A discussion over at IMC about gaming, which spills over a bit into writing in general:
We’ve all seen it. The great idea for a room that seemed to fizzle to nothing shortly after getting out of the gates. The really well crafted C that just doesn’t ever seem to be used in actual play. The room spanning story arc that never gets resolved because the ST/GM/DM ran out of steam to tie it all together. While it is frustrating for the players, it is even more frustrating for the one whose creative well has gone dry. It has happened to the best of us. The question is how to recover from the lost of muse…
People (read: other writers) talk about “muses” and inspiration a lot in general, so this is probably as good a place to talk about that as any.
I’ve come to realize that inspiration is not much more than the act of honing and directing your attention. From time to time I’ve posted that anecdote about someone who says I have no ideas, this sucks, and I ask them okay, what happened last week? and they run down a list of 37 things, but none of those are interesting enough for a story; they’re not what you’re looking for.
I drew a couple of conclusions from this, the biggest one being: It’s not about what you’re looking for; it’s about what presents itself to you unbidden. That requires you keeping your eyes and ears open in places where you would never expect to run into something “useful” — in short, it’s a honed skill, something you have to keep at.
I’m obviously not arguing against going out and trying to find inspiration or ideas from different sources or anything like that. I am arguing in favor of allowing yourself to be surprised in the deepest possible ways, so that you can put aside what you’re looking for — or, rather, become that much more aware of the implications of what you’re looking for so you can set them aside and be truly knocked out when something nifty comes along.
Okay, back to the question at hand: how do you reignite a spark after it fizzles? The trick again, I think, is to not let yourself be limited by what’s right in front of you — to constantly ask what could go here or work there. I wrote some 250,000 words that I had to throw away, some two novels’ worth of material, before I finally found a place for my character Gō-sensei. Before I could get there, though, I had to admit defeat (as it were) not just once but twice. Admit defeat, but not lose hope — eventually, I would find a home for him, and soon I did.
Now: If you cultivate within yourself the idea that a muse is something you summon from within yourself — and not something you wait for as an outside agency, like a bus or a taxi — then you get into the habit of bringing the muse back a great deal more easily. Most people think of inspiration as lightning that strikes you at random; I think of it as a faucet with a funny-looking handle that you eventually learn to turn properly. Fiddle with it often enough and it’ll pop open, but after a while you figure out how to get it to work on demand.