How Reliable Are They?

Helen Hanson said:

“Inspiration is the windfall from hard work and focus. Muses are too unreliable to keep on the payroll.” 

Have you seen the movie ‘The Muse’ directed by Albert Brooks, and starring Albert Brooks and Sharon Stone? It is a 1999 comedy about a neurotic screenwriter suffering from writer’s block, and his modern-day muse.

I used to believe that muse, i.e. inspiration, comes to us writers like a bolt of lightning, and at once with a feverish excitement and a twinkle in our eyes we begin to write. Well I never experienced anything like that. As a beginning writer I struggle with self doubt for days on end. That painstaking urge to believe that everything I have ever written or will ever write is a total mess haunts me like a ghost.

Writers differ in their views on almost anything related to the art and craft of writing. From the aspects of the trade to being a writer, and then of course the writer’s life as a storyteller. They all agree though that it is discipline, not muse, that makes a writer productive and eventually successful. If you write only when she beckons, it’s as if you are not writing at all.


Over the years I have put together my own devices of dealing with doubt. When the writing demons knock on my door I turn to a collection of quotes by my favorite writers, that nourish my desire and make me want to write. I keep a few of their books on my desk and whenever my confidence sags I scan through the pages. I read interviews with other writers, especially Paris Review Interviews, and copy quotes that make me want to write. I re-read whichever book or writer’s biography that inspires me most. To quote Rob Brezsny:

“All of us need to be in touch with a mysterious, tantalizing source of inspiration that teases our sense of wonder and goads us on to life’s next adventure.”

At the end of the day when all is said and done I would like to imagine that if I ever saw my muse: 

“She would be an old woman with a tight bun and spectacles poking me in the middle of the back and growling, “Wake up and write the book!”” Kerry Greenwood


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Until You Learn How To Do It!

“How do you become a writer?” 
“You write.”

Many a time we are told by our writing coaches, professors and other more experienced writers to write from the imagination, to write from inside, to write what we know. For our stories to be real and believable we have to add our personal touch to them. Our unique experiences.

Experience is not something we go and get. For me personally every event, every emotion, everyone I have met, every person I have loved or lost has left a mark on my life. Because of it all I am who I am today and a better person than when I started my life journey. Every experience that I have had so far has been a gift, a gift that I have received because I have been open to accept whatever has come along in my life.

“Write from within” is also another phrase that I have heard more experienced writers give to us, the less experienced or the beginners.
I am sure you have all read Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. Perhaps like many of us, even studied these two great classics in high school English classes. What did the Brontë sisters know about life? Other than the vicarage they lived in and the few people they met, and the school they attended. But they all started writing at a very early age.

They wrote every day. They wrote about what they knew, the vicarage, the landscape, the moors. They wrote about their feelings, their emotions, they wrote from deep inside. 

“Artists are people who are not at all interested in the facts- only in the truth. You get the facts from outside. The truth you get from inside.” Ursula K. Le Guin 

So if you are a writer how do you tell the truth?
“You sit down, and you do it, and you do it, and you do it, until you have learned how to do it.” Ursula K. Le Guin 



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Writing Gives Me Wings!

What makes a writer tick?

Warren Kieffer writes:

“If there were a recipe for creating an original, pleasurable, readable, saleable manuscript and getting the finished product sold and published, it might read something like this: one part idea, two parts talent, and three parts motivation seasoned with patience.”

A story starts with an idea. We all have ideas, but some of us have more than that. We have the incentive, the guts and determination to put our idea on paper. Whether we complete the task or not is something very personal. Maybe it’s the desire to see our name in print, or ego.

I can’t think of a better answer than to say that writing gives me wings. Yes writing gives me wings. It frees me of all cultural taboos. I have always had issues with the basic question of identity. Who am I, really? What is my role in this world? How many do I play or how many am I expected to play? What is my true religion? What is my social status? How do others perceive me? How do I perceive them? Questions that make me tick as a person.

And when I sit down to write I feel liberated! Because in my story I can choose to be any one of my characters. In my story I can  belong to any race. I can choose my religion. I can choose my gender, I can play with my age. I can have any profession I choose. I can be tall or short or thin or fat. I can be pretty or physically challenged. I can choose my cultural background and even have the education or the vocation that I had dreamed about my entire life and never had the chance to pursue. I can alter any characteristic and I still end up with a different person.

In my story, I can be the villain, or the hero, or the princess waiting to meet her prince. Or I can be the jealous lover, or have the most desirable career and be successful. Or I can find my soulmate and fall madly in love.

Writing gives me wings and I can fly with my ideas to a wonderland where no one is left heartbroken. A universe where none of my characters are sick or have cancer and die at a very young age. A universe where miracles happen.

Writing gives me wings to write from within my soul, to write what I know and what my heart desires!



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Fascinating Mechanics Of Writing

There is this common notion that a writer is always working, even when he/she is asleep. That’s when the subconscious mind takes over and after much shifting and rearranging images, ideas and scenes, sets the stage for the next day’s work. Hence the idea that the writer is working twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

I have always found the mechanics of writing fascinating, even before I started to write. Besides wanting to read the work of authors, I am interested to know about the more physical aspects of their writing process. Are they a night owl or early bird? Do they write at night or in the morning? Do they write longhand or use the computer? What kind of pen or pad they use? Do they have a place, a room they write in? Do they plan and outline in advance or do they just plot things out as they write?

That’s the kind of thing writers always want to know. What other writers are doing. The writing habit of fellow writers. When do they write? How do they write?

Tom Wolfe set himself a quota, ten pages a day, triple-spaced, about eighteen hundred words, and always keeping a clock in front of him.

Mario Vargas Llosa wrote by hand for two hours. He worked in the morning, and in the early hours of the day. Then he typed what he had written, always keeping a few lines untyped so that the next day he could start by typing the end of what he’d written the day before.

Tom Stoppard had a nice long room, which used to be a stable, with a table and lots of paper. But he wrote most of his plays on the kitchen table at night, when everybody had gone to bed.

Maya Angelou wrote lying on a made-up bed, with a bottle of sherry, a dictionary, Roget’s Thesaurus, yellow pads, an ashtray and a Bible.

Georges Simenon marked off in black each day of writing on a 11-by-16-inch calendar, one chapter a day, and in red the three days spent revising it. He used the two sides of a 7-by-10 brown manila envelope on which he began shaping his characters two days before he began the actual writing of his novel.


Doris Lessing started something off, at first a bit awkward, but then the writing took off and became fluent.

P. G. Wodehouse started his day off at seven-thirty. After his daily exercise routine and breakfast, he went to his study and sat down in an armchair to think and take notes. And before he started any book he had four hundred pages of notes.

Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote whenever he got up in the morning. He wrote no matter what the disturbances were around him.

Irwin Shaw claimed that writing for him was an intense and private occupation. He wrote in the mornings and was never to be disturbed while writing.

Gore Vidal wrote whenever he woke up in the morning. He wrote for about three hours. He wrote his novels in longhand on yellow legal pads. But for some reason he wrote his plays and essays on the typewriter.

Joyce Carol Oates didn’t have any formal schedule, but loved to write in the morning before breakfast, and didn’t have a break until two or three in the afternoon. That’s when she had her breakfast on a good writing day.

Jerzy Kosinski wrote when he felt like it and wherever he felt like it, day, night and even at twilight. He wrote in a restaurant, on a plane, between skiing and horseback riding, during his night walks in Manhattan, Paris or any other town. He woke up in the middle of the night or the afternoon to make notes and sit down at his typewriter.

Octavio Paz said that writing was a curse that required huge efforts and sleepless nights. 

Are you a night owl or an early bird? At what time of day or night do you write best?


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Mistakes! Mistakes!

I feel like I am in a kind of stupor lately. I have so many ideas and so many things to do that I don’t know where to start or how to begin. Julia Cameron says having too many ideas will keep you blocked creatively. She goes on to say that you as an artist and writer and creator have to start with one simple idea at a time. She also says that reading is like an addiction to writers. 

Don’t we all know that! But then how many of us do not repeat the same mistake over and over again? I personally have a problem when it comes to learning from my mistakes. I say this with such regret and heartache. Sometimes I get so excited about articles and ideas and stories I read on the internet but when I tell my daughter about my plans I only hear her say: “Mom you’ve been there. You did that already. Don’t you remember?” 

Here are some quotes on career killing mistakes offered by editors and publishers that I have jotted down over the years and which are worth taking note of:

“I find that most authors don’t spend enough time on their cover letters. I get so many cover letters with grammatical errors and misspellings.” 


“Publishers and agents notice manuscript format first. Incorrect margins, spacing and fonts positively shout from the pages.” 

“New authors frequently pitch the wrong agents for their literary genre.”

“I firmly believe that perspective, or point of view, is the NO. 1 style problem for most writers. There’s no wrong point of view, or even mixture of points of view, to write in, but be careful not to confuse the reader.” 

“Don’t give away your best stuff in the opening, of course, or there’s no reason to keep reading.”

“Sometimes you’ll write something you feel very strongly about emotionally, but it really adds little to the story.”

“If you think your work is perfect when you hand it in, you may be in for a rude awakening.”

“The wrong agent will waste your time and diminish your reputation.”

“Every successful writer has taken an idea out of his head and put it on paper. Allowing ideas to linger in your mind doesn’t make you a writer. Writing does.”

Have a great week of writing everyone!


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Be Bold!

We all know how important networking is in selling our work and promoting ourselves. Social media has a big influence on people and the scouts out there who are always on the lookout for new talent. Even the publishing world relies on the internet nowadays. More publishers are taking on new authors and signing contracts with them based on their sale figures online.  

Caitlin R. Kiernan writes:

“You have to be good. But it’s also very important to network and get to know people.” 

Kiernan, an Irish born American writer, said once in an interview with Writer’s Digest magazine that when she finished writing her first novel “The Five Cups”, she picked a handful of horror writers whose works she admired and sent them the prologue to the book, as well as a letter of introduction. 

She writes:

“I did not have enough self-confidence to think I could land an agent right off the bat. I said in the letter, “If you like this, I would like you to read the novel with an eye toward giving me a blurb that I can use to help land an agent.” From everything I’d read, I knew that I needed an agent- and a really good one- if I wanted a chance at getting this book and my career off the ground.”


What an unusually brave strategy for a first time author!

Guess what? One of the writers she solicited not only asked to see the manuscript but also passed it on to her agent. The agent asked to see her novel but rejected it on the grounds that there were so many other novels of the same genre out there. But that’s not all! He then asked her to write him another book.

A fairy tale story. But that was back in 1996. Many of us would be so lucky nowadays to be asked to write another book after getting a rejection.

I remember the first rejection letter I got. Not only had the agent gotten the title of my book wrong, but he had also addressed me as sir even though I had mentioned in my covering letter that I was a wife and a mother of two. But maybe I wasn’t as self confident and bold as Caitlin R. Kiernan was.

“You have to be bold. When you see someone that you need to know, an editor or someone, then get to know that person, try to have someone introduce you. You can’t sit back and wait for things to happen. You have to make it happen yourself. And you have to find the people who can help you make it happen.” Caitlin R. Kiernan 

Be bold!


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“If they did it, so can you.”

On a yellow post it on my desk I have the following quote: 

“If they did it, so can you.” (WD 1996)

The caption is from a Writer’s Digest magazine from 1996. I was living and working as a teacher in Dubai when I enrolled in a creative writing course with the Writer’s Digest Writing Program. All correspondence was carried out by mail back then, I didn’t even have an email address. 

I remember how excited I used to be whenever I received my Writer’s Digest magazine in the mail. The articles in them were priceless to me. I remember each time I finished reading an article I would be so inspired that I would go straight to my notebook and start writing. I would carry them with me to school and whenever I had a minute to spare I would leaf through them, my heart beating fast in my chest. To me those magazines represented my dream.

I would underline, highlight, even copy the parts that I liked in special notebooks that I to this day keep on a shelf in the library near my desk. And on days like today when I find it hard to create (after reading news on the internet) and I feel I need some inspiration, I simply open a notebook and start reading.

Here are some more quotes from the same article. 

“All my life I had three goals that I wanted to achieve before I turned 40. I wanted to learn to swim, learn to cook and publish a novel. I failed on all three counts.” Irving Benig 

“I first had the idea back in 1982. I had almost every scene and character and theme of the book [in mind] before I wrote it. My real crisis of confidence was the initial question: Could I do it? Before you worry about getting an agent, before you worry about whether a book is good or not, the real test is, can you do it? Can you finish it? I thought I could, but I wasn’t sure. But once I started writing it, I got more and more confident. When I finished the initial draft, I still wasn’t confident that it would sell or that it would make money. But I was confident I had done what I wanted to do- that I’d written a good novel.” Irving Benig

At the age of 52, in the fall of 1994, Benig’s first manuscript “The Messiah Stones” was auctioned by his agent to Villard for $500,000. 

And he writes: 

“We’ve (his agent and him) talked about the possibility that [the book] might be big. But I’ve been in the business world and learned it’s not over until it’s over, anything can happen. [Villard’s bid] was like going on a date and getting your first kiss: You know there’s a chance, but you’re still pleasantly surprised.” 


I wish you all a pleasant surprise, and all the best in doing what you want to do!


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