How To Train Your Muse
by Annette McCleave on May 11th, 2010

The winner of last week’s signed copy of Bound by Darkness is Zita! Congratulations! Email me your address, Zita, and I’ll get the book out to you ASAP.

What’s the post-publishing secret I wish someone had told me? Train your muse.

In all fairness, I think an author or two might have tried to share this secret with me before I was published, but I wasn’t really listening. I thought I had it all under control.

I’ve never had a problem with deadlines. I thrive on them. I love the sound of the bell clanging in the mist, warning me that there are lethal shoals ahead. Knowing the deadline is out there helps me focus and keeps me on track. In my day job, I was always able to juggle multiple tasks and ruthlessly prioritize to get the job done.

But when it came to writing a book on a real deadline, things didn’t go quite so smoothly. I had a bad habit that I didn’t realize I possessed.

For years, my writing took a back seat. Yes, I carved time out of my busy schedule to write—I had to, or I would never have finished a book—but whenever real life crept up, my writing time was the first thing to suffer. This happened because up to the moment I sold my first book, fiction writing was not a money-making venture for me. Other things in my life had a direct positive or negative impact on my cash flow, and thus, they got priority.

After I signed a book contract, my priorities changed, and I was ready for it. I was enthusiastic and keen and eager to make my mark as a published author. Unfortunately, my muse was not so ready. As proud as I was about scheduling dedicated writing time, delivering a manuscript under real deadline (not self-imposed) proved much more difficult than I thought.

Here’s why: Published authors need to multitask. At the same time that they are writing the new book, they are drafting a proposal for the next book and marketing the first book. They are updating their websites, writing guest blogs, arranging advertising, planning and ordering marketing materials, and visiting the post office … a lot. In short, writers are small business owners.

I realize now that my muse was lazy. It thought it could saunter in at those pre-arranged times and slowly stretch out its muscles for an hour before diving into the real work. It thought it could break for coffee several times a day. It thought we were self-employed and could take a day off whenever it wanted. It thought watching a movie was an excellent way to regenerate the creative flow.

Yikes. Talk about watching the days rush past.

But I can’t blame my muse. I should have prepared it better for that moment when we did have a contract. We like to think writing is cerebral and sort of uncontainable, but the truth is, any pro tennis player uses her head as much as her heart. Like any other pro, writers need to be able to call up their master game.

So here’s my advice: Train your muse now. Cultivate instant focus. Produce words on demand. Learn to switch from one creative task to another with ease. If I had, the first year would have been a great deal less stressful.

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