How to Kill Your Muse in 10 Days

You’ve just achieved inspiration! Lightening has struck! Your muse tapped you politely on the shoulder… No, your muse knocked you upside the head. THIS is a good idea.

Time to kill it. And here’s how:

First, discuss your idea openly with any number of disinterested people. They’ll be sure to hack it to pieces before you’ve even hit the drawing board. And they don’t even have to poke holes in your idea. All they really have to do is not be nearly as excited as you are — and they won’t be! It’s YOUR idea, after all.

Okay, brush it off. You shouldn’t have done that, but your muse is still alive. Maybe you even found another artist to do some real brainstorming with.

Don’t worry. All hope is not lost. You can still kill your muse in 10 short days.

Write a bit of your story. A few paragraphs if it’s a short story, or a chapter or two if it’s a novel. Write until you’re stuck, and then send it off for critique.

It wasn’t ready for critique yet, was it? 🙂

Oh heck, did you get some actual, useful advice? That muse of yours is sure hanging in there. Did you send it to anyone openly hostile about your work? Maybe the parent who thinks you’re wasting your life. Or wait…post it to a general internet forum where dozens of strangers (many of whom won’t be in your target audience) can tell you exactly how THEY would have written it. There you go! You are now well on your way.

If your muse isn’t dead yet, write a few more paragraphs/chapters and repeat the process.


I wish this scenario was as ridiculous as it sounds, but I have made this mistake twice in recent weeks. I have 8 chapters of a new novel that I sent to a brand-new (unknown quantity) critiquer. She even had some interesting insights, but I should have known it was too soon. That was over a month ago. I still have 8 chapters. I tried to rewrite the first one a couple of times. Fizzle…fizzle…pop.

Anyone know muse CPR?

Now I’m hosting a contest on a writer’s website that is supposed to mimic American Idol (in terms of eliminations). First round: 100 words of a short story. Half of participants are eliminated.

Hmmm…now how is this going to work? I came up with an idea that had me temporarily excited. I wrote 100 words, largely about the character I thought would be interesting. It’s DOA. (At least I hadn’t put a lot of time into that one!)

But it does illustrate the point. You do need a thick skin as an artist, but you also need to be smart. Showing early drafts too soon, and to the wrong audience, kills creativity.

It’s worse if you don’t already have 2 published novels and 4 more on contract. I’ve got some reason to believe I’m good at what I do, and motivation to go on.

What if I’d never published anything? What about that 16-year-old trying her hand at writing for the first time?

You can kill more than a single idea if you’re not careful. You can kill all of them.

There’s a time and place for critiques. You won’t become great, or even good, without them. But be smart about it. Get them on your terms, and only when your muse is ready.

Posted in Tips for Writers and tagged , , , , , , , .


  1. Funnily enough, I was looking for an old file and found an archived folder for a story that I had no recollection of. In the folder was a full outline and about 2,000 words of draft. I couldn’t work out what had happened to this poor story to get filed away like that, until I saw the note [end of round one] at the 500 word point. Clearly, the comments I got convinced me that the story was not salvageable. I feel the same about this month’s submission, so I don’t think I’ll be entering again. As you say, it is too soon in the process for outside opinion (for me, at least). I think there are interesting ways it could be tweaked but for me at the moment, it doesn’t really work.

  2. Exactly!

    Getting more involved in Idol this year was really a wake up call for me, especially when I made a similar mistake with a novel — something I’ve invested a lot more time in! I’ve made it my goal to try to resuscitate the novel this week. Wish me luck!

  3. Yes, I think that must be much more painful on a novel. I’ve heard that pound cake can help with muse CPR – must be worth a try. 😀 Good luck!

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