Voices in My Head: Drill Sergeant vs. The Muse

On Tuesday I was invited to vist Old Santee Canal Park, near Charleston, in Berkeley County, South Carolina. Even though I’ve lived in this state for my entire adult life, I never knew about this place. It’s home to the oldest canal in the country—even older than the Erie Canal. They have lots of interesting exhibits—including a semi-submersable submarine circa 1860s, a plantation house, and lots of cool household artifacts—and they have several nature trails. Here’s the link:

While I was walking along the boardwalk that makes up part of the “Swamp Trail” I got inspired! The guide, a naturalist, was busy telling us all about a Giant Orb Spider and the outline of a story just popped into my head. For the rest of the tour I formulated characters, scenes, even a great first line. The park served as great inspiration for me. When I got back to my hotel room, I scribbled down my ideas and then started a new file on my laptop.

THEN I REMEMBERED. I am in the middle of drafting one novel, finishing up line edits on another, working on an outline for a third one. I CANNOT TAKE ON ANOTHER PROJECT. NO MATTER HOW GOOD THE PLOT SOUNDS.

This is what I call Drill Sergeant vs. The Muse. It’s a constant balancing act we writers have to work at creating. The call of a new project—new characters, a new setting, new scenes—-is always exciting. But, the Drill Sergeant part of the brain tells us to slow down, finish what we’ve started, have the self-discipline to sit down and polish the product before we start something new.

I think, as writers, we need both. You need to go places and see things that inspire you, but you also need to remember that slow and steady wins the race. Lots of people start books, few finish them, and even fewer finish and polish them to the point of making them publishable.

Think of these two voices as a good marriage—-of course you need chemistry and attraction but you also need to make budgets and wash dishes. In order to be fulfilled, you need flash and substance.

Allow yourself to be constantly inspired. Keep good records. Preserve the moment. But don’t follow the muse if it means abandoning a project you’ve been working on for a long time. Create balance. You’ll be surprised how far it takes you!

And, if you’re ever in Charleston, check out the park. It really is sublime!

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