My Novel with Coffee and Pen
I’ve lost track of how long I’ve been working on my novel. It might be 3 ½ years. Or maybe 4 ½. Not long for a novel, considering I teach full time, blog almost daily, sleep 7 hours a night, and have pets, a house, a husband, and a life. Still, it feels like a long time. Novels are grueling. They take thousands of hours of writing, revising, cutting, adding, pondering, puzzling, and staring vacantly at your computer screen in a terrified daze.
In December, I finally sent the manuscript, a young adult fantasy, to an editor, who returned it with insightful criticism. I knew immediately that taking my editor’s advice would sharpen my novel’s tension, make my characters more vivid, tighten my prose, and raise the overall impact of my work. And suddenly, it feels as if I’ve been working on this novel since Jericho fell and I just don’t have any more to give it. I sit down at my desk, and think, not this again.
So on today’s Tips for Writers Thursday, I’m going to blog about how I get past this. How I manage to sit down and keep writing with one lap to go and my energy depleted. These are the three steps that work for me.
1.Separating out the fear. The first thing I ask myself is, “How much of my lethargy is actually terror in disguise?” If you’ve ever put the final touches on a book-length manuscript, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The next step is the most frightening one of all: sending your work out. That’s where you risk everything: rejection, disappointment, frustration, grief, the discovery your book might not get published no matter how much work you put into it and regardless of how good it is. This is one of the realities of the writing life. And it's terrifying.
You can’t get rid of the fear, and it’s no use pretending it’s not there. What I do is acknowledge it. I journal and I meditate to recognize how much of my exhaustion is actually fear in disguise. The answer: a lot. Once I’ve acknowledged that—once I’ve looked that anxiety in the face—I can work in spite of it. Buddhist writer Pema Chodron calls this process “sitting in the cave with the demon.” If I sit for awhile in that cave and look the demon fear in the face, he’s always the first one to blink.
2. Asking my characters their secrets. I’m a firm believer in the wisdom of my characters. They’re the ones who lived their back stories. They’re the ones who understand the ins and outs of the plot. They know who they are and what they need to do. My editor made me aware that I needed to talk to my characters a little more. They’re not quite fully on the page yet—almost, but not entirely. I need to get to know them better. This is a lot more effective than telling myself,I have to work on this scene! I have to give my protagonist more motivation! I must deepen the relationship I’m depicting here!Instead, I just need to chat up my characters. A glass of wine usually gets them to open up.
3.Getting excited about moving on. The third thing that's slowing me down in this last lap is the simple grief of seeing my relationship with my novel end. I don’t want to say goodbye to these characters or leave the fantastical world I lovingly created. I want to live there forever.
To help myself let go, I'm starting to envision my next major project. Not to start it or even to plan it. Just to play with it a little. To get excited about it. When I imagine myself working on something new and challenging, I get motivated to finish my current work and get on with my life.The easiest way to get over a lost love is to fall in love with someone else.
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...