October 18, 2012

NaNo Prep: How Do You Get in Touch with Your Muse?

Crystal ball with text: How Do You Get in Touch with Your Muse?

In my last post, I explained that I’m a pantser (I write by the seat of my pants) because that’s the best way—for me—to hear my subconscious ideas of what to write. But maybe one reason why some of us are plotters and some of us are pantsers is because we all need to use different techniques to tap into our subconscious.

The comments last time made me realize why I don’t write things down ahead of time. (Love my commenters—making me think. *smile*) My big weakness in self-editing is seeing how something I’ve already written could be approached a different way. Once something is on the page (or screen, as the case may be), the pieces often lock into place in my mind. Then I have a hard time breaking the writing into pieces again to see other potential solutions until someone else points out the possibilities.

Because of that, I don’t want to write down ideas for plot or character arcs unless I know that’s the way my muse wants me to go. He’s a much better writer than I am. I trust that he has a plan, and I don’t want to screw it up. So I’ve trained myself to be aware of whether an idea comes from my conscious mind or my subconscious.

It helps that my muse is male and sounds nothing like me. *smile* But it also helps that I never consciously make suggestions (“What if this?” “How about that?”). Because I’m rarely trying to consciously come up with ideas, I know any thoughts must have come from my subconscious, my muse.

Many writers talk about getting story ideas while driving, falling asleep, or taking a shower. Those are all things that can lull our conscious mind into silence and allow our subconscious voice to sound a little louder in comparison. I know all those techniques have worked for me.

But what if we’re consciously trying to find a solution to a writing problem? What if we’re stuck on a scene or plot twist and need to fix it? How can we force our subconscious—a fickle thing under the best of circumstances—to rise to the occasion when we need it?

As part of preparing for NaNo (National Novel Writing Month—writing 50K words during the month of November), I figured now would be a good time to open the floor to suggestions. Those of us doing NaNo (I’m there as Jami Gold) might need all the tips we can get to help us through those times when we’re stuck. *smile*

Here’s a list to get us started:

  • Brainstorm ideas with family or writing friends
  • Drive aimlessly
  • Take a shower
  • Focus on the question while falling asleep (I’ve often woken up with the answer in the morning)
  • Clean, garden, or do laundry (or other “mindless” tasks)
  • Work on other art or “gut feel” projects
  • Bounce ideas off your dog, cat, or other pet
  • Take a walk
  • Think of how another story handled that plot issue and twist it (maybe into the opposite approach)
  • Change the point-of-view for the scene
  • Ask the characters
  • Do a virtual “dartboard” and pick a random event to throw into the story and shake things up (one writer swore by inserting a dead body)
  • Back up to the last place the story felt “right”
  • Go back to our premise or story seed and remember why we wanted to write this story
  • Use a beat sheet to see if we’re off track
  • Figure out what should happen later in the story and see if that fills in blanks
  • Write a different scene
  • Start writing things we know aren’t right and see if our muse shows up to take over
  • Set a timer for five minutes and write every crazy possibility
  • Do a word sprint to force ourselves into the moment
  • Act out a scene—what would we do next?
  • Take my class (You knew I had to sneak that in there, right? *grin*)

Okay, I’ll make up for that shameless plug by announcing a contest. My Lost Your Pants? The Impatient Writer’s Guide to Plotting a Story class will help writers develop their story just enough to write faster—perfect timing for NaNo—and now you have the chance to win a one-on-one feedback session with me to go over your story. Sign up for the class by Monday, October 22, 2012, and then enter the contest for an opportunity to have me check your homework, get brainstorming help, work through trouble spots, etc.

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Do you have trouble getting your subconscious in gear when you need it? How do you get in touch with your muse? Do you have tips to share? Which tips have worked best for you in the past? Do you worry about keeping your conscious ideas separate from the ideas from your subconscious (or is that just me)?

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Comments — What do you think?

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Melinda S. Collins

Ugh… I hate it when the muse doesn’t want to cooperate. Most times when I set a writing schedule, he ignores it and laughs from whatever dark corner he’s pinned himself to. But when I don’t set a schedule – TADA! There is he is slamming me against the wall saying, “Write. Right. Now!” LOL! But I have found a great middle ground. Washing dishes, taking a shower, laying on the bed listening to rock music – all of these things, for whatever reason, seem to entice him to be nice and give me something to work with. 🙂 Then there are those other moments where you’re in the middle of an writing an uber-awesome scene and then it’s like the muse just decided to disappear for word or two, or a sentence or two, and that leaves you stuck on that one thing. In those moments, I simply type ‘XXX – word’ or ‘XXX – sentence’ so that I can come back to it later when I get it figured it, or attempt to get it just right when I’m editing. Doing that definitely helps when you’re in the middle of a sprint, or NaNo, because you’re not giving yourself an excuse to bang your head against the wall for several minutes (or hours) before moving foward. Most of the time I definitely worry about the conscious mind getting in the way, and usually what I do it write down whatever I’ve consciously thought about, then I ball it…  — Read More »


(Not intending to plug another class here, but it’s my frame of reference, so pardon the unintentional plug)

Holly Lisle’s “How To Think Sideways” class is focused pretty heavily on communicating with your “muse”. You’ve got a FANTASTIC list up there that covers even more than she did, but mind-mapping is also a great one. My favorite on your list is the “do other things” approach. KNOW the question, frame the question … and then let the back of your mind work on it. It’s like luring a timid creature out of hiding. You have to pretend to be busy with other things so that it comes forward.

Another great thing I learned from Holly’s class was never to tell your muse they’re WRONG. I have a lot of negative self-talk that happens in my head and I’m doing some drastic rewiring. Regardless of whether you talk about your muse as if it’s mostly-not-yourself OR if you think of it as your creative side, it doesn’t matter.

Constant negativity and berating isn’t going to get the creative flow you need to keep going.

Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

My tip for the day in relation to getting your (or my) subconscious mind to start spitting out ideas is to talk to it…um, yeah, I said talk to it. 🙂 I’m a huge follower of author Kelly L. Stone’s ( three amazing books, Time to Write, Thinking Write, and Living Write, all of which help authors fit writing into their busy lives, divulge secrets to bringing the craft of writing into our daily lives, and most importantly, secrets to freeing our creative minds. I’ve had the honor to sit in on two of her workshops and she blows me away with her knowledge of the human ability to actually tap into the sub-conscious mind and give it prompts and direction. She always finishes the last 20 minutes or so of class with a hyptnotism of sorts. Her voice is fantastically calming. She says that if you literally talk to your subconscious mind, and tell it what to do, you can train it to perform. I do it every night, and numerous times during the day. I send my subconscious messages like, “Subconscious mind, I will be a multi-published author with many adoring fans. SM, I will make my word count today, SM, I will see my books on shelves at B&N and, SM, I will get an agent…and dog-gone if I didn’t get one the very next day! Granted, I’m not a moron…I’m well aware that some people are skeptical about this, and I used to be. But what…  — Read More »


You didn’t include drawing or making mock covers on your list of inspiration. Or free-associative writing! Tsk, tsk. 😉

A writer’s weak points will also affect what they should do. Personally, I’m prone to making too many main characters in a story. (One reason I’ve focused on writing my first person story ideas, when I’m writing longer works—it helps me avoid that.)

As a side effect, I sometimes end up with too many characters in a scene. (Or the wrong ones altogether!) So when something’s “off”, I take a hard look at it and figure out who has to be there. Then I figure out if anyone else is needed, and the options for who those other folks could be. (Sometimes, I also have to detail who can’t be in the scene.)


Note: For me, I’ve noticed that writer’s block tends to mean “Something’s wrong.” So I have to track down what that wrong thing is and fix it before I can continue—and that wrong thing can be as simple as a character using the wrong phrasing two scenes up.

My subconscious is sneaky like that. (And yes, I do refrain from personalizing it and calling it a “muse”. I’m too much of a literalist for that to be a good thing.)

Jordan McCollum

I’m not a visual artist, either, but I love playing with graphic design, making mock covers, Pinterest boards, etc., for inspiration! But I try to do those before I write (like right now) so I can look back at them when needed. Otherwise, I’ll stop writing for days while I perfect them. :\

Teresa Robeson

I am SO looking forward to that class with you, Jami! 🙂

I find that the “thinking about the question while falling asleep” thing doesn’t work for me (probably partly because I’m an insomniac and my mind is already racing with a million things while trying to fall asleep).

I like to exercise and mull something over when I’m stuck. I also have two wonderful critique groups that I will consult for suggestions.

Sometimes, though, I just hit a brick wall so hard that I have to put the darn story away for a long time. Sometimes it gets forgotten. Other times, I’ll look at it again and because I have fresh eyes on it after such a long hiatus, I’ll be able to come up with a solution.


Tips for tapping into our subconscious to find a solution to a writing problem? Good question.

What about the problem of finding out a character’s secrets to deepen his characterization?

Just yesterday, I asked one of my characters what secrets he had. He absolutely refused to tell me anything, so I suggested some possible secrets:

“Do you have a crush on some girl?”

“No. That’s so cliched and not me anyway.”

“Do you have a secret inferiority complex?”

“I thought we just established that I had neither superiority or inferiority complexes and that I’m a very self-content person.”

“Hmm, oh do you have a secret fatal illness or something?”

“Interesting, but no, sorry.”

“Okay, then maybe you secretly want to kill your best friend?”


“You secretly want to kill your mother?”

“Not that either.”

And so the conversation went on and I jotted down tons of possibilities but none of them clicked. He said no to everything and that was just not helping.

In the end, we—my character and I—established that I will not push him anymore for secrets, but that I will simply keep writing the story and learn about him gradually. The secrets will only appear to me when the story gets to the place where the secret must be revealed. But if the story doesn’t involve any of his secrets at all, then I will never get to learn any of his secrets. Sigh. So that’s my temporary solution to this problem.

Perry Block

Lately it’s getting harder and harder to get in touch with my muse.

She doesn’t call, she doesn’t write, and when we’re together she frequently yawns when we’re discussing critical plot points.

What do you do when you suspect your muse is sneaking around behind your back with another writer? Can you speak to this?


Are you reading fiction?

I’ve noticed that it’s far harder to write when you’re not reading anything comparable to what you’re trying to write.


My muse doesn’t show up a lot when I’m sitting in front of the computer. The process of transferring the ideas in my head into words on paper is often so difficult for me that my muse can’t get a word in. Almost all of my best ideas occur to me when I’m away from the computer – usually during showers or while driving to work in the morning. Unfortunately, my bosses expect me to actually work when I arrive, so I have to jot down those ideas on a pad of paper before I leave the car and hope my muse hangs around until lunchtime. Considering that I am definitely not a morning person, it’s surprising- and a little frustrating – that my best ideas come in the morning.

I know what you mean about the difficulty in changing something that you’ve already committed to paper. It’s like running repeatedly into a stone wall. I usually spent more time rewriting a section of a scene (based on my CP’s comments) than I did when writing the entire chapter in the first place.


[…] Jami Gold: 1) How Do You Get in Touch with Your Muse? 2) Should Pantsers be […]

Jordan McCollum

I don’t really have a muse, though I can see the psychological advantage of relying on something other than my brain and inspiration.

I plot the major milestones of my story (often with very specific scene ideas, but not writing those down) so that I *can* see the best way for things to happen, and move them around or strengthen them before I commit to full scenes. For example, I’m slowly plotting my Nano novel, and I had a certain event at the Midpoint of the novel, but it really went better with the events Plot Point 1 (25% mark). So I moved it. Still not sure what will go in that Midpoint slot, but I’ve got a week and a half to figure it out, right?

I still do this when drafting, however. Last year’s Nano novel I did the opposite in the drafting process: I changed the first plot point, and the old Plot Point I became the mid-point.

Something that I want to try (especially on this one old story where the entire middle is just wrong) is character relationship mapping. I learned about it from EJ Patten when he gave this presentation:


[…] From Jami Gold – How Do You Get In Touch With Your Muse? […]

Nicole Ducleroir

Great post, Jami! And perfect for me at this moment in time. I’ve struggled with a real disconnect between myself and my muse, my conscious and unconscious minds. As NaNo approaches, I’ve taken the advice of a writer friend to shelf my dead-end wip and break out a new project for November. Problem is, my idea pool seems Sahara dry. And by using ‘seems’ in that sentence, I’m either warding off jinxing myself into making it true, or I’m clinging desperately to denial that it IS true. *sigh* At any rate, your post has given me hope and inspired me to relax the mind muscles. I’m diving back into that pool believing, like never before, that it isn’t empty, after all. And as luck would have it, my baskets full of unfolded clean laundry are plentiful…

All my best to you on your NaNo project!


[…] Writing Stuff Last time, we shared suggestions on how to kick our muse into gear. One of my favorite techniques is using music. With NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing […]


[…] NaNo Prep: How Do You Get in Touch with Your Muse? […]


[…] blog posts suggest ideas for how to get unstuck in our story, get in touch with our muse, or deal with writer’s block. Today, I want to focus on one technique in […]

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