If you want the Muse to come to dinner, you have to set the table.

—Me, a couple of weeks ago

Here are my current five tips for how to be a kickass writer.

  1. Clear the crap out of the way.
  2. Sneak up on yourself.
  3. Set the table for the Muse.
  4. Draw a map.
  5. Read everything you want to and read as much as you can.

Today I’ll write about the first one, clearing the crap out of the way.

The more astute of my (three or four) readers will have already worked out that I am speaking both physically and metaphorically. You can’t write if you can’t find your computer or your pen and paper; likewise, you can’t write if you can’t find your certainty.

So, first, clear a space physically. Lift a pile of papers off of your desk and place your writing tools right there. Pull up the chair you are sitting in. Or, better yet, since you are reading this on a computer of some sort, look around and notice that you already have a space cleared, right here.

Don’t get carried away and start burning sage or organizing your pen drawer or looking for a more comfortable chair. Do all that after you write something.

Then, clear a space mentally. If your kids are in the same room running around like Celts, ignore them for ten minutes or until you smell smoke. Or assign them someone else vaguely responsible-looking until you signal that you are done.

There’s a great deal more to it than this. Part of the fun will be figuring out how to keep the space clear along the way.

If there’s a significant other on the other side of the room who’s wondering when you are going to finish your hobby so you can cook their dinner/wash their clothes/let them have the computer for games, reflect on this. Somebody who actually cares about you is going to support you in whatever you long to do.

Let your love of the act of writing inform a certain ruthlessness in you. I don’t regard my art as an excuse to treat people badly, and I would not advise another human being to do so. But I do feel we must develop a clear-sighted impatience with people who slow us down, by either being selfish themselves, saying stupid and thoughtless things about our work, or making our relationships more difficult than they need to be. I have broken up with two boyfriends because they got in the way of my work. It felt absolutely rotten at the time, and I worried I was a career-driven jerk who would die alone. Wow, was I wrong!

Turns out, the opposite happened (although I’m not dead yet). I have much more love in my life now, years later, especially since I’m not pouring my energy down the metaphorical toilet of those relationships. I also write a lot more.

But it’s not just boyfriends or girlfriends. I am the kind of person who likes to help people, and sometimes I bone-headedly forget that these friends and relations are functional adults who can, and will, manage far better without my interference. They whine a bit at first when I finally remember to take the training wheels off, but they get on fine. Or they don’t, but will feel better when they fix their troubles themselves.

Wait, you say. Is this cold-hearted or what? I’m caring for my dad who’s dying of cancer, what about him? To which I reply, do the noble work before you—and find some cousin to watch your dad for a half an hour a day so you can finish the chapter. You and your dad will both benefit, because you will be taking care of yourself so you can take care of him.

Clear the crap out of the way. Don’t worry if you show your teeth a bit at first; decide to learn finesse over time.

When you finish writing, put your tools away in the same place every time. Hide them from others if necessary. You need to find them again, and these folks can guard their own dang pens or tablets. If you are writing on a computer and your family can barely afford the one you have, save up seven bucks and purchase a thumb drive and load everything you’re doing onto it. Computers die, and little brothers read their siblings’ literary struggles aloud to strangers. Make a date with yourself for the next time you’re going to write, and decide where. Did you stop hearing the kids, did you learn how to ignore the glowering partner/parents/friends, or do you need to find a perch at the library or your favorite café?

Clear the crap out of the way and write. Or dance, or paint, or design circuits, or whatever it is your heart tells you you must do.

Was this useful? What methods do you use to clear the crap out of the way?