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Stoking the Creative Muse: How Finding Ideas to Write About Is Similar to Remembering Your Dreams

by Tom Johnson on Feb 29, 2008
categories: blogging creativitytechnical-writingwriting

We writers tend to have a romantic idea about a creative muse that comes and goes, whispering interesting ideas to our minds.

But the idea of a creative muse is, I'm pretty sure, no more magical or mysterious than the same process by which we remember dreams. Ultimately, the more we write down our dreams, the more our brain learns to remember dreams. Similarly, the more we write, the more our brain [creative muse] starts thinking of things to write about.

This idea is not revolutionary, but it runs counter to advice some give against daily blog posting. In my experience, if you write regularly, the quality of your content won't degrade; instead, your muse will speak more clearly.

Teaching Your Brain to Remember Dreams

Dreams are about as mysterious as a creative muse, and not altogether so different in function. LifeHacker explains that if you start writing down your dreams, you start to remember them more:

If you've ever wanted to understand your dreams, determine to consciously remember them. Keep a dream journal. As soon as you wake up from a dream, write the dream down in as much detail as you can. Put paper and pen in the same place every night so that you don't have to scramble to find a writing implement to jot it down. The more your write, the more dreams you'll be able to remember as long as you consciously devote your attention to the task. ("Remember Your Dreams")

Lucid dreaming is a state in which you're aware that you're dreaming, and you can half-control your dreams. It's one of the coolest feelings, like stepping outside your brain and observing from an omniscient point of view what's going on, as well as puppetteering the actions. Wikihow explains that you can increase your lucid dreams by writing down your dreams:

Keep a dream journal. This is, perhaps, the most important step in establishing a foundation for lucid dreams. Keep it close by your bed at night, and write in it immediately after waking, you can also keep a recording device near if repeating your dream out loud is easier to remember, it will also be much easier than writing it down. -- if a dream is remembered. This tells your brain that you are serious about remembering your dreams! ("How to Lucid Dream")

Keeping a dream journal sounds awfully similar to advice about keeping a writing journal. Could the purposes for keeping each be similar?

Killing the Muse

This past week I've been busy -- preparing for a presentation, meeting project deadlines, and fulfilling other responsibilities. I haven't had time to post to my blog. The first day I stopped writing, my muse kept whispering to me the post I should write -- but I never wrote it.

The second day, the muse was much more distant. No new idea came, just echoes of the previous day's thought.

The third day, my muse went on a vacation. Abandoned, hurt, she dismissed me as an instrument of her expression. This led me to realize that what Erasmus said hundreds of years ago -- "The desire to write grows with writing" -- holds true with blogging.

If you blog/write every day, your muse whispers new thoughts, and you have greater desires to write. Just as writing down your dreams each day teaches your brain to remember your dreams, writing daily teaches your brain to continue generating insights, to continue with the stories and reflections. In fact, ignoring those promptings teaches your brain to dismiss generating them as well.

Answering the Critics

Posting daily to your blog is an idea that meets some hard resistance. Eric Kintz says a daily blogging schedule leads to poor blog content:

The pressure of daily posting drives many bloggers to re-purpose other bloggers' content or give quick un-insightful comments on the news. Few bloggers have enough time (or expertise) to write daily thought leadership pieces, thus adding to the clutter... Some of the most insightful –and most quoted- marketing thought blogging leaders are actually infrequent posters, from Sam Decker to Charlene Li or Randi Baseler. ("Why Blog Post Frequency Does Not Matter Any More")

In other words, daily posting leads to clutter -- posts that resemble junk lying around, fit only for the trash. Eric links to Seth Godin, who seems to echo Eric's thoughts that too many posts can tire your readers:

RSS fatigue is already setting in. While multiple posts get you more traffic, they also make it easy to lose loyal readers. ("The noisy tragedy of the blog commons")

I agree that bloggers who post several times a day, without much insight or interesting commentary, can become tiresome. However, I disagree about the idea that daily posting is a practice to shun.

If you maintain a regular writing rhythm, your brain will learn to look for and continue giving you ideas to write about. Daily writing stokes the creative muse, leading to the likelihood of having more interesting thoughts than one who sits around for weeks waiting for an epiphany to land so that he or she can write about it. The less you write, the less likely it is that you'll have something to write about. Daily writing doesn't require daily published posts, but it may result in a lot of saved drafts.

I hope readers will forgive me if I post too much. Some days I'm writing only to keep the muse close by.

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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