Instructions from My Imagination, Revisited

The Greek Muses
The Greek Muses

This morning I was going through old diary entries seeing if there was anything in them I might be able to adapt for the “blog tour” that will be starting in a few weeks for PENELOPE’S DAUGHTER.  These days, most authors don’t tour when they have a new release, because, quite frankly,  there’s not much bang for the buck in spending several weeks in hotels and running up bills in restaurants just to go from bookstore to bookstore or other small venues doing talks and signings. Unless you are in that small group of authors who can fill auditoriums wherever you go, you’re better off  trying to make a success of online promotion.

Anyway, I found one diary entry from a little less than a year ago (September 3, 2009) that really gave me pause.  It’s called “Instructions from My Imagination”:

Some people may picture the Muse as a creature with a toga and a crown of laurel (which I like to think of as a Laurel Corona). She sits on a writer’s shoulder and sings inspirational songs while accompanying herself on the lyre. My muse isn’t like that at all. She’s more like a drill sergeant barking orders. Get up! Get to work! Stay put! You have a novel to write! With all my novels, it was like getting instructions from my imagination, instructions I had no choice but to accept.

I’m not saying I don’t love my Muse. She has never let me down (although, as for all authors, the Muse’s relationship to our unwritten books is yet to be seen). But writing is a real taskmaster, and writing a book feels like going to a very, very long boot camp.

Long indeed. I realized the other day that I have written four full-length books–three novels (THE FOUR SEASONS, PENELOPE’S DAUGHTER, and my in-progress work, THE LAWS OF MOTION) and one narrative non-fiction work (UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH) in six years. I have never not been writing a book since the beginning of 2004, and in some cases, most notably with UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH, rewriting and heavy editing overlapped with creating the first draft of THE FOUR SEASONS.

Those are some pretty serious marching orders! So I’ve been appreciating the fact that, with the first draft of THE LAWS OF MOTION done (and with no editor yet to take the place of the Muse), I have no orders at all. I’m back to having only one full-time job, teaching humanities at San Diego City College, and it is really a treat to be able to give it my full attention. Who knows? I might actually do some reading for pleasure this fall. Play a little more tennis. Get back regularly to the gym. Read more than the headlines in the paper. This could be fun!

Okay, so here is the reality.  I did stop writing for most of that semester.  I  did do a little reading for pleasure (including more than the headlines), played tennis and went to the gym at least sometimes. It was great to give my classes pretty much undivided attention, and except for some unexpected health problems, I had a strong semester.

Then the drill sergeant showed up again.  I made it to early December without letting myself go back to the world of being an author.  By then the idea for THE SHAPE OF THE WORLD, my work-in-progress was taking over my waking thoughts, and I was once again, as Diane Ackerman calls it, “coming down with a book.”

So let’s update one of the above paragraphs: I have written five full-length books–four novels (THE FOUR SEASONS, PENELOPE’S DAUGHTER, THE LAWS OF MOTION, and the nearly finished THE SHAPE OF THE WORLD) and one narrative non-fiction work (UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH) in seven years. I have never not been writing a book since the beginning of 2004 (except for a few months last fall),and in the last few months, dealing with revisions of PENELOPE’S DAUGHTER and THE LAWS OF MOTION  have overlapped with creating the first draft of THE SHAPE OF THE WORLD.

Marching orders, indeed!  Though it’s still like bootcamp year round,  I’m managing my time better.  This time around my year-long forced march comes complete with stops for coffee and lunch with friends. It comes with lots more time for exercise and R&R.  The Muse is still a drill sergeant, but sometimes she’s having a little trouble finding me to boss around.

It’s Sunday morning. I’ve been writing since 6AM. It’s a beautiful day, and perhaps I can convince the Muse to put on some sunscreen and spend the day with me.  Tennis, anyone?