Tag Archive for: writing muse

The Whack-a-Mole Method of Writing

By Lois Winston

Every author has her own process. What works for one of us doesn’t work for all of us. Some authors are diehard plotters who create extensive outlines before ever committing that first sentence to paper (or in most cases, to keyboard.) Some are known as “pantsers,” authors who write by the seat of their pants, having no more than a vague idea before they place butt in chair and begin pounding out the words.

Some authors set a deadline for each day, whether it’s the amount of time they’ll spend writing or the number of words they’ll write each day. I’ve read about some bestselling, household names who often stop mid-sentence when they reach their day’s word count, or the timer goes off. Other authors will keep writing each day until either their fingers cramp up, their eyes start watering, or their family demands dinner. Often all three.

I’m none of the above. I’m a hybrid—half “pantser” and half whack-a-mole writer. I write in fits and starts. I suppose you could call it the bipolar method of writing. I’m not bipolar, but my writing method certainly is.

The “pantser” part of me comes up with a vague idea for a story. I’ll jot a few sentences or maybe a paragraph or two, which often becomes the basis for back cover copy. But then I give my muse free rein. And that’s where the whack-a-mole writing comes in. Sometimes my muse is extremely cooperative, and my fingers fly across the keyboard for days and days. My word count grows at a frenetic pace. Then, for no apparent reason, the muse deserts me, and I reach a part in the story where I can’t figure out what comes next.

I wrack my brain. I lie awake at night, brainstorming with myself. One night becomes two, then three, then a week. I’m exhausted from lack of sleep, which only makes the situation worse. I spend hours at a time staring at a blinking cursor, waiting for my brain to send a signal to my fingers. I wait and wait and wait.

I check in with my critique partner who offers various suggestions, some with possibilities but none that feel exactly right. I go back and read what I’ve previously written, hoping inspiration will strike, but all I do is wind up tweaking here and there, choosing a more descriptive word, rearranging the sentences in a paragraph. Wasting time.

And then suddenly, my muse returns with a fully formed idea for what happens next. Once again, my fingers fly across the keyboard, my word count soaring.

Until the next time when the pattern repeats itself. Wack-a-mole writing. Love it or hate it, it’s my process, and I’m stuck with it.


USA Today and Amazon bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry. Learn more about Lois and her books at her website www.loiswinston.com where you can also sign up for her newsletter and follow her on various social media sites.