Last week I emailed a manuscript to an agent and now I’m in that anxious waiting-hoping-second guessing state.

Know that feeling? It’s like you’re a character in a nail-biting suspense novel and the next chapter is … blank!

Empty white space.

What happens next in this story – to my story – is anyone’s guess, so I’m just going to have to wait for that chapter to be written.

But in the meantime, I’m stuck with empty white space.

Because I haven’t decided what to work on next.

I have two manuscripts started – each one is a bit more than an idea and a few pages of scribbled notes and scenes, but that’s about it.

Neither is advanced enough to make the choice easy. And the Muse is refusing to tell me what to do.

So I need to choose. But wait … is there another story that needs to come first?

If there is, stand up now. Say hello, Muse. Give me a wave.

I’m waiting.

Any time now.



Much as we might hope otherwise, the Muse doesn’t respond to orders. Or sarcasm. Or expectation.

We can’t just demand the Muse to turn up when it suits us.

[bctt tweet=”Chances are, the Muse is already there, but we’re not listening. #writingtips ” username=”MoniqueMulligan”]

Instead, we faff about with a million other things like checking email, scrolling down Facebook’s news feed, creating the perfect Insta-moment, catching up on Netflix, and watching YouTube videos of cats, giggling babies and people falling over. Don’t even get me started on self-doubt and how distracting that is.

Or we’re googling Airbnb homes and articles called “101 Dumbest Mistakes Travellers Make” and weather forecasts in countries we have no intention of visiting. It’s research, right?

Not the mention the times we really, truly, swear to God are researching, but get distracted by tangents that don’t progress our writing.

Then we get frustrated because when we finally stop with the procrastination and pretending and stare at the blank screen or page, we can’t hear the whisper of our Muse, even though she’s been whispering to us all day.

We just haven’t listened.

“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear


For a long time now, my head has been too full of STUFF to hear the Muse (it’s hard to hear anything if you’re feeling anxious or distracted, and it’s safe to say that’s the land I’ve been living in for a while).

No matter how hard I tried to reflect, to wonder, or to consider the what next, STUFF kept pushing the Muse aside.

And my creative life, my relationship with the Muse, suffered. I had only enough energy to revise an already completed manuscript one last time.

“Do you have the courage? Do you have the courage to bring forth this work? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

In the end, I had a decision to make that involved giving up something to make room for the Muse.

It was tough. It meant walking away from something I’d had a hand in building. Something that had been a big part of my life for several years. Something I’d loved even as it consumed me.

But I had to do it because I didn’t want to lose the Muse.

And now, as I tick the last few boxes related to that life-changing decision, I can see space clearing for listening to, and engaging with, the Muse.

But in the meantime, the Muse and I are chatting.

We’re getting to know each other again.

I’ve been flicking through the notes for the two stories I’ve started; I’ve been looking at the pictures I took for research; I’ve been reading the rough scenes I’ve drafted …



And then, yesterday, reading a scene I’d written for one of the stories, I felt it.

The magic, tickling my soul.

I think that was the Muse, giving me a hint.

Muse, I’m listening.

I’m ready for my “what next”.


Your Muse is waiting for you to listen, too.

But are you ready to hear?

Here are some tips:

  1. Be curious – about the world, about people. Watch, listen and reflect. When you have a “what if” moment, you’ll know the Muse is whispering.
  2. Keep a notebook handy. Write down the ideas and perfect phrases that appear out of nowhere. Those words and ideas – that’s your Muse whispering.
  3. If you’re working on a project and then BANG there’s an awesome new idea (thank you, Muse), should you abandon the current work and play Follow The Muse? No. The Muse loves to tempt but if you allow the temptation, then you run the risk of being a serial novel-starter (you start the race but never finish). Go back to Tip 2.
  4. Create a distraction-free environment for your Muse (yes, this means Internet-free time). Treat it like a romantic date – the Muse needs to know she has your attention. Put on some music, some candles, prepare a cup of tea (works for me) – whatever helps you relax into your Muse date, do it. But don’t spend so much time cleaning and having everything perfect that the Muse gets tired of waiting.
  5. Finally, enjoy the creative process. Try not to focus on everything sounding right (worrying about the finished product before you need to) and being driven by Perfectionism. Instead, tell Perfectionism to take a hike. Then, engage with the Muse, and feel the magic of creating something. The Muse isn’t going to shout over the top of all your stress and angst. Go back to Tip 4.

“Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear



Picture of Monique Mulligan

Monique Mulligan

6 Responses

  1. A great post, Monique. Your post and your 5 points makes me realise how busy my Muse is! I simply need to recognise her and write! I now realise I need to let go of fear and step into the new creative spaces and the different genres she’s calling me into. Exploring them will be fun and, of course, hard work. Courage to follow my dreams is the key.
    All the best with the manuscript you submitted and with your new manuscripts.

  2. Glad to hear the Muse is whispering to you again Monique — and I’m so proud of you for sending your MSS to agents. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: You just haven’t found the right agent so far. I still have utmost faith in your stories, and look forward to one day holding them in my hand as published novels.

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