Today’s post is about what to do when your muse goes AWOL. When your muse is a contrarian like mine is, getting them to show up for work often requires lengthy debates. Who has that extra time?
The three main things that work for me are writing across genres, writing under two names, and working on several projects at once. If the process is not working well with a story, I turn to a poem or vice versa.
If my brain had a storefront sign, it would say, “Jill of All Trades, Working Towards Mastery in Some, Enjoying the Process of It All.” It is possible to work towards mastery in all if that’s what you choose.
I currently write poetry, novels, short fiction, creative nonfiction, and children’s picture books under my legal name. I write inspirational fiction under a pen name. The multiplicity of voices stretches my mind and keeps me engaged.
Writing flash stories have been beneficial. I see them as a way to jumpstart my creative process. Depending on the day I’m having, I give myself a minimum of fifty or a hundred-word count goal. Think manageable goals.
This flash story came during a hundred-word count day.
Dead Succulents for Ex-Lovers
We always know when Tori’s got a new man. She walks into the office with an extra pep in her steps and a potted succulent in her arms. We’ve been colleagues for a year, and this is the seventh plant to grace her crowded desk.
I watch as Tori makes some space for the bright yellow pot. “Hey, Tori. I’ve meant to ask you a question.”
“Go on,” Tori says without glancing my way.
“What happens to your old succulents?”
Tori stops what she’s doing, turns around, and gives me a slow smile. “When a relationship ends, I kill the plant. It’s such a nice way of wrapping things up.”
I know Tori needs an intervention. Sometimes, my untitled stories, like the one below, are not even up to fifty words. Yay for small wins.
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“You don’t look good.”
He didn’t feel good. “The overfed elephant perching on my chest is breathing fire.”
Her long fingers tapped on the desk. “Anger and fear make a dangerous cocktail.”
He watched a wisp of smoke float around the room. “I know.”
Writing prompts also help. The internet is full of them. The flash story below happened after I came across a challenge on Canada Writes, a CBC Books Facebook group. It’s a fun, active group.
Using a vintage picture from 1895 as a visual guide, we wrote short stories using justice, bridge, wheelbarrow, maple, angry, valley, and hearth in one to three paragraphs. The only person in the picture was a middle-aged woman dressed in a long, hooded cloak. Bow-headed, she was pulling a wheelbarrow with an evergreen through a snow-covered field.
Head down, Marsha fights angry tears as she pulls the tree-loaded wheelbarrow towards the bridge leading home. Each step deepens her despair.
“A maple tree for the holidays,” Mr. Doom said with a robust laugh. “Perfect for your hearth.” Mr. Doom made no mention of the money he owed her for working his fields.
Marsha’s knobby fingers clench around the metal handle. The shyster couldn’t even tell a maple from an evergreen. Were her children expected to eat pinecones for supper? Her tears spill. Whenever she’s tempted to forget, life reminds her that in this valley, there is no justice for the poor.
In my social work practice, I often told teen clients that when it comes to achieving a goal, you will never always be motivated, so you must learn to be disciplined. Some days, your muse, inspiration, whatever you call it, shows up because you sat in front of your screen, your writing pad, and refused to give up.
Bottom line, how important is writing to you?
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Yejide Kilanko was born in Ibadan, Nigeria, and lives in Ontario, Canada, where she practices as a social worker. Kilanko’s debut novel, Daughters Who Walk This Path, is a Canadian national bestseller. The novel was longlisted for the 2016 Nigeria Literature Prize. Kilanko’s work includes a novella, Chasing Butterflies (2015), and two children’s picture books, There Is An Elephant in My Wardrobe (2019) and Juba and the Fireball (2020). You can find Kilanko’s short fiction on Brittle Paper, Joyland, New Orleans Review Issue 43, 2017: The African Literary Hustle, and Agbowó. Her latest novel, A Good Name, is out now. When she’s not busy with life, you’ll find Kilanko online playing simultaneous games of Scrabble.