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Seducing the Muse

Blogs! Writing groups! Beta readers, online and offline! Books and seminars on writing and publishing! All of these have been and continue to be helpful to me as a writer. But I always try to remember that some of the most important things we writers can do to nourish our muses, to maximize our mental acuity and productivity, are not so obvious. Sometimes we even view them as competition for our writing time: physical fitness, happy relationships, and beauty sleep.

I speak for more than just myself when I say that our muses are snotty bitches, friends. They tend to snub us when we get grumpy, sleepy, or dopey on too little sleep.

Forget crossword puzzles and sudoku--The most effective way to keep the brain sharp is to exercise the body. That means setting aside a few hours each week to get some cardio to offset those long stretches of time parked in the old desk chair. It doesn't have to be a lot, but it does have to be consistent. I try to schedule in about three hours a week of belly dance to German metal, Body by Glamour free weights workouts, and/or cutting the grass with a manual mower and a pair of track cleats. I'll let you speculate on which one is my husband's favorite AND the most fun to do with girlfriends--if I can get them off their own computer chairs.

Which brings me to the next thing our muses crave: at least one or two close, intimate, and healthy relationships (spouses and family members count)! Our loves keep us motivated and emotionally capable of handling the deadlines and roadblocks and ups and downs of a writer's life. Yes, some of the greatest artists are brooding... but I've seen a lot of would-be creators OD on their own angst and never get anything done. I make sure I take my husband's schedule into account when I plan my writing time so I can do most of my work when he's out of the house or occupied. And I make sure I say "yes" to at least three or four social invitations every month. Time spent with inspiring people is nourishment for high quality writing in my alone time. Besides, real people (especially the wacky or dysfunctional ones) are marvelous fodder for novel characters.

This goes against our modern American work ethic, but good quantity and quality of sleep are essential. Sticking to a regular schedule is paramount. NASA says functioning is impaired by changing bedtime/waking time more than one hour from one night to the next. And electronic media in the bedroom is a major nicht-nicht. Looking at an LCD screen during the 45 minutes before bedtime interrupts the natural hormone cycle that makes us sleepy and can decrease the quality of our whole night's sleep. That means no computers, video games, TV, or any other digital media in the bedroom or used 45 minutes before bed. It helps to have an evening ritual, anything that avoids electronics. Some examples are doing chores with the kids, taking a hot bubble bath, reading, or (my favorite) trading massages with your sleeping partner.

So if you're tempted to spend your evening writing a long, brooding blog post about your writer's block... Shut off the computer. Go out dancing. Spend some mind-blowing analog time with a special someone, and fall into a blissful sleep filled with vivid dreams. When you power on the next day, I'll bet you come up with something good.


  1. "And electronic media in the bedroom is a major nicht-nicht. Looking at an LCD screen during the 45 minutes before bedtime interrupts the natural hormone cycle that makes us sleepy and can decrease the quality of our whole night's sleep."

    Perhaps this is why I lay awake and staring at the ceiling - and digital clock - when I finally allow myself to hit the sheets at night. Unless, I spend some time reading a book. Maybe I'll start that necessary ritual a couple hours earlier in the evening.

    Awesome post. Loved getting to know you.


  2. Absolutely right. The most constructive work I ever do is when I get back from jogging, riding or tennis (my sports of choice), had a refreshing shower and made myself a detoxifying (I am big on herbal teas) tea (iced in summer).

    No greater feeling, I swear.

  3. I feel like you wrote this post for me! I've been lamenting on my block for a while now. Maybe I should just shut up and DO something, huh?

  4. Donna: My husband has major sleep problems, and getting him to quit "winding down" in front of the computer at night has been tough but effective.

    Hello, RetroKali. Your "Adventures in BFE" are hilarious. No shortage of fiction inspiration in your daily life!

    Tessa: I feel you! I tend to get my most fun ideas in the shower after a workout.

    Meika: You might lament, but I see your bunny racing toward the finish line! You must be doing something right.

  5. Before the invention of electricity, most slept ten hours. Many doctors cite that as the optimum amount. I know I do better with that amount. I know that a harried blood courier with ambitions of becoming published, I seldom get it.

    Farmers don't plant and re-plant the same section of their land. They let it go fallow for a season. And if dirt needs a rest, how much so do we humans!

    A nice walk outside under the stars before I sleep helps me be able to ease under the dark spread of Dream at night. And some of my best ideas come to me in dreams. See my post "T'wixt Wing & Wing."

    One friend has a punching bag in her bedroom, where she pins a photo or just the name of some "unique" individual that has made the prior hours more interesting than she needed. After a few minutes of punching said photo or name, she rests just fine she says. Hey, it works for her. And she is definitely in shape from it.

    Have a productive tomorrow, Roland

  6. I love this post! I thought your post was about to chastise me for wasting time on all these writing support systems instead of actually WRITING but instead you spouted what I firmly believe - we have to feed and nurture our muse. Which is why sometimes, it is okay to not write and head to bed or the park or the bar!

  7. Roland: My optimal length of sleep is nine hours. I say, if you have vivid dreams, then for a writer, sleeping counts as productive work time! It's not always a bad idea to make use of BOTH the conscious and the subconscious workings of the brain.

    Rebecca: That's funny! How hypocritical would it be of me to blog about how people shouldn't spend so much time on blogs. Hey, it's all about balance. Blogging, reading, going to the bar... ALL good things for writers, in moderation, of course. I'm about to head to a writing group meeting in a couple hours. I almost never accomplish much writing during the meeting time, but it is ALWAYS a worthwhile experience to get critiques, read others' work, and just chill with other people crazy enough to be writing novels too.

  8. Hey! Just saw your comment on my blog. I won't be making it to the meeting tonight. I didn't get out of work till 8 tonight, sadly! I'm gonna try to make it next week -- I have the day off! Hope you have fun :)

  9. This is all very good advice. Which, of course, means I shall now go about ignoring it. It's okay: my muse ignores me too, most of the time, unless I ply her with vodka and symphonic metal.

    I may be exaggerating a bit here. Possibly.

    I should try belly dancing instead of headbanging. I hear male bellydancers exist. That might be fun.

  10. Meika: I might have a work meeting next week, but I hope to see you around one of these Thursdays!

    Simon: Hey, if that's what your muse demands, give her what she wants. I fear that headbanging may be detrimental to the frontal cortex. Then again, my secret love <3 Till Lindemann makes a career of headbanging as he performs songs with lyrics he wrote in his brilliantly rhyming, signature triple-entendres.

    You know what? Yeah. Everybody, just figure out what your personal muse needs and make an offering. Heck, your muse might even get off on emo whining. In that case, ignore this post. Ohne dich!


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