The Rarely Spoken Variable

What have you written lately?

Volume is important.  Pace counts.

I’m not talking about volume and pacing within your stories.  I’m talking about your output.  The frequency with which you write The End on the final page of a manuscript.

I spend a lot of time talking about craft.  But craft is like love… not worth all that much if you don’t put it to work in your life.  In fact, it can be downright depressing when it exists as a means with no place to play.

Storytelling craft is a lot like love, in fact, but that’s another blog post.

If you expect to sell your first novel — as in, the first novel you’ve ever written — then you’ve just annointed yourself special.  It hardly ever happens.

No, a career as a fiction writer is a long-haul proposition.  Getting published isn’t the benchmark… staying at it is.  “On to the next” is the mantra of the successful in this business.

Is your muse driving the bus, or waiting on a bench?

I had dinner tonight with my beautiful step-daughter.  She was an English Lit major, she’s a passionate consumer of novels, and someone in close touch with energies and enlightenments that would send many of us into hiding, or to a shrink’s office. 

She has “the gift.”

I’ve talked to her for the last fifteen years about writing a novel.  Her life situation has led her to a point where, one could argue, the time has arrived. 

Tonight I asked her a question with interesting implications for all of us.

I asked her what she was waiting for.  If she was expecting, and therefore waiting on, a muse to suddenly agree that it’s time, and thus bestow a story idea upon her.  If she’s waiting for a cosmic shoulder tap that whispers the arrival of a Big Idea.

Before she could answer, I suggested that this may indeed be the case.  And then I also suggested that she flip this whole proposition on its naive ear to see what might happen.

What if, I postulated, the muse was waiting on her?  Waiting for her to click into story-search mode, eager to climb on board if only she’d declare the intention and set out a net.

She said that was an interesting idea.  That she’d think about it.

I’m hoping you’ll do the same.

What have you written lately?  If the answer is “not much,” then what are you waiting for?

The craft is already here.  Yours for the taking.

So is the Muse, and so is the Big Idea. 

The latter, however, is still out there.  Possibly hiding in plain site.  Possibly closer than you can imagine.

What if?  Marry those two words with something that fascinates you, frightens you, challenges you, calls to you…

… and they can summon the Muse out of hiding. 

She won’t say them for you… but she’s listening closely. 

Tick tock.


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18 Responses to The Rarely Spoken Variable

  1. In ‘Castle’, the one TV show I love to watch, the main character has a recurring poker game with real life authors James Patterson and Michael Connelly.
    In one episode Connelly sums your post (well, the message of your post) perfectly.

    A young author with his first book published was bragging himself up and Connelly said: “Do you know what I did after I wrote my first book? Shut up and wrote twenty-three more.”

  2. A powerful suggestion for those of us skilled in the art of procrastination.

  3. You just outed the bear in the room. It is interesting how we always know the bear is there; however, we choose to ignore our fear. The bear is ever present. It is time for us to stand up and face the bear or make him leave the room. Sadly, most of us will opt to continue the status quo (co-existing with the bear) rather than taking the courage in establishing a relationship. And for that, many of us will missing out.

  4. Olga Oliver

    Yeah, and the bear will not go hybernate – he just hangs around, sticking a claw here and there until you decide to hybernate him permanently and take up painting – who knows maybe I’m a Van Gogh with lots of sunflowers inside me. But the bear has vibs. He simply grins, wraps himself in a warm bundle and stare’s at you. He closes his eyes and is still staring at you. Damn, sweet beast!!

  5. Hello Larry! You are so RIGHT!!!! What a great thump on the head for all of us “waiting” for the right time, the right place in our lives…it’s like waiting for the right time to have a child – if you wait until everything is right, it never comes! I have wanted to write a book for years – what have I been waiting for???? So, now I am working on two! Both stories are rattling around in my head and I just go with whichever one has the loudest voice when I sit down to write – funny, huh?

    I truly hope your step-daughter goes for it – NOW – and doesn’t wait 20+ years to start.

  6. Love this. I think that’s one of the reasons I love NaNoWriMo. It gets me writing. I write one whole novel in one month–then spend the rest of the year revising and perfecting, but at least I get it done.

  7. Thanks for coming out and saying it, Larry. I completely ignored my muse hovering over my shoulder for far too long before I found myself without any excuses left (including a job). With the help of NaNoWriMo, I got that first novel written. I’m revising my second (from my second NaNo), but I think what you’ve said still rings true. I’m in revisions and focusing solely on that. Why not start the next one now? At least those preliminary scratches of ideas. The next book should always be on deck.

    @Tony, love the quote from Castle. It’s exactly what we need to do upon reading Larry’s post. Shut up and write.

  8. Love Castle-especially since it airs on ABC, and thus, as an ABC affiliated news anchor, it keeps the Manchester, NH/Boston, Ma. viewers on our channel! Between my M-F gig, my kids, making dinner, vacuuming, laundry, and trying to diagnose a terrible itchy affliction my little cocker spaniel has suddenly developed, my muse, Lyla/Anna, is impatiently waiting for me to come spend more time with her. When life distracts, I backtrack to read the last full chapter I’ve completed. By the time my cursor finds the empty space, I’m ready to fill it again.

  9. Susan Kelly

    That’s an insight that totally rocks my boat. Thanks, Larry. I want you to know, if you should happen to be having a morning where you wonder if you’re making a difference, that you have saved my novel-writing self, several times.

  10. All my life, people said to me, “Why don’t you write?” I worked many years as an editor, but I didn’t write fiction until I was 58 years old. The tipping point for me was an interview one of my favorite authors did. She said, “Writing isn’t that hard. Just put two characters in a setting and keep asking ‘What if?'” I did that, I’ve been writing fiction ever since, and I have five published novels. Sure wish I had started earlier, but it’s never too late. I’m having a ball!

  11. Hi Larry,
    This is an issue that has plagued me and spawned my current strategy. Over a year ago, I had a mainstream agent at the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association convention ask me for my entire manuscript. Needless to say, I came home, read it with different eyes, and have since been working on the rewrite (along with a divorce, house sale and a few other minor distractions).

    I am almost done with my first manuscript, but believe that I should have it read, edited and ready to go before I make another serious pitch to an agent. I don’t want to waste their time or mine.

    In fact, I intend to start placing reader-oriented content on my web site and be at least several chapters into my second novel before approaching anyone or trying e-publishing.

    Good approach or just a more sophisticated form of procrastination?

    Thanks again for coming up this fall. It was a great evening.

  12. @Stephen — sounds like a solid, enlightened strategy to me. Maybe just let that agent know what you’re up to, so the door is still open when the time comes.

    And absolutely, that was a good evening. L.

  13. Larry, thank you for this. Sometimes we need to speak the plain ole truth.

    I wrote this after reading your article…myy apologies if this is too long:

    Monday Mumblings with the Muse:

    Chapter 1: What are you waiting for?

    I pull up to the desk and look at the scene, admiring the beautiful landscape images of the desktop background and sigh.

    “So, what, no joy…again?” said the Muse.

    “I didn’t say that,” I answer, “I’m just…I just got here.”

    The Muse smirks and settles on the desk, crossing her legs and starts to check her nails, giving me a skeptical look that I’ve seen once too often. I grunt and ponder if I should go on a medieval age conquering binge with Crusader Kings or an all encompassing global takeover with Civilization V. My story that I’m supposed to be writing has begun to fade into oblivion.

    “Mmhmm….what is it this time? Not enough air? Not enough space?” she sighs and gets in my face, “Are you purposely wasting my time?”

    I cringe as the words hurt me, and I can sense the frustration behind them, that echoes deep down inside.

    “Sometimes I wonder if I am…” I mumble, “Sometimes I don’t know.”

    With a furious brush through her hair and heavy sigh the Muse shake her head while looking at me.

    “You know it’s not all going to happen at once…you can’t rush things, things don’t magically come together by just wishing it so.”

    The Muse grasps my by the shoulder to turn my head to face hers. “You must write.”

    I nod my head in quiet submission and acknowledgement o the facts.

    “I know, but.”

    “Shhhhh….no buts…no ifs…no conjuring up more fears.”

    The Muse place a finger on my lips, quieting any defeating talk.

    I struggle with words left unsaid, the need to get out of my current state of oblivion. There must be something else, for how long can I endure my present condition?

    She lifts my chin up as I began to drop my head, feeling defeated already at allowing so much time past without a single word. I am crushed by the constant pressure I have put on myself and the failure.

    “Then do it, today, even if it’s a little self-talk as this.”

    Her words provide a momentary lift and I grin, holding back a smile. “Does this count too?”

    She caresses my face and rubs a hand over the top of my head, providing a soothing relaxed feeling as I begin to embrace the moment. A sudden wave a blissful heat wash over me as I give in to the moment and let loose.

    “Yes….more….go on…don’t stop.”

    I begin to sense to words flow, coursing through my imagination, I begin to pant as the exhilaration of the creative nourishment that floods my soul.


    The Muse smile, fingers lightly grazing my earlobe as words begin to flood the blank page.

    “Pure joy.”


    The previous words came after a very long stretch of writers block (if you can call it that) and time spent worry about learning the craft and worldbuilding for my story.

    While others reminded me that I should write, internally the concept that writing was the most important factor to my success had not penetrated into my core being.

    Worrying about outside factors and my present financial situation has been a major distraction, but I have forgotten the one thing I have that can cure my ills—if I work hard enough.

    I forgot the purpose of the whole exercise…that learning my craft and worldbuilding means nothing, if I do not write.


  14. @Vic — brilliant. Thank you for sharing this with us. L.

  15. Now we’re all a Brooks step-daughter? Okay, I’m in.

    If the rest of you look at writing sites, and you do, then you know the Larry difference. Anyone who gets your butt in the seat and your hands on the keyboard is the right person for you, but Larry is the right guy for shifting your ‘bad self’ in gear.

    With that in mind, I found another site asking for the best writing site. For me it’s (Apologies if I sound like a shill, but storyfix hits the mark more often than the rest, and more writers would benefit if they knew about it, not that any of us need a bigger crowd seeking an audience.)


  16. Larry, this is brilliant. Thank you. It’s not the problem I’ve got right now – at least about creating new books. Ten years of Nanowrimo after 3 1/2 years in a homeless shelter have given me a freaking warehouse of novel drafts.

    Every one of them is workable, down to and including the very first novel I ever finished. It needed a rewrite. I needed to be good enough to do the rewrite. And funny, it doesn’t smell bad now that I know what to do with it more or less.

    I had to do other comedies to get that. Also do the one I just finished – the Horror novel.

    Variation on this block: writing them just fine but procrastinating on editing and sending them out. The Muse is happy on one level and keeps handing off even more Big Ideas – whenever I want them really – but getting frustrated they’re not reaching a wider audience than my crit group.

    It’s sort of like, she moved in and we’ve been sleeping together for decades now but I still haven’t tied the knot.

    Doing this for a living is going to mean the whole process, over and over, in a sustainable routine that’s year round. Though I’ve got such a backlog of good drafts that I’ll probably always have something cool to beat on. Most if not all of my rough drafts are workable rough drafts that could become fine novels when I put the time in fixing them up – and especially after that, when a real editor beats on them.

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