How To Nurture Plot Bunnes & Your Muse
May I first say that I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and holiday season and I wish you a Happy New Year. Thanks for following me for the past year and I hope that 2014 holds many good things for you.
I don't know about any other writers, but my muse has a physical form. It's a NanoBug and sometimes when I'm stuck, I switch it on and let it run rampant over my chapter plans and character notes. Sometimes it works and I get myself out of the funk that I was in, other times it falls off my desk and goes zooming around under my feet looking for a place to hide before it gets rolled over or trapped. Muses are like that sometimes, they're great when they're doing what you've asked them to do, but other times they can be little buggars and withhold what you need from them. So, how do you nurture your muse and any plot bunnies that come to visit you?
Plot bunnies are a difficult breed, they visit at odd times of the day and night. I know that some writers will keep a notebook and pen by their bed so that as they're drifting off to sleep they can write down any ideas that come to them. I know of other artists and people who do the same. It does seem to be the general case that plot bunnies will come hopping along as you're drifting towards sleep. I also know that they seem to come with an amnesia pill that wipes you of their plans when you wake up the following morning. You are aware that they were there but they never let you actually remember what they whispered into your ear.
Of course, muses that zoom around the desk and plot bunnies that act like the sandman are just my personal way of describing the things that inspire both your writing whilst working on a project and the initial idea that kicks if all off. I recently wrote a piece about how sometimes writers can take on too much work at once (found here) and told you all about how my latest plot bunny paid me a visit whilst I'm in the midst of two other books and simply do not have the time to spare to start a third. I tried to work on it, but my muse had other plans.
I have learnt during the time I have been a writer, more years than I care to admit really, that sometimes you have to apply tough love to your muse to get the job done. I think it was Neil Gaiman who said that part of being a writer is that you can't just write when you're inspired. You have to write when you're not too. He has a good point, writing daily is something that most, if not all, writers should try to do. But what do you do when the ideas have dried up and you're left without any inspiration on where to go next? I certainly don't hold the key to that answer, but I have employed a few tricks in the time I've been doing this and thought they may be of some use to you.
#1 FEED YOUR MUSE & PLOT BUNNIES
The number one thing you should always do is find ways to keep that elusive muse singing (or in my case whizzing around my desk). The same idea applies to plot bunnies. If you leave out breadcrumbs, they will come looking for you. Ideas are plentiful, I have always said that I will keep writing books until I run out of ideas and after nearly twelve books written, I can say that the ideas are still coming. Finding inspiration is not as hard as it seems, at least at times it isn't. It's about being able to turn the everyday things into something that inspires you to write a scene in your book. Whether it's someone you see in the supermarket whose eyes have wandered onto a beautiful woman and are looking at them with nothing but love in their eyes. Or watching the news and being inspired by the dark side of humanity with the crime stories, and the brighter parts with the latest scientific discovery. Inspiration is EVERYWHERE and part of being a writer is knowing what will and will not work.
#2 GET A WAY TO REMEMBER
As I said, when plot bunnies visit just before you fall asleep, they try to wipe your memory. I mentioned that some people keep a notepad to jot those ideas down, but it doesn't work for everyone. I personally, can no longer write more than a couple of words with a pen because of the cramps in my hand from Fibromyalgia. It's one of the reasons I no longer hand write chapters but use a tablet instead. So, upgrading the notepad to an app is fine, but what if you don't want to jolt yourself awake for every little idea that in hindsight wasn't workable or even that good? It's a thin line between getting the visit of the plot bunny down in print and torturing yourself through lack of sleep. You have to know when to draw the line. Other suggestions are using a Dictaphone, or an app where you can just record what you're thinking and then look back on it in the light of day. Another is to not make any record and hope that you remember in the morning - it works for some people, but for others it doesn't. Whatever way you use, it has to be something that won't mean you're sacrificing sleep, but still managing to stop those bunnies from wiping your memory.
#3 KNOW YOUR LIMITS
It's all very well and good having a great way to record each and every idea that comes to your mind. Or to write out every scene that has inspired you, but you have to realise that we all have limits, some more than others. Since becoming chronically ill, I have been made all the more aware of those limits. One thing that is important when dealing with muses and bunnies is knowing when to say "I'm too busy". If you've reached the point where you're not sleeping because you're writing everything down, or you're not finishing anything because you stop to write a new scene before you can complete the previous task, then you need to realise that you have reached the limit of what you can and can not do. I have said many times that part of the creative process is knowing how many balls you can juggle at one time. For me it's uni work, two books and various other commitments. Others can handle a lot more, and some a lot less. There is no shame in not being able to do as much as this one writer you know who writes six books at once, all within six months of starting as well as doing three degrees and holding down five other jobs. It's just not realistic to hold yourself to someone else's standards and abilities.
#4 LET THE IDEAS BREW FOR A BIT
As an English person who likes tea, I can tell you that every good cuppa needs some time for the tea to do it's magic and the water to infuse the tea leaves. The same can be said for ideas and inspiration. Sometimes, taking a step back and letting yourself mull over the idea is the best plan. It allows you to decide whether or not it's one that you feel can be worked through. It also gives your brain time to make other connections to that one idea. Perhaps linking it with a scene you wanted to write, or a genre that you've been meaning to break into. Allowing yourself time to think about it can lead to less time wasted looking at a blank screen and cursing yourself for ever thinking you could write about this. This point links up with the third one, knowing your limits. If you let the idea sit around for a while before jumping in and starting to write, it could be that by the time your workload has shifted to allow you to start working on the new project, you have pages and pages of research done, ideas and character plans and all of the rest that will enable you to write quicker and with a better idea of how the story should go.
Finally #5 REMEMBER TO BREATHE
As someone who frequently says that they believe breathing is optional, I know how hard it is sometimes to stop and just breathe. Sometimes taking a moment to catch your breath can allow you to properly judge whether or not an idea is viable. If you have let it brew for a bit but are too caught up in the fact that it sounds good and exciting and you need to start it right NOW!! You can't always see that in the long run, it's not actually going to work because person A would come off as a stalker if they chased person B after one meeting in the supermarket. Or that killing this person in that way would mean that the detective would have no evidence to find out who did it without bending the rules of reality a little. Sometimes, just taking a moment to breathe allows us to look at things a little more critically and gives our judgement a chance to really examine the idea. So, just remember folks, that a brittle asthmatic may think breathing is optional, but it's not really!
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