I had coffee with a new writer friend on Monday, and am having lunch with an old writer friend today (hey, it’s my birthday week!). We are all on this journey together, although I’m a little farther along than they are, having self-published my four novels, with a non-fiction coming any day, and several more books on the schedule for 2013. I enjoy sharing what I’ve learned, good and bad, about indie publishing. To be honest, I don’t find any bad, although there are frustrations, such as marketing and inexplicable surges and dips in sales. It’s great to see so many people taking control of their product and, in effect, becoming small businesses.
Because of a number of events out of my control, I haven’t been very productive for the last month in my own small business. I have a book that is in desperate need of editing, another in desperate need of writing, and a third that’s partly done. All of these are behind my self-imposed schedule. It’s frustrating, and the temptation is to a) pull my hair out, b) hit something, c) anchor myself in this desk chair UNTIL IT’S DONE, and d) all of the above. Repeatedly.
I am not a huge believer in “the muse.” I have found that I write when I prepare to write. On days I don’t want to write, I write anyway, knowing I can edit it later if necessary. (It’s interesting… when I go back and read my manuscript for the first time, I can’t ever tell when those days were!) I don’t write when the muse strikes, wait for the muse, or even look for her. What do I do instead?
Well, when I’m looking for an idea, I always start with locations. To that end, I read all kinds of things. National Geographic. World History For Dummies. Weird news stories that cross my screen on strange discoveries. I take notes or send myself an email when I find some weird fact, even if I’m not actively story-hunting at the moment. When something strikes me as particularly interesting, I start researching it. Sometimes that original idea becomes the story, like with the tunnels under Paris in IXEOS, and sometimes it doesn’t. I wrote a screenplay, Laid Waste, when I first found out about those tunnels in Paris, but the story ended up having absolutely nothing to do with them. It was still the springboard.
Once I have a location or two, I start to noodle a plot. This involves a lot of staring into space and quiet drives. Sometimes a muse shows up here, sometimes not. Sometimes it’s just a matter of something that makes sense that connects the locations I have in mind. After that, it’s onto the main characters. Again, it’s usually figuring out what kind of person would do what I want done and go where I send them. For Solomon’s Throne, I had 2 concurrent stories and 7 unusual locations, so the tie-in was a little difficult. I finally settled on a Portuguese Jesuit priest for the older story line, since my locations happened to follow the Portuguese Spice Route (I love happy accidents!). For the modern story line, I didn’t want the usual action adventure stand-bys of military/paramilitary organizations or another governmental body, so I ended up with an international art leasing company.
Perhaps there was a muse involved, but not in this way: “I’m not in control of my muse. My muse does all the work.” Ray Bradbury
I think the hard work is enjoyable, but it’s work, all the same! This quote suits my style better, I guess: “Writing is total grunt work. A lot of people think it’s all about sitting and waiting for the muse. I don’t buy that. It’s a job. There are days when I really want to write, days when I don’t. Every day I sit down and write.” Jodi Picoult
What about you? Is the muse doing the work, or are you?