Wednesday, December 23, 2009

When Your Muse is Stuck in Traffic by Guest Jenny B. Jones

Jenny writes Christian fiction with a few giggles, quite a bit of sass, and lots of crazy. Her novels include the Katie Parker Production series, A Charmed Life series, and her first contemporary romance, Just Between You and Me. She would also like to take credit for Twilight, but somewhere she thinks she read you’re not supposed to lie.

When she's not typing her heart out (or checking email), she teaches at a super-sized high school in Arkansas.

When Your Muse is Stuck in Traffic

I get writer’s block. A lot. Anyone who says “I don’t believe in writer’s block” deserves something really icky. Like a whole day of no ideas. Or hemorrhoids.

With every single book I struggle. I fight with the beginning. Oh, how I fight with the beginning. I usually have conversations with my editor that go a little something like this:

Me: I have this great idea. How about a story about a woman who is a wedding coordinator. And one day she almost gets run over, but a hot blond doctor pushes her out of the way. It’s instant attraction, but he—

Editor: This sounds just like The Wedding Planner.

Me: Okay, well, then this one will totally knock your socks off. Very original. There’s this teen girl in Washington state. She falls in love—are you ready for this? With a vampire.

Editor: That would be a book called Twilight.

Me: Oh. So you’re saying that’s a problem?

Then the middle? Forget about it. By this time, I’m convinced the book is a literary atom bomb. I’m bored. I’m frustrated. I’m out of Fruit Loops. I have no direction and no idea where I’m headed. My muse is nowhere to be found and not answering my calls, texts, Tweets, or midnight screams from my rooftop. No response. I could say the same for family at this point in a deadline, as the decrease in time left is directly proportional to the decrease in my personality and ability to relate to human beings.

Finally, most of the book is done, and I should be sitting pretty. Breathing easy.
Instead I’m usually making wild deals with God, thinking my editor was just short-sighted in not letting me go with the vampire thing and trying to remember if I’ve bathed—the whole week. I’m teeming with ideas, but none of them have anything to do with my book or the blank pages that should be its ending.

So what does a writer do when the inspirational well has run dry? Allow me to offer some suggestions.

1. Cry.

2. I might go to Wal-Mart and look in the book section. This is what a finished novel looks like. Sometimes I just need those reminders. Then I head to the ice cream freezer and say hello to my friends Ben and Jerry. Because here is something I can finish.

3. You could order takeout from your favorite local restaurant. Employees at mine actually don’t speak much English, so sometimes I go ahead and share my writing problems with whomever is lucky enough to pick up the phone. I tell them about my lagging plots. My one-dimensional characters. My lack of tension and flow. My desire to reach the masses with the hope of Christ. My culinary friend usually has great words of support. “Did you want queso with that?”

4. Pick up a Prevention magazine which is guaranteed to have an article about boosting your brain power. And do everything it says. All at once. Last week I had a ginko, ginger, salmon, sunflower seed, and crossword puzzle cocktail. It did absolutely nothing for my creativity and in my opinion, was a little chunky going down.

5. Cry.

6. Take a cue from my three-year-old niece. Place your head on the seat of the couch. Legs flung over the back. Stay in this position for at least an hour, until the ideas begin to generate, or blood starts dripping out your nostrils and you’ve lost the ability to see in color.

7. Spend some time with your pet. Animals are so calming. So tranquil and happy. The simple things are all they need for their happiness. This would also be a good time to apologize for not cleaning out the litter box all month due to deadline struggles. Children, spouses, and animals should always be made aware of the “Deadline=fend for yourself” rule.

8. Pull out your earlier work to remind yourself that you are an accomplished author and individual. I usually pull out a sixth grade spelling test and that P.E. medal I got for most improved in dodgeball , and that short story from middle school titled “My Brother is a Pig Face Meanie Head and I Hope the Rotting Pizza in His Room Grows Legs and Runs Away With Him and His Dork Friends.” It’s important to remember achieve
ments and that once upon a time I did good work.

9. Watch the opening weeks of American Idol. And try not to compare your current work in progress to the likes of William Hung and that girl who sang through a gas funnel while riding on a scooter.

10. Cry.

For every author, the writing flow is different. For every writer, her ability to put the choke hold on the muse and wrestle that flake to the ground is also necessary, though difficult. Whether it’s prayer, yoga, coffee, reading, fasting, or gluttonous eating, Sister Muse will return again, pull up a chair beside you and whisper sweet words of hope and inspiration. And I begin to write again and feel the joy return, the anxiety depart.
I remember that God created me to write.
I remember that Jesus and my Muse always come through.
I remember. . . I still need to bathe.

Just Between You and Me

The only thing scarier than living on the edge is stepping off it.

Maggie Montgomery lives a life of adventure. Her job as a cinematographer takes her from one exotic locale to the next. When Maggie's not working, she loves to rappel off cliffs or go skydiving. Nothing frightens her.

Nothing, that is, except Ivy, Texas, where a family emergency pulls her back home to a town full of bad memories, painful secrets, and people Maggie left far behind . . . for a reason.

Forced to stay longer than she intended, Maggie finds her family a complete mess, including the niece her sister has abandoned. Ten-year-old Riley is struggling in school and out of control at home. The only person who can really handle the pint-sized troublemaker is Conner, the local vet and Ivy's most eligible bachelor. But Conner and Maggie keep butting heads--he's suspicious of her and, well, she doesn't rely on anyone but herself.

As Maggie humorously fumbles her way from one mishap to another, she realizes she's going to need to ask for help from the one person who scares her the most.

To save one little girl--and herself--can Maggie let go of her fears and just trust God?


Gina Holmes said...

Cute post, Jenny. So YOU'RE what that smell was at dinner! Ha. I can relate to this post. When I was eating with some Tyndale folks we had this smart-alec waitress. I asked everyone if they knew you, some did. I said, that's her right there (pointing to the waitress.) Personality wise, dead-ringer!

Ane Mulligan said...

I had my CP Jessica Dotta capture my muse for me. That's her in the mason jar. If you need yours caught, let us know. Jessica is great at capturing them!

THanks, Jenny, for a good laugh, and buried in there is some worthy wisdom. ;)

christa said...

Well, finally I know what to do when my muse is PMSing somewhere. In my case, she's Pre-Menopausal, which translates into Pre-I'm gonna make pretzels out of your intestines if you don't come up with a story soon.

I just finished BETWEEN YOU AND ME and besides the fact that it makes for a great lesson in the use of the objective pronoun, it captivated me. Maggie's struggles, her need to find her worth in her job, and her guilt-displaced as it was-make her a character we can cheer for and relate to.

Echoing Ane--there's wisdom in that wit!

Jenny B. Jones said...

Gina, I have no idea what you are talking about. Now if you had said, "Our waitress was the sweetest, most gentle creature of grace and kindness," then I could relate to that story. (And you're one to talk!)
; )

Yes, that is Ane's muse trapped in the jar. Not just a picture of a trapped toddler I keep for posts like this.

Thanks so much for the plug, Christa. Can't wait 'til your book is out!

Laura in Texas said...

Loved this post. Thank you for brightening my day. And the book sounds fabulous -- I've got to go find a copy!

Laura in Texas said...

I take that back -- I just went immediately to Amazon and bought the Kindle version! Can't wait to get home and start reading it!

Merry Christmas, all!

Jennifer AlLee said...

Great post, Jenny. Glad to see an author who so bravely brings writer's block out of the closet and into the light of day. But seriously, that wedding planner thing is already a movie? Oh crud... back to the drawing board... and WalMart.

Natalie said...

Hi Jenny,
Just your friendly editor here. You're a funny girl.