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What to Write About? Muse Block

Last updated on January 14, 2021

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Staring at a blank screen or a fresh sheet out of your notebook and wondering what will work.  You sip your coffee and check your phone and then you go right back to staring.  Sound familiar?

This isn’t exactly writer’s block.  It’s more like Muse Block.

Muse block usually gets more profound when facing long planned projects like novels but no matter the length of your planned book.  One reason is because you need to validate the time and effort that accompanies such a great undertaking.  Short story writers however get the muse block if they are particularly finicky about producing their next Anton Chekhov magnum opus.

Planning non-fiction isn’t as bad (usually) since the writer usually is inspired to write prior to sitting behind the keyboard.  Fiction writers have it worse because they are inspired before sitting down.

How to break through the block

Fortunately, there are some proven methods to get you back on course to writing. 

METHOD 1:  THE NEWSPAPER

A method that works is reading newspapers work best. Besides reading, watching the news on TV or online can work as well..  The method requires you to go through each story (while in the writer’s state of mind) and ask “What if…?”  To do this you sometimes need to go beyond the article or story.  This is easier if demonstrated using an example.

News headline reads:  Migrant Boat Sinks off Coast of Italy

You can ask….

What if….  you tell the story of a migrant on such a journey.

What if….  the boat (powered by wind) stalls.  Wind dies.  You’re stranded with limited water and food supplies.

What if…. after a week the migrants spot another ship heading towards them…what if this ship isn’t there to help them (pirates?)….what if it isn’t boat but some sort of alien vessel??? What if…what if..

You get the picture.  I took the first story and expanded it.  It is important not to look too judgemental on stories as the story comes out by way of the “what if” process.  A good way to keep you on track is to set a number of stories you will select in one sitting.  Like picking 5 stories (no matter how slow news is) and expand them with the “what if” question.

METHOD 2:   USE A FAIRY-TALE (OR ANY OTHER STORY TEMPLATE)

This method relies on retelling of a fairy-tale into a new modern day version.  You can also use a story you already enjoy and simply retell it.  Let’s for instance pick Cinderella as a template and create your new original story.  As in the previous case, you will continue asking “what if….?” until ultimately you have a whole new story.

Cinderella’s transformation (example):

Let’s replace Cinderella with John Kerr, a modern day car salesman.

Instead of the evil stepmother we have Karen, his wife who owns the car dealership. Evil step sisters? Well they can be Karen’s two daughters from a previous marriage.

Situation: Karen makes John’s life miserable.  But he can’t leave the marriage because he really needs his job at the dealership.  They live in Armpit, USA and there really isn’t any other job John can have.  If he leaves Karen it would mean he would lose his job.  John also needs his job to help pay for his ailing mother who is in a nursing home care.

One day, an automotive dealership announces they will be coming to town and conducting a job fair. 

Karen says she will be going to check out if there will be any possible competition with her own dealership.  John says he will tag along too but Karen tells him he has to stay.

On the day of the job fair, a long time school buddy Tony (fairy god mother) comes to town and meets up with John.  John tells him his story along with the reasons why he can’t go.  Tony has an idea to disguise John, etc….  [DO YOU SEE WHERE WE ARE GOING WITH THIS?]

Keep asking “What if…?”  “What while at the job fair John meets another woman?”  “What if, while there he hears his wife say she’s going back to the dealership to check on John?….  You get the picture.

This method also works great by taking a story (any story or movie for that matter) and transforming it into a whole new work.

METHOD 3:  USE ONE OF THE STANDARD PLOTS

This is perhaps one of the best ways (definitely one of my favorites) on combating Muse Block.  We will look into this one in greater detail in the future.  But for the time being it relies on understanding the 20 or so Plots that any story fits in.  You see there are ONLY twenty stories.  No matter what, any story will fall into one of these plots.

The categories are:

  • Adventure
  • Ascension And Descension
  • Chase
  • Coming Of Age (Maturation)
  • Discovery
  • Escape
  • Love
  • Forbidden Love
  • Quest
  • Rescue
  • Revenge
  • The Riddle
  • Rivalry
  • Rivalry (Underdog)
  • Sacrifice
  • Temptation
  • Transformation
  • Metamorphosis (Character)
  • Wretched Excess

Stay tune to a future post where we will dissect each one of these!

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