Fugue states: Boxing the Muse
Writing is damn hard work. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar or a crappy-ass writer. In popular media, there's the image of the writer, hammering away at an old school typewriter. The writer is lost in the story, oblivious to the outside world, and in a final dramatic flourish, whips out the finished pages and mails them off. Easy-peasy.
As if. For us ink-stained wretches, getting the words on the page (or the screen) seems like a boxing match with the Muse.
But every once in a while, we get lost in our story and when we look up, the hours have flown by and behold
: pages and pages of manuscript. Steven King calls this phenomenon the "Trance," when you're so focused in your work that all else falls away. Athletes refer to it as the "Zone." Some may refer to it as an altered realm of conscious, a Fugue state.
A Writer's Fugue state is a great place to be in, but one that you can't get into by turning a switch. Worse, when you're in a Writer's Trance, and you realize you're there, BANG!, the trapdoor opens and back you fall into reality.
How to get into the trance.
1. Put your subconscious to work. I've learned that when my, as Ernest Hemingway put it, shockproof shit detector goes off, it's my subconscious telling me something is wrong with my prose. The dialog is forced, the scene contrived, the characters don't act naturally (even if they are supernatural). Shake up your narrative. This might be a good time to kill someone (on the page!) Go ahead and dwell on the scene. Take a walk. Make notes. Play with finger puppets. Your subconscious is your friend and loves to have quiet little discussions with your brain behind your back.
2. Jump into it. There is no perfect time to write. We all have busy schedules and even for us professional writers, life has a way of kidnapping our attention. So take advice from another famous author, Chuck Palahniuk, who said:
Thought follows action.
Which seems backwards. But he's right. A lot of writers waste time puttering around for the Muse to show up, however, let me tell you, get to work and she'll plop her bitchy ass on your desk. Grouchy perhaps, but there.
3. Getting stuck. The two places most writers spin their wheels is at the beginning and someplace in the middle of their manuscript. The problem at the beginning is that we're not sure where the story actually starts. Well, refer to #2 above. Get something down. Realize that the first chapter gets the most attention of any part of a manuscript and you'll be reworking it until deadline. The middle of the story, a.k.a., the swamp is a whole different piece of real estate with the plot twists and subplots. If you're a panster writer, this may be the time to consider an outline--a map--to help you march out of the swamp.
4. Turn off the distractions. Like Facebook. Twitter. Email. eBay. News. Porn. Generally, the entire World Wide Web. Hemingway liked the white noise of people doing busy work while he wrote. I play music to mask the distractions.
5. Rituals. I cribbed this idea from someone else, and if it sounds brilliant, I take all credit. These are my rituals. A cup of coffee. Go through my to-do list. Read my emails. Glance out the window to the homeless shambling through the neighborhood. Fight off the cold grip of terror if I fail at this writing gig. Then buckle down and peck away.
6. Bribery. Muses love chocolate cake. And a sugar rush might sling you into the Trance just a bit quicker.
7. A reward. Like a cocktail. Okay, drinking can put you in one kind of altered state, often desirable, but not in this case. Writing can be so much heavy lifting for the brain so one drop of booze is a signal that the work day is over.
There you have it. Easy-peasy. Now get to work.
But wait! Don't go, we have pimpage.
Fellow Leaguer Anton Strout
has a new book coming out this week, Dead Water
. Check it out and buy lots of copies!
And newbe Urban Fantasy author, Julie Kazimer, is giving away a $20
B&N gift card. All you gotta do is leave some snark on her blog, The Never Never News
, your #1 Source for Fairytale News.
Labels: Anton Strout, Fugue State, Julie Kazimer, Muse, Shit detector, Trance