Muse Induction: How One Writer Beats Writer’s Block

I ASKED MY GOOD WRITER PAL MK SWANSON to share her magic. You see, MK writes consistently, creatively, and to completion. Currently, she’s preparing two novels for publication (watch this space!). But whether she’s got a book launch in mind or not, she successfully makes her way through big drafts of complex, full-length manuscripts—and tells excellent tales, at that!

I’ve watched MK work this literary magic for years. As someone who helps writers deal with serious stress about getting words on the page, I was curious about MK’s process. How, I wondered, does she get it done so well and so effortlessly. So I asked. And this is what she had to say:

I rarely have writer’s block. It’s my superpower.

Sometimes, I’m inspired. I dream a crazy story-line, read an enlightening science article, remember a strange episode, or just think of an idea. But for now, I’m between muses.

So how do I start a story—or keep one going—with no gentle voice in my ear? How does my superpower work?

It starts with attention. Or perhaps inattention? (Looking directly at the problem is ineffective.)

I turn my head away from my computer screen and stare out the window. I’m drawn to a colorful flying creature, a moth or a wasp, maybe; I can’t tell from this distance. It could even be a beetle or a damselfly.

Bees are hovering, too, even though it’s late in the year, getting their nectar before the flowers thin out during a Florida winter.

I’m reminded of the big freeze of 1983. When the freeze destroyed our orange grove, my mother told me how, when she was a child, she helped her father light the grove heaters and keep them stoked all night.

I could write an imagined story of my mother and grandfather, allied in purpose just this once.

I think of crickets at night, a low hum and rise to crescendo, before falling again, a sound I’ve heard less as the city encroaches. What would the world be like without bees and butterflies? Dragonflies and moths?

The absence of buzzing and the brush of wings made a summer’s day hurt the ears.

Frogs, too, are scarce—Cuban treefrogs have displaced the delicate green ones that liked to rest in the furl of a palm frond, and I rarely hear carpenter frogs, spring peepers, or leopard frogs.

I think of a poem about disappearing species, but instead I return to my fluttering insect, available only in memory now.

The bee, or beetle, or maybe moth, lit on a Turk’s cap’s never-opening red petal, slipped over the edge and into the throat of the flower in an indistinguishable blur of legs.

Who is watching the insect? Is this a protagonist in a story I’m already writing, or a new someone?

Helera directed her attention to the insect, commanding her cybernetic implant to focus telescopically on the details—multifaceted eyes, six legs with barbs designed to keep nectar attached, incidentally lifting pollen to father other plants in Utheria’s garden.

A bee, she thought triumphantly, and searched her database for its exact species and role, until she felt an elbow jostle her mechanical left arm.

“Stop it, Hel. This is a garden, not a machine,” said Utheria.

And just like that—a turn of my head, a window, an insect I can’t identify—and I have the beginning of a semi-biographical essay, a line of post-apocalyptic poetry, and a science fiction scene.

My process isn’t unlike meditation, improvisation, or a shamanic journey; I have to look and listen. And then write it down.

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