Monday, December 3, 2012

How to Survive the End of Your Novel

I'm guest blogging over at my friend's Writing About Writing blog about how to survive the end of your novel (or any long writing project). Go check it out if you want some advice on what to do when you fall into that post-novel Void (and go check it out if you think that will never happen to you).

The past couple of weeks have been pretty amazing. Not because of anything extraordinary that has happened, but because of something very ordinary. I started writing again. Which is what prompted me to ask Chris if I could do a guest blog for him. 

I've been hanging out inside The Void for quite some time now. I'm not sure what happened, but it really got bad over the summer in the post-Squaw Valley craziness. The novel just went away. I mean, like I couldn't even remember what I'd written, couldn't even read the novel I'd been so thrilled with when I finished it at the end of March. I tried being disciplined about setting up a writing time. Tried starting a new project. Nothing. And the timing couldn't have been worse. I met an agent at Squaw. Someone I truly wanted to work with and with whom I had a good connection. He passed on the novel, but said he'd look at a revision if I wanted to do one. Of course, I said yes. He'd put his finger on some of the things that had (honestly) begun to bother me about the novel - places I was hoping would pass for serious and literary rather than places where nothing was happening. (As an aside: if, as you're reading your work, you come across places where, in the back of your head, you hear whispered mutterings of "well, no one will notice" or are justifying anything, I mean anything, in your work, take a deep breath and go back to work - you aren't done). And the agent came back and started helping me refine the premise of my novel so I'd have a better idea of what I wanted to do with my revision. 

The only problem was I still couldn't get inside the novel. I could barely remember what I'd written. And I mean that completely and 100% honestly. I had developed a serious block. The Void had me firmly in its grip.

In truth, I hadn't given myself enough time. The novel wasn't ready to go out into the world. And I hadn't let myself mourn and separate from what I'd created in that draft enough to be able to evaluate whether it was truly done. And I got depressed.

To put it bluntly, The Void is awful. It doesn't announce itself. It just kind of arrives, like fog. Although, where I live, fog thunders over the mountains. Fog has a body. Forget creeping in on little cat feet, the fog I see from my back window pours over the mountain top like Niagara Falls. I've spent the past couple of months thinking about giving up writing. I know. Crazy, right? 

The most worrisome aspect of The Void for me was how all my ideas just stopped. It was like my brain froze. I'm used to being inundated with ideas while I write. I keep a white board over my desk so I can write  these ideas down because, when I'm writing as deeply as I was on Altar, I am a one-trick pony. Plus, I've learned, some ideas seem really amazing when they first hatch, but aren't quite the shiny object I thought they were a couple of days later. So now I wait. But, caught in The Void, all the ideas just stopped coming. Even the ones I'd had before were uninteresting. And the novel I originally went to grad school to write, the one everyone loves, the one that has the easy premise to explain, that one wasn't budging. Which should have been my biggest indication that I wasn't done with Altar.

The Void is sticky and tricky. And it tries to make you think it's real. It isn't. I finally just relaxed, stop fighting, told myself "It is what it is" and stopped worrying about it. 

And this crazy thing happened. The Void went away.

I started getting up at four in the morning. Even waking up before my alarm goes off. I know. Crazy, right? But it works for me. I've done this before and it's almost like my inner writer needs me to make that kind of crazy, over-the-top gesture to know I'm serious. Every morning, I get two delicious hours of silence in which to work. And then I go for a bike ride. Because I also started riding my bike again. At the moment, I'm getting in about 50 miles a week when it isn't raining. Writing and then zooming along the bay on my bike and everything is wonderful. The other day, I passed right beneath a red-tailed hawk who was eating breakfast (a squirrel or something I think - I wasn't getting that close - that photo was taken with telephoto) on the bridge railing. How can a day that starts with writing and a red-tailed hawk be anything less than awesome?

It feels good right now. The words are flowing even though I'm taking it slowly. At the moment, I'm reminding myself to take it in stride. No matter if it's The Void or The Work, it is what it is, and each will take it's own time (but I'll still take The Work over The Void any day of the week).

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