Treasure or Junk? Notes from a Muse Past

A0429This weekend, while the sun was shining and the birds chirping, I was not outside. I was knee deep in the dust and junk in my office, looking for some old family photos for my new website.

Oh boy. It had been seven years, two books, a dozen manuscripts, 20 research projects and scores of workshops led, classes taught, and conferences attended since I'd cleared out my book shelves. Books and papers and magazines were everywhere, and I couldn't find anything.

Everywhere I turned I was faced with decisions on what to throw away and what to keep. The Zola essay (handwritten, of course) from college with my crazy tutor's teensy scratch marks in the margins? All the Muse and the Marketplace folders and booklets? The first draft of my first book?  The drawing my daughter made me for mothers day two years ago?

Except... I did find this:

Notes from a Muse session: Date unknown Notes from a Muse session: Date unknown

Ah, yes. Treasure, not junk. One of the first times I attended the Muse and the Marketplace, I went to a session run by Julia Glass. I had just read Three Junes (which I now often teach in my "Crafting Your Voice" class). I was angst ridden by research I was doing, and feeling like this hill toward publication was going to be steep and long, perhaps too long. And then along came Julia.

I got rid of 12 of these,  but held onto the wisdom of Julia Glass I got rid of 12 of these,
but held onto the wisdom of Julia Glass

So as we prepare for yet another Muse--yet another opportunity to be with people just as obsessed and crazy as we are--here are my Notes From a Muse Past:

Rules that bothered Julia Glass

- You need a degree in creative writing to be a "writer"

- You must have a room of your own

- An outline is critical

- First time novelists shouldn't write in the first person

- You're supposed to write what you know (she said, pretend to know more than you do!)

- You're supposed to do research before you write

- As a writer, you have to keep a journal

- You should write every day

- Routine is key

- Writers block exists


Julia's Rules: Qualities of the Happy Fiction Writer

- Adore words and language

- Don't be afraid to be playful

- Read aloud

- Print out your pages for editing

- Have the courage to strike out into the unknown

- You should like, even crave, your own company

- Be stubborn--stand up to others

- Plan your financial success (imagination can pay you back)

- Be interested; be nosey; be a compulsive collector of particulars

By the way, this is what my shelves look like now:

A day well spent A day well spent

If you're attending the Muse this year, I hope you'll be inspired and keep your notes forever. Maybe... electronically...

May the Force be with you,


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About the Author

Katrin Schumann is the author of The Forgotten Hours (Lake Union, 2019), a Washington Post bestseller; This Terrible Beauty, a novel about the collision of love, art and politics in 1950s East Germany (March, 2020); and numerous nonfiction titles. She is the program coordinator of the Key West Literary Seminar. For the past ten years she has been teaching writing, most recently at GrubStreet and in the MA prison system, through PEN New England. Before going freelance, she worked at NPR, where she won the Kogan Media Award. Katrin has been granted multiple fiction residencies. Her work has been featured on TODAY, Talk of the Nation, and in The London Times, as well as other national and international media outlets, and she has a regular column on GrubWrites. Katrin can also be found at, and on Twitter and Instagram: @katrinschumann.

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