free. All you’ve done is taken a wild, untamed colt of a story and trained it to be a champion racehorse.

Go write something wild today. To paraphrase dear Scarlett, we’ll think about editing tomorrow.

Monday Muse: Doing What it Takes

Here of late, my muse , Bridget, has been a wee bit cranky. She was totally enamoured of the hero of my last MS, and I’ve had a devil of a time getting her to give him up and start telling me someone else’s story. However, I have to say that I haven’t gone to the lengths some writers have to court their muse. If you are looking for a writing ritual to prime the pump for word count, here are some suggestions taken from the rich, famous and published. Can’t say I recommend them, though!
JOHN CHEEVER: Every morning, the Pulitzer prize winner would get out of bed, put on a suit, and ride down the elevator with all his neighbors as they went to work. Upon arrival in the basement, he would strip down to his underwear and write. At lunchtime, he put his suit back on and went upstairs for a sandwich. Then he would do the same thing again for his afternoon writing session.
EDITH SITWELL : The poet was kind of, well, odd. She had a practice of lying in an open coffin for several minutes each morning before sitting down to write. Whatever works, I guess.
ISABEL ALLENDE: The started writing her first novel, the best-selling The House of Spirits, on January 8. Because she feels it was “a lucky novel” she now starts writing each new book on the same date. That seems like it would seriously impair your output, but if it gets you something like The House of the Spirits, who am I to argue?
ALEXANDER DUMAS PÈRE: The Three Musketeers author apparently believed in color therapy, as he followed a strict color scheme in his writing: blue for fiction, pink for non-fiction and yellow for poetry.
CARSON MCCULLERS: The author of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter would only write if she was wearing her lucky sweater. Thank God the drycleaners never lost it!

Monday Muse – Taking it to the Streets

We all know how difficult this writing life can be. Especially for those of us – all ofus, I daresay – who have lives and families/friends, resposibilities and s forth, its a struggle. When you finally get “half a mo'” to sit down and put hands on keyboard, your muse is AWOL. God knows, my dear Bridget picks my rare free minutes to schedule her mani/pedis.
So I have to continually find ways to cajole Dearest Bridget back to work-mode. And one of the best tricks is seeking out new places to write.

Bridget gets terribly bored with the same old, same old. We have that in common! Last week I was faced with the normal demands on my time – rushed home to take DD#2 to tutoring, had to cool my heels outside the tutor’s office, and then fly home to do the supper frenzy for DH and the girls. How could I be expected to get in my wordcount on day like that?
In a word, flexibility. As I dropped DD of at the college, I noticed some nice little picnic tables under the trees. Bingo!
I sat out in the luscious NW Fla Spring weather, listened to the birds chirp, and worked on the big scene where my hero tells the heroine he’s been in love with her for years.
Bridget, so pleased at being taken out in public made free with the inspiration, and I turned a wasted hour into 1200 words on the WIP.
Don’t let inability to be in optimal writing conditions get in your way. Try taking the writing with you. I’ve even gone so far as to –shudder — write longhand in a noteblook when there is no power for the net book. After all, if Dear Jane Austen could rock a quill, I can too!
So, grab your WIP and hit the streets for an impromptu writing session. Bridget highly recommends it!

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Monday Muse – Celebrate!

My dear Muse, Bridget, is in alt this morning, and I am sure you all know the reason why. My second husband (to be) and Bridget’s inspiration for innumerable hot British heroes, won the acting world’s highest honor last night. So Bridget has instructed me to simply post pictures of Dearest Colin, as she says he is all the inspiration any muse could possibly need. As always, what Bridget says, goes, so here he is, the World’s Best Actor (and serious dropdead #1 Crush of my lifetime), Colin Firth:

Monday Muse – Stepping Out of the Comfort Zone

My dear Muse, Bridget, is a darling girl, and of course she is the finest writer I know. (As dear Mr. Disraeli said of royalty, when flattering Muses, one should lay it on with a trowel.) But, dare I say it, even Bridgie gets a bit comfortable now and again. She starts to expect the same thing, at the same time, in the same way. There is a fine line indeed between a comfortable Muse and a bored Muse, a line which one crosses at great risk. A comfortable, happy Muse churns out the word count, while a bored Muse slinks around on the internet, doing interminable piddling in the name of “research.”
So how, boys and girls, do we keep our Muse interested in life, so that the sparkling dialogue and lavish descriptions keep flowing onto our computer screen? Well, one way is to keep her just a tiny bit confused. Give her new input, in ways she doesn’t expect, so that she doesn’t give in to the tedium of everyday life.
Every once in a while, even when your Muse is behaving properly and helping you write your masterpiece, mix it up a bit. Do something different. Walk on the wild side.
Well, “wild” is relative, of course. What is wild and outlandish for you might be just another day at the office for me. But the idea is this – go somewhere new. Do something you haven’t tried before. Even if you are totally sucky at it, the effort will get the synapses in your brain firing in weird and wonderful ways.
For example, MATH. Many of you know my aversion to Math. I managed to get through high school, college and a doctorate without ever attempting anything beyond Algebra I. In fact, I’m not completely sure what Calculus is. Numbers make my brain freeze, just like drinking a slushy too fast on a hot August night.
But I picked up a book of Sudoku not long ago. Yes, the very idea of playing around with numbers made my brain hurt. But I fiddled with it, did the really easy ones, and rewarded myself lavishly if I managed to finish one. I now have a Sudoku app on my iPad, and I’ve worked up to the “intricate” level – only two from the hardest (“diabolical.”)
I still don’t like numbers. To quote Bridget Jones in the elderly barrister’s office, “Never have. Never will. Sorry.” But the doing something different jump-started my brain in some kind of crazy way. After doing a few dozen sudokus, poor Bridget (Muse, not Jones) was so grateful to be back in the world of words that she jumped in and gave me 10,000 words on the WIP.
So the next time your Muse gets a little stinky and doesn’t want to buckle down to work, expose her to something new, different and maybe even at first unenjoyable. You just might be surprised with her reaction.

Monday Muse – When Muses Rebel

Monday Muse – When Muses Rebel

Dearest Bridget and I are having a bit of a tiff this week. My darling Muse has been very sweet and cooperative over the past few months, probably as a result of the MUSE THERAPY class I took online from the rabbity-fabulous D.D. Scott. We’ve been working like two — well, I was going to say “like two mules in harness,” an image very dear to my Southern brain, but Bridget informed me that she shall not be likened to a mule. So there.

She’s done that a few times over this past weekend – just planted her little size six Jimmy Choos (Bridget is quite the fashionista) and told me she’s not working on the project I suggest. Our biggest argument right now is about a book trailer. Several of my friends have done them — Jillian Chantal has made some gorgeous ones — and I wanna jump on the bandwagon. With PROOF OF LOVE coming out from Champagne Books this fall, a trailer is a good promo, and I need to put one together.

Nope. Bridgie has dug in her delicate little stiletto heels and refused. Every place I have looked for affordable pictures online has been so disappointing that Bridget says she just can’t do it. I’ve snooper around Dreamstime, Getty Images, Shutterstock, and elsewhere, til poor Bridget just got depressed. And a depressed Muse is not a productive Muse.

For one thing, the photos of people in historic dress tend heavily toward the paranormal look. Lots of ver skinny, very young men with pale skin in cravats – I swear they must glitter if the sun hits them! Not exactly right for my 30-something brilliant scholar-Duke. And the girls, if not wan and anemic from all the vampire kisses, look more like someone’s mom wearing her outfit for the RWA Beau Monde costume ball. A bit longer in the tooth than my heroine. After all, even though poor Susan was firmly on the shelf, in her day spinsterhood meant mid-twenties.

So after several hours of looking, Bridget has rebelled. “Look, chica,” she said to me as we drove to the day job yesterday, “I’m trying really hard here with the writing, you know? No little hissy fits, no drama except on the page. I don’t expect a thank you note for it. It’s my job. But movie making R not us. Not gonna do it. You’re on your own.”. Then she got a wee bit snarky and added, “I’d sure hate to see you get writer’s block when the new WIP is going so smoothly.”

Well, I can recognize a veiled threat when my subconscious mind makes one. Looks like persisting with the trailer will cost me valuable time on the WIP. So I have reluctantly agreed w Bridgie and abandoned the trailer for right now.

What do you think? Can I market my book without one? Is there anyway to pique Bridgie’s interest in a new kind of creativity? Or should I (Bridget is nodding happily here) just stick to writing?

Monday Muse – When Muses Rebel

Monday Muse – When Muses Rebel

Dearest Bridget and I are having a bit of a tiff this week. My darling Muse has been very sweet and cooperative over the past few months, probably as a result of the MUSE THERAPY class I took online from the fabbity-fabulous D.D. Scott. We’ve been working like two — well, I was going to say “like two mules in harness,” an image very dear to my Southern brain, but Bridget informed me that she shall not be likened to a mule. So there.

She’s done that a few times over this past weekend – just planted her little size six Jimmy Choos (Bridget is quite the fashionista) and told me she’s not working on the project I suggest. Our biggest argument right now is about a book trailer. Several of my friends have done them — Jillian Chantal has made some gorgeous ones — and I wanna jump on the bandwagon. With PROOF OF LOVE coming out from Champagne Books this fall, a trailer is a good promo, and I need to put one together.

Nope. Bridgie has dug in her delicate little stiletto heels and refused. Every place I have looked for affordable pictures online has been so disappointing that Bridget says she just can’t do it. I’ve snooper around Dreamstime, Getty Images, Shutterstock, and elsewhere, til poor Bridget just got depressed. And a depressed Muse is not a productive Muse.

For one thing, the photos of people in historic dress tend heavily toward the paranormal look. Lots of ver skinny, very young men with pale skin in cravats – I swear they must glitter if the sun hits them! Not exactly right for my 30-something brilliant scholar-Duke. And the girls, if not wan and anemic from all the vampire kisses, look more like someone’s mom wearing her outfit for the RWA Beau Monde costume ball. A bit longer in the tooth than my heroine. After all, even though poor Susan was firmly on the shelf, in her day spinsterhood meant mid-twenties.

So after several hours of looking, Bridget has rebelled. “Look, chica,” she said to me as we drove to the day job yesterday, “I’m trying really hard here with the writing, you know? No little hissy fits, no drama except on the page. I don’t expect a thank you note for it. It’s my job. But movie making R not us. Not gonna do it. You’re on your own.”. Then she got a wee bit snarky and added, “I’d sure hate to see you get writer’s block when the new WIP is going so smoothly.”

Well, I can recognize a veiled threat when my subconscious mind makes one. Looks like persisting with the trailer will cost me valuable time on the WIP. So I have reluctantly agreed w Bridgie and abandoned the trailer for right now.

What do you think? Can I market my book without one? Is there anyway to pique Bridgie’s interest in a new kind of creativity? Or should I (Bridget is nodding happily here) just stick to writing?

Muse Monday: Setting Goals

The beginning of the year, a time for making resolutions. Or, as dear Cogsworth put it in Beauty and the Beast, “there’s the usual things: flowers, chocolates, promises you don’t intend to keep. . . . ”

So yes, my resolutions tend to be more like “to-do lists” for the first week of January. But there is value in stopping to think about who we are, how we want to change and what we want to accomplish, and the beginning of January is as good as time for that as any. Bridget, my muse, likes for me to tell her where I think we are headed from time to time. She may — does! — disagree with me fairly frequently, but having the discussion clears the air between us.

So in the interest of getting your muse to set some goals, I offer the following:

Professional life-coaches (yes, there really is such a job, and where do I sign up? I loooovvee telling other people how to live!) say that all goals should be SMART:
Specific, Measurable, Articulable, Realistic, and Timely.

Now, there is all kinds of stuff on line telling you what that means, and I strongly encourage you to look at it. But, in general and in brief, make your goals something concrete, doable, and verifiable. Not, “I’m gonna get serious about my writing” — who the heck knows what that means? But if you say, “I’m going to write every day, at least 100 words, and I am going to write an average of 5000 words a week, that is something we can measure. I like these kind of minimum and average goals, btw. My life doesn’t let me commit to 1500 words a day, or anything like that. But I can always make myself click out a tiny minimum, just to be on the daily. And then I can make myself use the precious free time I get to reach the higher average goal.

Dear Bridgie has signed on for the 100/day, 5000/week for 2011. What goals can you set for your muse?

Muse Monday – Just Give Us Drugs (and Hot Tea)

Okay, my darlings, a short post today. My muse, Bridget, and I both have the flu. Fever of 102, body aches, general malaise. When dear Bridgie doesn’t even feel good enough to read or watch a BBC movie on Netflix, you can tell things are dire.
I usually try to bring you a tip on the care and feeding of Muses every Monday, but today all Bridgie wants to do is huddle under the covers and take medicine. Tamiflu, advil, mucinex, you name it, Bridget is jonesing for it.
So all I can do is give you the recipe for the citrus tea that has been our prime nourishment for the past three days. If you, your muse, or anyone you love gets the crud this winter, a hot cuppa this won’t cure you, but it might just make you feel a little better.

BRIDGET’S CITRUS TEA

2 cups TANG (the powdered drink mix)
2 cups sugar
¾ cup instant tea with lemon
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ cup ground cloves

Mix it all together and store in an airtight container. To prepare, use 2 – 3 teaspoons to a cup of hot water.
And now, Bridget and I are going to crawl back under our duvet and hope that we live to see the morrow.

Monday Muse: Scents and Sensibilitiy

I was, long ago before the earth’s crust cooled, a psychology major. Now remember that a B.A. in Psychology qualifies you to wait tables in some of America’s best-known restaurant chains and not much else. But, being the know-it-all Queen of the Universe I am, even at that early age, I rejected all advice and majored in Nothing Marketable, with a minor in Overqualified.
But along the way I did pick up a few interesting little facts about human behavior. One of them is that, of all the senses, the one which most evokes memories is the sense of smell. Think about it – when you catch a whiff of PlayDoh, aren’t you right back in preschool? I can’t smell peanut butter and Ritz cracker without suddenly being eight years old, eating snack at Vacation Bible School with my buddy Anna. And on the less-pleasant side, the smell of a certain industrial cleaning solution will forever be linked with my dad’s stay in a nursing home. Scents are powerful.
So it is no wonder that many of us write to the aroma of scented candles. Aside from just the lush, spoil-myself-a-little aspect of using an expensive candle, the right scent can take me to the scenes in my WIP quicker than anything else I’ve tried.
For a long time, I just picked a scent I liked and rolled with it. But lately, I’ve been a little more focused in my selections. I’m writing a story now that is set between two very different worlds — a simple, downhome small town in Georgia and the jet-set lifestyle my heroine visits during her time with Mr. Wrong. So I’ve got two candles this time, one for each of the worlds I am creating.
For scenes in Oswald Corners, Georgia, I use Yankee Candles’ Home Sweet Home. The Yankee Candles website describes it as a blend of cinnamon, spices, and freshly poured tea. To me, it just smells like my grandma’s kitchen. And since my Grandma was a saintly Southern Baptist woman like the church ladies in my WIP, that works just fine.
But when Cassie, my hero, goes off to the big city with the cad who will do her wrong, cinnamon and spice just don’t cut it. So for those scenes I use Tyler Candles’ Cashmere Elegance, which uses peonies, sandalwood, rose de mal, and cashmere woods in a lovely mixture that just smells like being rich.
I think I need another candle for the ending, where Cassie learns that some things from the small town are worth keeping, even though she stays in the big city. If anybody has ideas for a happy-ever-after candle, let me know!