As I reported briefly yesterday, I have sent The Count of Carolina off to my publisher, which means that for all intents and purposes, my part of the process is done. I don’t know what that experience is like for other writers, but I know for me it is an odd and slightly unsettling one.
I’m not going to try and tell you that the act of writing books is a grueling, death-defying process, because it’s not. Oh, there’s an element of grind to it, right from the beginning of the process to the end. You have to get in there (into the mindsets of the characters, into the setting, into the winding river that is the plot), and you have to do the work.
But for most of the journey, it feels fairly good, much as it does for my hero, Tina Fey, in the image to the left. I am, after all, doing what I have known for most of my life I am supposed to be doing. [Ed. Note: Mini-lecture follows] That’s huge, young people. If you can find what you were meant to do, you will quickly realize that even when the going gets a little wonky, you’ll discover a way to get through, and once past the speedbump, you’ll feel stronger and wiser and happier. [Ed. Note: Mini-lecture concluded]
The process of creating your story, then, is mostly pleasant. Sometimes, however, it is the opposite. Even when you’re doing what you were meant to do, the load can be a little heavier than you think you can carry. I’ve already written about the infamous Chapter 12 in Carolina. It was long, and the content was extremely difficult to write, as it deals with a subject that is both very personal, and very abhorrent to any right-minded human being. [Ed. Note: Yes, that’s all he’s going to say about it. He does want you to read the book, after all]
Getting through that chapter was the most difficult writing experience I’ve ever encountered, (if you don’t count college term papers that I waited until six hour prior to their being due to start).
And then there’s the rewriting. There are a lot of philosophies about what happens after a first draft is completed, and I’ve written about mine before as well but will summarize again for the purpose of cohesiveness. My first draft serves the purpose of telling the story, as well written as possible, and of pointing out areas that I can elevate the writing when I do my second draft. For me, the second is generally the final, especially if I’ve done a good enough job on the first draft.
But the act of doing that second draft always feels a lot more like work than the first, a truth well-known to my hero to the right, Snoopy. It tends to go fairly quickly, (I finished the first draft on 12 July four days shy of exactly four months after I started it, and the second was done twelve days later), but it involves much more intense concentration, attention to detail, and remembering how English works.
And so we come to the topic implied by the headline. After the work is done and the file is sent off, there is a strange feeling that descends. It is an almost physiological response to not be opening the file that you’ve worked on almost every day for the past several months, and not dreaming up horrible ends for horrible people, not having the hero come through in the nick of time, not living in the mind of a strong but damaged character. Although I’ve never used heroin, I imagine it’s a little like what your brain must say to you when you get clean. Or that moment that Nicole encounters a number of times in Carolina when the adrenaline she’s been relying on to keep going stops being produced. “What am I supposed to do now?”
Of course, the simple answer is to start the next book. But as odd as it feels not to work on your familiar story, it’s often just as challenging to start the next one, and besides, haven’t I earned a little time off?
This is one of those areas where the mind fights itself. “I did well, and I deserve a break!” versus, “You’re a writer, therefore you must write.”
I guess I’ll just be content to pull down all the Post-it notes all over my monitor to help me remember important details for Carolina and replace it with a new one:
P.S. Don’t be jealous of my Post-It notes with the lovely handbags. We can’t all be super-cool.