Monday, July 5th, 2010

And Now We Go to the Mattresses; or, Inspiration is a Total Myth, Probably

I recognize this part. This is the hard part. This is the part where we go to the mattresses.

And it’s not just because we hit Bruno Tattaglia at four o’clock this morning.

Sometimes I wonder if my life is incorrectly configured for what I’m trying to do with it. For example: I want to finish The Magician King by the end of September.

But: I have a full-time job and a new baby.

New babies have to be fed, changed, napped, played with, etc. on a three-to-four-hour cycle. (This may be because they’re actually an alien race that evolved on a fast-spinning planetoid, and this is their natural day-night cycle. Tell the President … )

Full-time jobs aren’t much better.

And thus the Great Game begins. The object of the Game is to manage your resources such that as many times a week as possible you fulfill the following conditions.

1) Your baby is asleep
2) You got more than 5 hours of sleep last night (non-sequential) and have had coffee and therefore are cleared to operate a computer
3) You have no deadlines in the next two hours, and nothing is either dying or breaking that you know about or can plausibly deny having known about later

If you can fulfill the above conditions, you work on your book. If not then not. You lose the Game. I would say I lose about four days out of seven.

I remember the first time I went through this. Lily was born in May of 2004. I started The Magicians in July of that year. The best thing that happened for my creative life during this period was that I got shingles and was forbidden from touching the baby for two weeks.

One of the first things to go when you’re playing the Game is the idea of inspiration. You do not wait to be inspired. Inspiration is bullshit. This ain’t no writer’s order zithromax for chlamydia colony. This ain’t no Mudd Club. Or CBGB’s. When you see a window you hit that window, soldier, and if you haven’t got your inspiration with you you hastily construct some inspiration from a plastic spork, a rubber band and a bar of soap.

Periodically — like now! — I get Envious of Other Writers who don’t have day jobs and who get to spend more time writing.

But then I ask myself, why do you have a day job? Why didn’t you arrange your life in such a way that you too could write every day? Why do you live in New York City, which is an expensive place to live? Why don’t you live in Sweden, where fathers get 16 months paid paternity leave, instead of one week? Why does the mass of the universe when calculated by relativistic means not equal the mass accounted for by visible luminous bodies? Why did you not configure your life properly during installation? Why are you such a useless fucker, Lev Grossman? Why why why?

Then I remember: I made a bunch of decisions. Some of them were good. Some of them were bad but it’s too late to fix them. Upshot: I must live in New York City and have a day job.

God damn decisions for having consequences. Let the games begin.

p.s. this post was written under the influence of The Godfather, which I recently re-watched with Sophie, who because she grew up in The Antipodes had never seen it before.

I put it to her that she could not possibly understand either men or America without seeing The Godfather.

There is actually one allusion (that I can think of) to The Godfather in The Magicians. A No-Prize to the first person who points it out.

Or no, that’s lame. A Brakebills t-shirt to whoever spots it first. Answers in the comments pls.

22 comments on “And Now We Go to the Mattresses; or, Inspiration is a Total Myth, Probably

  1. Friend, you’ve arranged at least one thing correctly: you don’t watch TV. So that gives you, what, at least four hours a day free to do what you need — change diapers, shower, write — and that’s four hours more than even those of your friends who supposedly quit their day jobs so they could supposedly write all the time.

  2. sandra, tvgp says:

    eat, write & exercise, pg 30:

    it continues to fascinate me, how motherhood seems to unleash the highest levels of creativity in a woman at the same time it steals the time she needs to enjoy it.


    and of course! this includes fatherhood too. /shame on me, huh


    it all works out in the end lev. your priorities are in the write place

    and that picture is -appreciating in value by the moment. just about as precious as they come

    God bless you & your beautiful family!

  3. dennitzio says:

    It must be the run-across-Antarctica-naked scene. It’s clearly a parallel to the scene where the baby is being christened during the massacre. And there’s the obvious character tie-ins between Don Corleone and Penny.

  4. amybillingham says:

    i’ve never seen The Godfather, but you’ve now given me two excellent reasons. damn you, lev grossman, i don’t have time for all of your recommendations!
    OK, maybe i don’t have a newborn baby, or even two jobs, but still!
    and yes, i do blame dark matter.

    my one job is being a graphic designer at a small studio, and i do find that the most challenging aspect is being creative on demand.
    sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
    so i would appreciate any instructions or diagrams that you have for the whole spork-rubberband-soap contraption.

  5. Abs says:


  6. Maryanne says:

    Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.

  7. Tim Pratt says:

    My sympathies! The month my son was born I had page proofs due. You know how they say you should read to your kid? I read him my page proofs. I also had a novel deadline looming six months after he was born.

    I made that deadline, too, but I had to utterly change the way I wrote. I went from being a binge writer who wrote a couple of times a week for four to six hours at a stretch to a crazed being capable of generating readable copy in stolen fifteen-minute increments while my kid was distracted by a mobile or something. While I did manage to write about as many words usable during his first year of life as I had the year before, I had to sacrifice other things (cut way down on the number of books I read, mainly).

    Now my kid is two and a half, and has a regular sleep schedule, so I can do work at night and on weekends — I too have a day job that prevents daytime writing — and I’m more productive than I ever was before…. probably because I’m forced to manage my time better instead of just writing “whenever.”

  8. Åka says:

    One thing I really love is to read about other parents struggling with this, because it makes me feel more normal. I know that this period will pass (actually it’s almost over, since my second child is already one year old), but I have to deal with frustrations on a daily basis — having ideas that I don’t know when I will be able to do anything with, and tasks to finish which I cannot see the end of.

    I learn lots about time management, and I have developed skills at leaving things in a state where I can take them up as soon as I have the chance with minimal startup time.

    Thanks for sharing!

  9. Majnun says:

    I think I’m out but they pull me back in

  10. […] gosh, here I am complaining about my healthy wife and I having to take care of our healthy […]

  11. Daniel says:

    I put in a 25-page NIH grant written while my kiddo was between 1 and 2 months old. A mere 14000 words (although they were sciency words). So sympathies, and looking forward to the book.

  12. Ant says:

    I just finished reading Magicians and had to immediately order the T-shirt, so pathetic and desperate was I to extend the whole Brakebills experience into a sort of fabric-based reality.

    You’re really onto something here. The idea of the Fillory books was genius, and


    the intrusion into Fillory of Quentin and his jaded pals was thrilling, in a geektastic parallel-worlds-grokking kind of way.

    Godspeed with the sequel. I need it. Now.

  13. Alison says:

    Can you get Sophie to write a review, with all the bits I need to know about the Godfather, so I don’t have to watch it either. Also, you now have to read ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’, and watch ‘The Year my Voice Broke’. Sophie will explain all the complicated bits. I am of course assuming you have seen Priscilla & Muriel…

  14. Leverus says:

    oh god, I do I really have to? there better be shooting in it.

  15. Alison says:

    No one gets shot in Australia, we had to give all the guns back, sorry. I’m serious about Sophie’s Godfather review through; and Star Wars, the 2nd lot of movies- she needs to do a review of them as well. In fact, I think there is her new book- “How to understand the modern man through his understanding of movies”. Chapters like “Is your man a Luke or a Hans?”

  16. Leverus says:

    I would read that! I am definitely a Hans. Hans Olo.

  17. […] will probably be like the Godfather thing, and I’ll never have to make good on it. But the offer stands. Stop me, mention the […]

  18. Rachel says:

    There’s a scene right before they enter Fillory for the first time in which they are drinking grappa and playing cards – could that be it?

    This is my first post to your blog but I am a big fan. Currently I’m re-reading The Magicians for the second time, which is unusual for me. I typically wait years between re-reads but I just enjoyed your book so much. I can’t wait for the sequel.

  19. […] doesn’t surprise me that I’ve been so crap about posting, given this. I’m not happy about it. But I’m not […]

  20. Christy says:

    I’d like to claim the No-Prize. Eliot references the Godfather when he says he isn’t going into Fillory with “just my dick in my hand.” This cracked me up.

    I’d like to add that I just finished the book, and I really enjoyed it. I can’t count the hours I spent with Lewis and Pullman and their ilk as a kid, and there was a period around my eleventh birthday when I was really depressed the Hogwarts letter hadn’t come. Then I got older and started spending my countless hours reading Waugh and Donna Tartt, so The Magicians really had me coming and going. But I loved the way the book plays homage to so many of the novels and genres I’ve loved. It was great. Best of luck with the sequel!

  21. Leverus says:

    You nailed it Christy. I owe you one No-Prize. Also a t-shirt if you’d like one. email me here: http://levgrossman.com/contact.php

  22. […] a good question. I’ve talked about this before, a couple of times. Bottom line is, I do make a pretty good living from my books. I look at some other writers who are […]

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