Learning to Manage the Thorny Relationship with my Muse
My very first creative writing class in university focussed on the importance of mastering "The Creative Process." Decades later, the struggle continues! I have gone to the next level in terms of both output and the quality of my writing but I didn't do it by mastering my creative process. Instead, I acknowledged the Creative Process as its own master and learned to work with it.
Over my first 35 years of writing, I produced and sold a few dozen short stories and finished rough drafts of two novels. In the ten years since coming to a partnership agreement with my Creative Process, I have published one volume of short stories and have a second almost ready - having completed more than a dozen new stories; and taken four (mostly new) novels to 3rd draft or better. Learning to work more harmoniously with my muse more than quadrupled my output of polished prose and made me twice as good a writer.
If Your Muse Won't Stay on a Leash, Maybe You Can Get It to Hold Hands
You can knock it down, step on its throat, but when you don't make your deadline it's you who's the goat! You can do anything that you want to do, but baby don't try to bully your muse!
I push through blockages all the time. The hundreds of thousands of words I have produced while doing that, put the “inspired” part of my output to shame. But no matter how many times I rewrite something out of pure, stubborn work ethic, I seldom feel that I am hitting the nail on the head and I often end up throwing out hours or days of work and starting again from scratch. I don’t deny that this is great writing practice. But it’s also annoying as hell. A loving muse makes life so much sweeter! But they can't always be seduced. No matter how hard we study, practice, or persevere, our "creative processes" themselves may remain mysterious, elusive, and beyond our control. The longer you've been writing, the better you know the essential truth that if you want to be productive, you can't wait for inspiration. But...jeeeeez.
I was always blown away with admiration and envy whenever I encountered someone who seemed to have mastered the art of taking control of their creative process. I solicited advice from all of them, and attempted to practice what they told me - where I learned another interesting lesson; "creative process" is something that's hard to teach - most likely because everyone's creative process is different. And what works great for me may or may not work at all for you, and what works beautifully for either of us in any given minute can stop working at any time.
One minute everything's going great and then...Blam! The doors of perception and expression slam shut! Blam! Back to square one! Tentative force meets immovable object.
"Arghhh, THIS AGAIN?" How do you negotiate with a muse?
You could suggest relationship counselling, but your muse might refuse to go. If your muse isn't a whiny baby poopy pants (you know the type; "It's not my fault! It's my nature to work in mysterious ways.") then it's probably a control freak. I hear that some are even sadistic maniacs.
Don't Work For Your Muse, Work With it!
Don't let some fickle muse push and pull you in all sorts of different directions just for kicks. You need to control the direction. You pick the project. You set the goals, and you take the flak and self-approbation if you fail to reach them.
Your muse needs to help you get there, and it may not like being told what to do. You can try giving it treats, but good luck finding out what your muse likes to eat. Be careful with that, because some are out to consume your soul. The thing that works for me is having a big enough bag of tricks so that I can keep pulling out new ones until I find something that works.
I tell it, "This is where I need to go and this is when I need to get there. Is there anything you can do to help? What do you suggest? And don't go back to bananas, nobody likes to read about bananas. Well at least none of my target readers. Okay, fine, let's try that. And just for you I'll let my protagonist eat a banana, at least in this draft." It's a matter of bargaining, negotiation...but don't sell your soul unless the muse is offering a streak of absolute genius. Then, it's your call. I don't have much experience with that.
My bag of tricks is filled with life-hacks that deal specifically with creativity and productivity. Anytime I hear tips from someone (especially someone with a track record of prolificacy), I write them down and keep them for later reference. Just because something didn't work the last time you tried it doesn't mean it won't work the next time. Everytime you go through a period of productivity, pay attention to how you got there, so it's easier to find your way back. When a technique stops working, don't abandon it. Instead, put it back in the bag of block busting techniques and try something else. You may have great success going back to your old technique later.