Monday Musings: Who Controls Your Writing?

This is a writing related post, and a bit of a rant, so if that is not your reason for reading here, you can stop now. Fair warning given.

I hang out in several writer’s forum and groups. I don’t post much, but I do read, and occasionally chime in on a discussion. I see a lot of similar posts in many of them, mostly, I think, from younger folk. I have no proof of this, but I know I used to think these same things when I was a younger person. Most of them fall into these categories:

“I’m halfway through my story, and now my muse is pushing a new idea on me!” Or “I got to the middle of this story and my muse stopped talking to me!”

“I need my characters to do *this”, but they don’t want to!”

“I started this story, and I really thought it was a good idea, but now I am stuck, and I can’t write anything. I hate this writer’s block!”

The thing is, kids, none of the above is real. Oh, the problems are, of course. We all have trouble with our stories at times. Plots don’t work as we envisioned them, characters need to evolve, and things get stalled. But the reason is you, not some mysterious, mystical force or being. The honest truth is that these are your worlds, your characters, and your stories. You made them up. You control them, not the other way around. They do what you tell them to.

Your main character needs to be a bartender, because the bar is the main focal point of the plot, but he’s “telling” you he’d rather work in a bookstore? Tell him to shut up, and make you a martini. Dry. With extra olives.

You’re working on a story, and your “muse” is whispering another one in your ear, or has stopped telling you the story. First of all, this “muse” thing does not exist. There is no little fairy-like person sitting on your shoulder, dictating your ideas to you. They are coming from you. If a new one jumps out before you finish the current on, make some notes, jot the idea down, and move on with what you are working on. If that doesn’t work, then maybe it is your own brain telling you there is something you need to deal with in the current story. Plot holes? Flat characters? Dead space and info dumps dragging it down? Maybe it just isn’t a full enough idea-yet. Whatever it is, don’t blame it on ghosts. Figure out why you are having issues with your work.

Writer’s block? No such thing. The only reasonable explanation of writer’s block I’ve seen is here:

I fully agree with Mr. Ruhlman on this one. Writer’s block is a label used to excuse or justify the fact that no words are getting put on paper (or computer screens, for most of us). It’s not a block, as such. It’s a message. You are trying to tell yourself something. Maybe you need to go for a walk, take a shower, stomp around the room, scream, poke yourself with a sharp pencil, to get things flowing again. Sometimes, what you are trying to get through to the physical being sitting in front of a blank screen is that it is okay to not write today. Because we all have times when we need to let our brains recharge and refertilize. Let it happen. It’s okay. Just don’t call it “writer’s block.” You’re not blocked. The down time is a natural part of being a writer, and a creator.

All of the things I used to blame on a muse, or stubborn characters, or writer’s block were really my own brain trying to tell me something. Once I sat back and analyzed what that was, the problems went away.

None of the above is meant to say that a story will never change. Of course, it will. Plots evolve as we write them, requiring new directions and rethinking. Characters do too, and they should. If all of your characters stay the same from the start of the story to the end, they will not be interesting to your readers. They need to evolve with the story. Just don’t hand over control to those things, because, in reality, they are not real. They are, in one form or another, excuses and rationalizations.

Bottom line: Be responsible for your writing. You are in control, not anyone or anything else. If you are having a problem with your writing, figure out what it is and fix it. Don’t blame invisible, non-existent things for the problems. You’re the one writing the story, article, blog post, or whatever. Write it. You know you can.

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