Chasing The Muse: Secrets Of Newfound Creativity

All of us whose jobs involve writing—whether copywriting, press releases, or the great American novel in your desk drawer—have experienced it at some point: that moment of panic when you just can’t come up with anything, when your creativity seems to have run dry. Usually, something (a flash of inspiration, or just a looming deadline) kicks us into gear, and we get our thoughts down on the page. 

But what if the “muse” we always relied on, the thing we gave credit to for all our creative juices—even if it was an illusion—went away forever? That’s the experience that New York Times columnist David Carr, best-selling author Lawrence Block, actor-writer Malachy McCourt, author Sacha Z. Scoblic and writer Michael Winship all have in common, and which they’ll be discussing during a panel called “Chasing the Muse…Stone Cold Sober” on Oct. 1 in New York during the REEL Recovery Film Festival. The panel will be moderated by author and recovery advocate William Cope Moyers and is being produced by Leonard Buschel, president of Writers In Treatment and the founder of the REEL Recovery Film Festival.



Contrary to the outdated stereotype of writers as hard drinkers who do their best work with a bottle at hand, sobriety has proved a much more successful path to creativity for each of these men, all of whom struggled with alcoholism or addiction earlier in their lives. I wanted to know their secrets for recapturing that muse—in a healthy and positive way—so I talked to Buschel to get some tips for those of us who also experience periodic writer’s blocks.

Here are his suggestions for finding your lost muse:

  • Go to meetings: While AA meetings themselves only work for people in recovery, the concept of talking with peers in a group setting about your writing challenges can still apply. Look for a local writers’ group in your area, or start one of your own. Or find just one writing buddy to share your work with—you’d be amazed how eye-opening and beneficial it can be to get objective input from someone outside your own head!
  • Read…a lot: Whether it’s your favorite book of poems, novels, the newspaper, or even the dictionary, keep your mind active in the word. Reading good writing is inspiring, and can help you think about new ways of using language.
  • Meditate: Clear the cobwebs of your mind. Whether you take a class in meditation or just spend 10 quiet minutes in calm reflection, the point is to shut off the noise and find peace and focus.
  • Do daily affirmations: Okay, so after Al Franken’s “Saturday Night Live” skits (“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me”), we’ve come to mock this concept. (Although it worked for Al; he’s a senator now!) But negative thoughts really can feed a dry spell. So get rid of them by affirming the things you are good at—either by writing them on your mirror, or just by repeating them to yourself.  Or remember positive moments in your life, and that same feeling will be with you in the present.  And finally, read some Albert Ellis; be sure to heed his advice not to “should on yourself.”
  • Take a shower, sauna or bath: Many writers say they are struck by new ideas while in the shower or tub!  Maybe it’s the relaxation of it, or just getting away from the desk. In any event, there’s the side benefit that you’ll be nice and clean afterwards.
  • Get outside: A recent piece in The New York Times described the benefits of the outdoors on the brain, citing a study that showed “connections with nature could…restore drifting attention and sharpen thinking.” Find a patch of lawn, a park bench, or a beach towel on the sand, and do your writing there for a change. 
  • Exercise: Get the blood flowing by taking a brisk walk, run or bike ride. It will help you in the long-term, too: An article in Psychology Today points out that exercise builds new neurons and prevents brain shrinkage! Plus you’ll sleep better at night, which brings us to our next point:
  • Sleep: Sometimes all that’s needed is a good night’s rest. If you’re exhausted, stop working and go to bed! You’ll be better off getting a fresh start in the morning. Or if you’re working during the middle of the day without any luck, consider a short nap to reinvigorate yourself. A tired brain isn’t going to do you any favors.

“Most of all,” says, Buschel, “don’t give up. As the saying goes ‘This too shall pass….’ The key is to hang in there and keep your fingers on the keyboard.” 

For anyone who lives in the New York area and would like to attend the “Chasing the Muse” panel discussion or any other REEL Recovery Film Festival Events, please visit

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