Since October, I set a goal to write a post every day. The purpose was to stretch my writing muscles, engage my audience frequently, and experiment with topics faster.
This wasn’t my first time setting a writing goal. Prior to this goal, I had been writing once a week for years. I have also self-published two books, and for each book, I’d spend 2–4 days a week writing anywhere from 1–4 hours.
I was optimistic that my write a post a day challenge was doable. I’d set aside time daily to write.
The first month I was in the zone. My daily work schedule was flexible, inspiration struck me at just the right time every day, and I felt unstoppable. I was producing 7 posts each week.
As month two began, my attention got diverted. I was teaching, speaking, and traveling. Getting an hour to myself to sit down and write became a challenge. I decided to downshift to 4–5 posts weekly.
Then around month three, things got even more challenging. I had other priorities both personally and professionally that were mentally taxing. Suddenly writing 500 words a day seemed impossible, and I found it incredibly difficult to conjure up ideas to support 3 posts a week!
I began searching for answers because I knew other people were capable of writing 500 to 1000 words a day, and it wasn’t their sole focus.
I was also confused as to how I had gone from being able to write 2 books in a span of 2 years while running a startup to feeling so crippled that I could barely publish 3 posts a week?
I had a severe case of writer’s block and I needed to figure out a way to unblock it. What happens when inspiration and perspiration are at odds?
As my search began, one reader Anne Janzer reached out to me after reading my post: 7 Culprits That Cramp Our Creativity And How To Overcome Them. Janzer and I began emailing back and forth, and she sent me a copy of her book: The Writer’s Process.
Needless to say, I devoured the book in a day!
It had the exact answers I had been searching for.
In her book, Janzer begins by personifying two processes,
The Scribe summons our verbal skills to find the right words, assemble them in grammatically correct sentences, and creates sensible structures. The Scribe manages deadlines and gets the work done.
But writers also access intuition, creativity, and empathy. These processes are the domain of the Muse.
She goes on to write:
When the Muse and the Scribe collaborate, the work becomes fast, fluid, and fun.
That’s precisely what I had experienced in my first month of my post a day challenge that kept me motivated and moving forward.
Turns out this is a common phenomenon, Janzer continues:
Consider the tortured novelist, forever toiling in obscurity on a manuscript that never finds its way to reader’s hands. This writer lives almost solely in the domain in the Muse (the intuitive and impulsive), without the discipline of the Scribe.
If you are all inspiration and creativity with no discipline and focus, then your wonderful ideas never make their way from the brain to the world. And, to be completely honest, not everything the Muse comes up with is practical or worthwhile. The Scribe functions as a critical filter.
However, working as a Scribe can be very dull without input from the Muse. If you do not tap into the intuition of your inner Muse, the effort of composing may be difficult and tedious. You have to find the right words and struggle to understand the reader’s perspective through sheer determination.
You can work this way, but it’s not much fun.
To be a happy and productive writer, you need to switch gears between the Scribe and the Muse gracefully. But they often get in each other’s way.
This is precisely what began to happen in my brain around the third month of my post a day challenge. Both my Scribe and Muse were burnt out.
Have you ever found yourself staring at the blank page, focusing intently to find the perfect word or the best way to approach a certain topic? The harder you try to summon the answer through sheer willpower, the more frustrating the experience. Then you go to do something else, and the right word or approach pops into your head. The effortful focus of the hardworking Scribe blocks the input of the Muse, which only gets a word in edgewise when you give up on the task.
Or, you try to work on a dull task and other, unrelated thoughts keep popping into your head. That’s the bored Muse, pushing the Scribe aside.
To streamline your writing process, you need to know when and how to access each of these mental systems.
The first part of the process is experimenting with attention.
There are two types of attention: focused attention when you concentrate on a particular task and open attention where you let your mind wander.
Switch between the Scribe and the Muse by shifting from focused attention to open attention.
To do this Janzer suggests that we:
Build open attention into the schedule.
Find the right environment for focus.
When you get stuck, take a break for the Muse.
Invite the mind to wander.
Cultivate slices of solitude.
The reason my Scribe and Muse were at odds was because I wasn’t giving my Muse enough time for open attention. My Scribe would throw out a new topic daily and expect the Muse to provide sufficient inspiration to get the post done within an hour. Initially, my Muse had a repository of ideas, but over time that repository ran out, and I wasn’t providing it time to replenish.
So how do the most prolific writers create a harmonious environment for their Muse and Scribe to thrive, and do it on a routine?
Janzer goes on to share a five-step process of creativity that she learned from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi author of the national bestseller Flow. Csikszentmihalyi interviewed a number of prolific authors like my personal favorite Madeleine L’Engle to understand how they made their creative breakthroughs and contributions. Upon analyzing his interviewees he noticed that each had the following common creative process:
1. Preparation — immersing oneself in the field and its issues
2. Incubation — time in which ideas churn “below the threshold of consciousness”
3. Insight — the “aha” moment when inspiration strikes
4. Evaluation — the process of determining whether the insight is worth pursuing
5. Elaboration — working with the insight.
I then realized this was the exact process I had followed each time I had written a book, but I didn’t realize it could be applicable to short forms of writing.
Janzer goes to provide practical suggestions for creating harmony between the Scribe and Muse where they are consistently finding flow. She also highlights methods for revising for reader’s flow and editing content. I’ve begun implementing a number of Janzer’s strategies, and I’m happy to report that I’ve found it easier to get back into a state of flow. I highly recommend you read her book too!
Now I want to know if you follow a similar process when you’re frozen and can’t find flow or if you have other strategies that have worked for you? Let me know in the comments below if you have faced both inspiration and perspiration in one situation.