Fairly regularly, I’ll have an idea for a blog post, article, or even another book idea. But I’m not always in a position to act on it in the moment. Or maybe I’m too lazy to do so in other instances. When I can, I’ll make notes in my notebook I carry everywhere or in the Notes app on my phone. But I’ve found that if I don’t write while the muse is stirring, my opportunity is almost always lost.

There are times when what the muse sends me is a particular phrasing for something I’ve been writing. If I don’t immediately stop what I’m doing and write it down (or because I’m often driving to depositions and court appearances, dictate it into my phone), the wording will be lost and never recovered.

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about this phenomenon in Big Magic. She tells the story of a poet who literally runs to her notebook and writes and entire poem backward, from the last word to the first, dragging it away from the muse, because the poem almost escaped her. It afflicts artists and writers of all walks. If you don’t strike while the iron is hot or write while the muse is stirring, she may take that idea elsewhere or allow it to dissipate into the ether.

I have blog posts sitting in my Drafts folder that have been there for months or even years. Some are partially drafted. Others have only a title. Here’s a peak into the Drafts folder for my law blog; I’ve worked on some of these articles within the last two months. The most orphaned of them has not been touched since November 2017.

When I set about writing them, they seemed like good ideas. But I stooped writing them for one reason or another. Usually, the interruption can be attributed to either work or family, as both require a great deal of care and attention, and receive a higher priority than writing. But then I didn’t immediately return to the idea. I allowed it to grow stale. And when I eventually got back to giving it some attention, the trail had gone cold. I couldn’t figure out what made it interesting in the first place.

There are times when you can power through. Recapture a bit of the magic that the muse had bestowed upon you. This is often necessary regardless – writing yourself into inspiration rather than waiting for it.

Then there are the times that you can never recover the initial idea. The spark has gone out of it. So the blog post or scene for a novel just sits there partially drafted, an indictment of something you abandoned and left to wither.

Make sure that when the muse does visit and offers you an intriguing scene, phrase, or big idea, that you act immediately. Do everything you can to preserve it, to protect the gift you have been given, and to fashion it into its best form. Write while the muse is stirring, or else she may take her wares elsewhere.

Photo by David O’Hare.

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