The 1st draft of my 3rd book, Girl Sex 101, is done and off to my editor and illustrator. (Learn more about the book here)
I’ve been “done” for a week, and I’m going a little nuts. Yes, there’s more to do, but this is the weird lull that after 3 books I’ve grown to hate. An efficient writer/publisher would use this downtime to work on press releases, tweak the production calendar, and cross all the paperwork “t’s”. I’ve done it before. But for this book, my circumstances are different. I now have a day job which is all about paperwork and crossing “t’s”. I’ve found it difficult to switch gears from work stuff to non-creative book stuff. In learning to retrain myself for a day job after 5 years of freelancing, my brain feels like a sieve. I’m letting emails go unanswered, forgetting to open my mail, and missing appointments.
Last night I couldn’t sleep at all, so I’m at nearly 24 hours of wakefulness as I type these words. There will be typos and awkward syntax. Of that you can be sure.
The completion of a draft creates a void. It’s common practice (and common sense) for a writer to let a completed draft simmer for a little while before revisiting for a 1st edit. In the case of Girl Sex 101, our publishing schedule means the draft went out in chunks to my illustrator kd diamond, who is laying out the book then sending it to Carol Queen, the editor. While I certainly have things I can polish or adjust in the meantime, the first part of my job is complete.
The problem now is, what exactly do I do with myself? Fold the laundry that’s been sitting in a pile on the sofa for two weeks? Finally unpack from WisCon? Finish cleaning off my desk? Install that lamp in the kitchen? Actually see my non-writing friends? I certainly have plenty to do. But my ability to organize these tasks into any relevant flow is weak.
When I completed Hungry Ghost on New Year’s Eve 2012, I remember the void well. I took myself out to sushi, and brought a book that I didn’t read. I stared at my food, off into the distance, and just let the world wash over me. It was like turning off a faucet and watching it stem to a trickle and drip. There was an eerie silence in my mind that was used to being taken up by story. I came home after dinner, drew myself a bath, and promptly picked a fight with my partner. That gave me a solid week of processing to do. It was one way to fill the void.
This time, resolute not to create drama in my personal life to balance the drama of my characters, I just turned off the faucet and dove into other things like making friend dates and exercise. Good things, in theory. But the faucet isn’t really off. A pipe fitting seems to have gone loose. I have drips and dribbles in all sorts of places. Last night as I lay beside my snoring partner, trying and failing to fall asleep, I felt the seepage. Three stories at once, processing my screenplay-in-progress, my next can’t-wait-to-write novel, and –oh yeah– my life. I tried pleasure reading (Palaniuk’s splendid Diary), which was a huge mistake. Each stylish choice he made only wrenched my creative brain pipes open more.
I was only able to notice this was a pattern during a mega-late-night conversation with a roommate. As we both bemoaned our brains’ inabilities to stick to business hours, I realized I was feeling the void. This is where the plumbing metaphor fails. Perhaps an exercise one is more apt. It’s like when you’re on the stationary bike for so long, your legs don’t know how to work when you try to stand still. After 5 solid years of writing, where working on a book is both my profession and my leisure, my brain isn’t sure how to work when not planning, drafting, writing, or revising a book. Thankfully (?) this lull only seems to happen for 2 to 3 weeks during each book. As soon as the book is off to the printers, I dive gleefully into the next.
I’m practicing letting it happen now. I’m trying not to judge myself for looking like death with smeared eyeliner. I’m hoping sleep will come eventually, if not this afternoon, then later tonight.
In the meantime, I wonder, how is it for you? Writers, artists, creators of all kinds. When you turn off the faucet, does it burst at the seams? Or can you wrangle it and find the peace within the silence?