Friday, February 15, 2008

What's a writer to do when there's no writing to do?

I'm not writing these days. It's amazing how hard that is. Once I got in the flow of the routine, the writing every day, the scheduled time in the library with the computer in front of me humming away as my fingers clicked over the keys, the lines of dialogue ringing in my ears everywhere I went as I repeated them over and over until I could find a place to get them on paper, it is terribly difficult not to write.

I want to write. More than anything. It is killing me. And I don't mean blogging, or emailing, which I have become woefully behind on, because that is not the same. That is jabber... the boring, me-centered kind of writing that is exactly NOT what I want to be doing.

So why, you may ask, am I not writing?

Because I am not ready to write.

This seems like an imbecilic answer as I type it, but it is the truth. My first novel is done, the good or the bad of it. I find I am rewriting it over and over just to have something to write, and I've got to stop that, because now I have to keep a list of what copy I sent to what agent so I will know which version someone did or didn't like. Really, now, that is one good way to make you insane. So I have stopped (for this week anyway, and for as long as I can resist the temptation).

But I am not ready for the next book yet. I am plotting, planning, reading, researching, devising, getting to know my characters. What I do not want to do is to give in to the desire to just start writing without knowing where I am going. I did that on my first novel, which led to extensive rewrites and perhaps not the tightest or purposeful story unfolding. This story, or rather series, I need to have planned out. And to plan it I need to do research. And research includes reading. A lot of it. And reading takes a lot of time.

It's driving me mad. Truly. Sincerely. I turn on the computer and feel the keys under my fingers the way a drug addict might finger a crack pipe. I miss it. I want it.

But then I look at the last writing I did, and I think, Do I want to get to the end of this book and wonder if I did everything I could to make it irresistible? No. Definitely not. And not just plot wise, but as a work of writing, if I can learn to write it better by reading a few books about the process, isn't that worthwhile?

So at the library I am pulling out piles of books, about writing dialogue, great opening lines, lively plots, pirates, privateering, the revolutionary war, history of North Carolina, and countless other books that I might glean a better book from.

Normally I love reading. I read about forty books a year, which I realize isn't enormous compared to some people but is still a pretty good haul for me considering my other time commitments. I have been know to hole up on my couch for hours and hours at a time, ignoring every need around me, to finish a good book. But now, I can't focus. I read a few chapters and then turn back to the computer.

Even now, as I write this, I have four books in front of me, all intriguing in their own right, but I skimmed a few pages and I am back at the computer trying to scratch the itch.

There is a sense in which I feel a bit hollow now that my baby is done and into the world. It's a bit of the empty nest syndrome, I think, and though I have more than enough things to keep me busy fifty hours a day, I still find myself a little aimless, a little sad, a little restless.

I know that the only way I'm going to fill that void is to write again, and the only way to write is to do the grunt work beforehand, so I suppose I'd better get to it. Really, though, all this prep is killing me!


  1. One thing I've learned this past year is that when a book is finished, you have to set it aside for a length of time. (I learned this from Professor King.) Leave it alone for six weeks and work on something else. After the time's up, you'll see it with fresh eyes and you'll be able to fix what needs fixing.

    As for the "something else" I like to do some scribbling. I get out my workbook and write about the characters, what they'd act like in certain situations, their history and details of appearance. Sometimes I just mentally wander. Then there's always some awful poetry to wallow in each day, haha!

    I think you can scratch that writing itch without getting too far ahead of your next project. If you can do some creative writing, maybe the research won't be so tedious?

    (You're planning to write about privateers in North Carolina???? Fun! Think how good it'll be when you're ready to go on it!)

  2. I read King also. I think it's a great idea to set it aside for a while. In theory! The funny thing is that even when I "fix" or change the beginning, I keep coming back to my original. I do need to let it go for a while. That is going to take discipline.

    I'm trying my hand at a YA novel, a series about kids who travel with Blackbeard. It is very, very different from what I've written before, but I'm really excited about the possibilities. It will be fun to write about kids, who are based on my own and my nieces, who started this game together that got me thinking about this story. I'll write more in my blog as I get further in.

    I'm reading some books on craft too, but not finding them very helpful.

    Congrats on your husband's juno award. That's awesome! I hope your own writing is coming along a little more easily, too.