Write mindless stories. Character A gets out of bed and eats breakfast. The end.
Now, the same event, but Character A has an existential crisis after getting out of bed. The fluffy purple rug on the floor reminds them of their grandmother, who’s favorite color was purple. She taught them how to bake. The memory sparks a shift in Character A’s mind and they decide to quit their job and open a bakery.
Perspective changes in an instant. Everyday occurrences combined with the particularities of a moment prompt the shift.
Take another possibility with Character A. A blend of chemicals in the brain fire at just the right time, which convinces Character A to have eggs for breakfast instead of heart attack cereal. And that small decision empowers Character A to be healthier. This in turn prompts them to realize they have control over their life, so they finally have the guts to quit their job and start a bakery.
We know what we want. We just don’t believe we are capable of getting it. Not until, like Character A, we have an epiphany over heart attack cereal and purple rugs.
That is the difference between plotless drivel and story. Character A’s desires and values altered ordinary events and set the rest of the story in motion. A story that is not a rote narrative of events, but an intricate look at character growth and development.
Dig deep. What are your characters dissatisfied with? What do they want? What are their insecurities? What do they regret?
These questions will lead to the heart of your story.
There comes a time in the life of all secret writers when Others give Advice.
Such guidance inevitably leads to the Trap of Being Who You Are Supposed to Be – the worst of all fates.
Advice is not intrinsically bad. It could even provoke inspiration. However, nine times out of ten, it fuels doubtful motivations such as Money, Fame, & Success.
Of course, we all know the only motivations that actually work are banana pudding, naps, and drinkable yogurt. All other motivations lead directly to DOOM.
DOOM has a talent for disguise. It looks so cheerful, benevolent, simple.
Do X, Y, & Z and you will SUCCEED
Do A, B, & C and you will FAIL
Here’s a secret: X, Y, & Z are boring as shit; A, B, & C are the shit.
Life is a trap. This is a pessimistic, but fun, outlook. To look upon humanity, so full of hope and wonder, and know that everything is shit, always has been shit, and always will be full of shit. A comfortable reality really. If you don’t like it, pick a new one.
Everyone has their own realities. I get tired of mine infrequently, so I throw them into a trash fire and buy new ones.
What does this have to do with writing? What the hell is a secret writer?
Prior to domestication, writers command a distinct self with particularities and talents. Somewhere along this blissful path, their souls are squashed by the Inevitable Plague of the LifeCrisis. The realization of what one should be dawns. Doubt grows and all sorts of horrifying notions fill the weakened mind. Writers ought to do such and such, an invisible creature formed of Everybody’s Opinions says. Avoid this mistake! Don’t write in this format! Don’t write in such and such POV!
Art is not rules. Replicating the success of others holds you back. To be the best writer you can be, you must be wholly yourself.
Stop listening to People.
People aren’t you.
I used to think some people were “born” creative. That certain personalities were inherently more creative than others. True creatives possessed the ability to create concretely on the fly. I was slow. I should not have been creative. My ideas were not original. I was not intuitive.
That was before I knew myself. Before I understood I absorb pieces of information from millions of places and transform them into something cohesive; not a story so much as a feeling. Fuzzy at first but mutating into something new. Once epiphany struck, I learned to trust my process and appreciate the way I created. Then I loved writing because I did not have to pretend or follow someone else’s model of creation.
Turn off the advice. Listen to your inner self. In the silence, you will hear a whisper.
If writing was a video game, creativity would be the heart containers. You start with one. The first attempt at writing earns a second. A bucket load of scribbling and half a manuscript earns a few more, etc. The containers empty as you create and when the last is used up you lie helpless on the kitchen floor, waiting for lighting to strike you dead so you may rise once more. Even the most accomplished writers, run out of hearts from time to time – or most of the time.
For example, the other day I read fanfiction for ten hours straight and lost like thirteen hearts – accompanied by an intense desire to write but no stamina to do so. Thankfully, I found a few helpful hints in a handy dark grimoire. By using a few of them, I was able to write my very own fanfiction. I mean novel…it was definitely a novel. I would never write fanfiction.
Helpful Hints From My Dark Grimoire:
Bang on some pots. Are you a quarter of a heart away from death and extinction? If so, an emergency nap is in order. Tell your mother to bang a pot or two in your direction in twenty minutes and go to sleep. You will wake up just as you have managed to go to doze off and will resent her for the rest of the hour until you realize your brooding restored one heart.
Sacrifice a chicken. You did not forget to eat. The unpleasant hollowness in your stomach reached your awareness four hours ago, but you postponed lunch so you could browse Tumblr for five more minutes. Several hours later, you decided preparing food was too much work and ate a bag of chips instead. Now you are full and cranky. Fix it immediately by consuming half a chicken and a couple of steaks. Your powers will be fully restored, but you will still feel like shit.
Travel to the beyond. You have been thinking all day. Stop it. Nothing drains hearts faster than thinking about writing. Close your eyes and think of nothing at all until you reach the Land of Absolute Boredom. Endure it for at least twenty seconds, then open your eyes. A heart or two will materialize and you will find writing either incredibly easy or feel an intense need to redecorate.
Throw all your writing paraphernalia on the floor. Manuscripts, scraps of artsy scribbles, crumbled up paper from the trash. Fling yourself on top of it all and bask in the creative aura. Absorb it into your soul. All your hearts will be restored and you will write for at least ten hours straight.
If none of these brilliant solutions worked for you, I don’t know what to say. Maybe get a cat or something.
P.S. Please direct all complaints to the comment section below.
Some activities are only enjoyable in conjunction with music. Writing, storytelling, parachuting, etc. Without it, they are as awful as they sound. While at times the muses allow me to write for hours in utter silence, they generally get bored and run for the nearest heavy metal concert. However, if you put music on, they will stay and drop a few epiphanies at your feet.
This guide will aid in proper selection of music to get your creatives juices flowing at their finest. All good guides are not complete without a warning, of course.
WARNING: Do not become distracted. Headbanging to your favorite song on repeat for an hour may feel inspiring. In reality, you have wasted an hour you could have spent writing the next New York Times best seller.
Now that the warning is out of the way, let’s get to the music.
Angsty Cello for the Soul
The advantages of sad cello music are endless. It tears at the smallest of hearts, strangles the soul, and incites a pleasant feeling in the back of the eyeballs. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? It also benefits your novel. Now, when your main character’s family and cat Pluto are vanquished by an unexpected volcano, you know what it feels like and can thus express it through your genius writing talents.
Think about the first time you wrote. The nostalgia from that memory is worth more than any how-to writing book you will ever read. Harness it, and you will be successful. I think about juicy murder mysteries, speakeasies, gangsters, big bands, and secret tunnels, so swing music never fails to restore my creativity.
The music I inhaled in the past — Libera, Khachaturian, The Messiah — is inspiring because of its familiarity. It reminds me of my youth, when I wrote for fun. You can grab that unbridled creativity and use it now. Although the muses will love the opportunity for blackmail it presents.
Scrounge up favorites from the past and make a playlist on Spotify.
It’s a tree, It’s a bird, It’s a forest!
If you are a bit mad like me, nature sounds come in handy during particularly annoying writing sessions. Did your MC wander alone into the dark dark forest against your explicit instructions? Wrangle them in with roaring rapids then plunge them into icy oblivion. That will show them who’s boss. You can always magically resurrect them later.
Muses. Champions of the arts. A misunderstood species thanks to Greek historians and Walt Disney. Muses are all around us. There is probably one in the closet under your stairs, the dusty tea kettle on your shelf, or the pocket of your favorite jacket.
Long ago humans were so terrified of muses, they enlisted the help of Anunnaki to cloak them from the world. But the Anunnaki were careless and forgot to include storytellers in their spell. Consequently, writers can see the muses. Although they often disguise themselves as crows to throw off the scent.
A muse exists for every genre – except the stuffiest forms of non-creative non-fiction. They lurk in shadows and gorge on the words of the innocent. Inherently mischievous, even the tamest will murder your favorite writing snacks.
In an effort to enlighten humanity, I have complied a list of muses that plague me oftenest. If you intend to catch one, arm yourself with a thick net crafted from a book of at least five-hundred pages.
The Muse of War
Sudden, fast, and unbelievably destructive. This muse turns peaceful tales violent. It convinces you the plot lacks action (it does) and fills it with all manner of fierce developments. Battles, skirmishes, and petty girl fights of all kinds ensue. In the appropriate genre, this muse is essential. But it is rarely satisfied and preys on all manner of tales.
Where to find: Anywhere a war movie is playing.
The Muse of Fluff
Although an excellent addition to any story in moderation, the Fluff will attempt to derail your novel with disgusting amounts of sweetness. Soon, your story will have no plot and wallow in the mire of Two-Dimensional Characters. These characters will get along splendidly and have a great time mindlessly accomplishing nothing.
Where to find: This muse lurks in Romance novels and Hallmark movies.
The Muse of Disruption
Contrary to the negative nature of its name, this muse is indispensable. Is your plot simmering to a bumbling crawl? Disruption will sweep in like the eagles in Lord of the Rings, delivering catastrophe, shocking revelations, and unexplained personality changes. Establish a friendly relationship with it before it leads your plot into permanent chaos. I get along marvelously with one named Steve. We drink tea together every Saturday morning.
Where to find: This muse has an internal compass which draws them to dying plots. Do not be frightened by the scales. They are quite soft.
The Muse of Angst
Dark, brooding, and incredibly hopeless, this muse thrives on misunderstanding. If you need a bit of tension when characters are getting along too well, look no further. But exercise caution. They often linger to watch your novel progress and make cryptic remarks when jubilation occurs.
Where to find: Play melancholy classical music. Beethoven’s 7th 2nd should do the trick.
The Reaper Muse
A favorite of crime novelists, the Reaper lurks in the shadows then strikes when the plot is ripe for untimely death. The more shocking, the better. Reward it by offering a satisfying conclusion to the novel’s mystery. If you write a lame conclusion, it will ask for a refund.
Where to find: There is no need to find a reaper. It will find you.
The Muse of Eccentricity
This muse does not care about writing at all. Rather, it delights in making writers eccentric. You may have begun your writing career as a rational being. By the time this muse is finished, you will waltz about your front porch to Shostakovich at 3:00 AM with a bottle of mystical concoctions. Your neighbors will call the cops and you will be arrested. But you will find it dreadfully inspiring and build a shrine to worship this muse as a secondary deity.
Where to find: This muse is incredibly rare. If you are lucky, it will find you.
The Jeffrey Muse
This muse has no purpose at all. It merely delights in hovering near aspiring writers and convincing them they are about to be inspired by the eternal flame of epiphany. Millions of novels have gone unfinished because of this muse. If you see one, shoot on sight.
Where to find: Unless you enjoy hunting, do not attempt to find a Jeffrey muse.
In conclusion, books and television have got it all wrong about muses. Anyone who does not believe in their existence has a Jeffrey living in their house. It is a familiar object. Your favorite toaster, the left shoe with the hole, your grandmother, etc. I can only pity you and hope too much life has not been sucked from your soul.
Do you believe in muses? Comment below with the whys, why nots, and wherefores. And complaints. I’m not getting nearly enough complaints!
Lying on the floor wedged between the bend in the couch and the corner of the coffee table, the dry scent of 10,000 dust mites engulfed my senses. Eyes closed, writing close at hand, I was prepared to leap up and pretend to be a normal human the moment a stray roommate passed by. And I waited.
Waited for a glimmer of my unconsciousness to hover over the face of my novel outline and say it was good.
It was not good. It was very bad, horrible, no good, and generally trash.
So much trash, in fact, that I gave myself an F-. The last quarter of the unfortunate thing was chock full of ludicrous attempts at crafting an intelligent conclusion to a meandering story. The mad result of writing a full-length novel in one month. I expected something good to come out of this crazed frenzy and waited for a spark of genius to ignite.
It was not to be. For good ideas form slowly in the unconscious part of the brain that cannot be wielded by ugly sentience. This unseen intuition feeds concepts into its unsuspecting victims at random. Turning left, the other left, and occasionally right, but always away. Like a cat, it adores you, then bites your wrist for no freaking reason seconds later.
On the floor, encased in dust, dirt, and chip crumbs, I felt the pull of the unconscious. It whispered the answer to my writing woes. Suddenly I knew my outline really was trash and with that understanding came the drive to sort through and find the lucid sparks lurking under the refuse.
Accompanied by a desperate need to vacuum the dust mites out of the carpet, of course.
What strange places have you experienced epiphanies? Tell me in the comments below.
In your writing adventures, you will be assailed by uncommon perils. Rain, hailstorms, fire, and—worst of all—muses. These terrifying creatures will strike you dead in the heart on a whim. Such an attack can result in paralysis, head trauma, and a fondness for salamanders. All deadly injuries. You must be prepared. And there is no better defense than a handy writing arsenal.
With proper weapons, any writer can defend against muses. However, level four and up writers ought to carry a big stick for extra protection. Aggressive muses swarm towards higher levels like flies to the jelly. Optionally, if you happen to have a couple of well-behaved muses at your disposal, they are a great addition to your arsenal. But if they are only moderately well-behaved, dispose of them in the nearest trash can.
Without further ado, here are my top four instruments of war:
A sturdy notebook and pen: Furiously scribbling absolute drivel will subdue the cleverest muses. Should this fail, however, you may need to write something of actual substance. A pocket notebook and roller ball pen will do the trick nicely.
A hearty imagination: A hefty dose of overactive imagination will bash away the foulest aggressor. Simply envision an immersive action scene. Go for something angsty and dramatic. It will up your chances of victory and give you an emotive thrill. If you are not skilled at such an endeavor, abandon ship and run for your life.
A hefty stack of nostalgia: The single most underrated bit of writing equipment. Frighteningly easy to access, nostalgia is indispensable in a bind. Simply close your eyes and transport yourself to your favorite childhood book. Snatch a bit of the general flavor and store in an airtight container. When confronted, shake gently. The scent will quickly overpower any foes.
A thickly built writing apparatus: Level six and up writers may find none of the above tactics successful—big stick included. In such cases, a bulky laptop of at least 15 inches with an especially cantankerous hard drive will work wonders. Free write as loudly as possible. The unbridled creativity will alarm attackers and teleport them straight to the nether.
With these weapons at your disposal, you have nothing to fear. If you lose a battle, it is your own fault. But do not despair. Patch up your equipment. Heal your wounds. Dry your eyes. Next time you will do better.
Have you faced uncommon perils in your writing adventures? Hard drive failures, spontaneous combustion? Tell me in the comments! All war stories deserve to be told.
Next week we will be diving deeper into the horrifying world of muses.
It was the floor’s fault. The uneven lip of my parents’ new hardware flooring is a danger hazard and ought to be lit on fire and banished to the nether. However, it deserves my reluctant appreciation for tripping me up, breaking my toe, and inadvertently curing a bad case of writer’s block.
A nasty bout of the disease hit me after high school graduation. Maybe it was the non-creative thrill of college essays that blocked divine inspiration. Or, perhaps it was the fast-paced program I signed up for. By the time I graduated, I’d lost all motivation for creative writing. News had it that authors didn’t make much money nowadays. So, it didn’t seem worth it. My attempts at stories fizzled out, leaving me frustrated and doubtful of my abilities. I grew afraid of writing. Afraid I wouldn’t be able to write as well as I had in the past. That I wouldn’t be able to improve. Instead of letting go of self-judgement, I escaped by watching YouTube, Netflix, and consuming voracious amounts of the internet.
This state of lethargy continued for some time, until—catastrophe—I broke my toe before Christmas last year. While the extra attention did wonders for my ego, lying in bed watching Netflix for inordinate amounts of time had me feeling restless and unproductive. By the fifth, or perhaps fifteenth, episode of The Originals, I was obsessing over what I could be doing. Suddenly, I was the most active, productive person on the planet. If I hadn’t broken my toe, I would be hiking, working out, running errands, grocery shopping. All the things.
I would still be watching Netflix.
That’s when epiphany hit and I realized something. I wasted buckets of time every day. Hours of mindless scrolling, marinating in television, and falling into internet black holes. All that time could be used to write a book every month. So, to squelch this unproductivity, I wrote a book in a month.
National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, is officially held in November and consists—you guessed it—of writing a book in a month. I did my own version in January 2020. Writing 1,667 words a day while working full time meant buckling down and cutting out all distractions. Fifty thousand words later, I had a novel in my hands. If I hadn’t broken my toe, I would have been watching Netflix instead, ignoring the nagging voice in my head urging me to create, and eating alarming amounts of tortilla chips.
Moral of the tale, if you’ve been wanting to do something for a long time but haven’t found the motivation, try breaking a bone or two. Or stop watching Netflix. Unless your life goal is watching Netflix. Then you should totally keep watching Netflix.
P.S. Please don’t seriously attempt to break your bones.
Epiphany strikes. The words fly from your fingers. The process like giving birth to a sweet baby child. You fall in love at once, fancying it has your eyes, cheekbones, and all manner of ridiculousness. Writing babies are notoriously manipulative. Their only goal is to sustain their mediocre life lest they fall into the Deep Dark Abyss of Discarded Writing. Even the purist writers have been infected by this parasitic breed.
Writing babies are notoriously manipulative. Their only goal is to sustain their mediocre life lest they fall into the Deep Dark Abyss of Discarded Writing.
Not all writing babies are leeches, of course. The well-behaved are quite moldable. These bits have great potential but are often sent to the Land of Limbo if they serve no purpose. Genius bits of writing, on the other hand, occur once every great while under a stormy sky, new moon, or the rising of Jupiter in the dark, dark night. These masterpieces are so impressive they often induce writer’s block. Captivated by their brilliance, writers decide to wait until the next rising of Jupiter to finish the project – a ludicrous plan since Jupiter only rises once. To avoid this fate, simply stuff the pages into a handy vase with a poisonous plant or two.
Most writing babies are rebellious demon spawn. Their stubborn refusal to adapt into a work of art requires a few months of nothingness in the Abyss. Marinating in the gloomy depths will silence all delusions of grandeur. Take care not to interact during exile lest they conspire for early release. Prematurely freed writing babies are a fearsome sight, inserting themselves into every crevice and wreaking havoc on manuscripts, articles, letters. Even Instagram. Soon, you will have no editing skills left at all and your writing will resemble a howling fluff ball.
Soon, you will have no editing skills left at all and your writing will resemble a howling fluff ball.
A sort of parental pride is common when the spawn takes its first faltering steps, staring wide eyed at the bright lights and loud noises. Eat some cake. Drink some champagne. And let the infatuation end there. Remember, if the writing does get the upper hand, stab it with a pencil. Lead is lethal and desiccation will occur immediately.
Have you been overpowered by your own writing? All war stories deserve to be told.