So a week ago today, around 9:30, I was checking Twitter when I saw this:
— Children’s Bookshelf (@PWKidsBookshelf) August 23, 2014
And I thought: okay. Here we go.
As many of you remember, having read it on this very blog, back in December I set aside the novel I’d been working on since the previous winter. It was a hard decision, and terrifying, but I had to do it. That novel was just not working, and as I result I was miserable, sad, and writing so badly and desperately I didn’t even recognize myself. I was SO sure I could fix it, get back on track, with one more edit or scene or character added. Putting it away was like finally realizing a bad relationship is just Never Going To Work. It’s awful.
In the first days after I made this decision (and then made it public, yikes) I just sat in my office during my writing time, looking out the window. It had been a LOONG time since I’d totally abandoned a work in progress: usually, I start having ideas for the next book at the end of writing the previous one, and begin filing them away. This time, I had NOTHING. That’s what I said to myself in my quiet office, and to my husband, and to anyone who asked how the writing was going, even when it was CLEAR they were only doing so to be polite and did not want the details of my neurosis. “I got nothing.” Yep.
I’d been so immersed in the desperate attempt to make the other novel work. It had filled my head, my dreams, my daily life. And then, suddenly, I had nothing to think about. It was like running down a VERY narrow path, lined by thick bushes and trees, for miles. Then, suddenly, you burst out into this open, vast field, no trees, just you, wide open. And nothing.
I cried some. I convinced myself my career was over, that I’d had this great run and it had to end sometime. I ate a lot of pizza. I binged watched the entire series BROADCHURCH on my computer, giving myself a neck injury in the process (David Tennant, however, was totally worth my pain). Mostly, though, I waited, for an idea that I could only hope and pray would come.
As a writer, I’m often asked about discipline and how I make myself work. I have my standard answer: write at the same time each day, so if you are NOT working then, you’ll notice. Guilt plays a big part in my motivation. The flip side of that, however, is when you NEED to take a break from writing (because you have, well, nothing) you feel awful the ENTIRE TIME. Yes, I should have been going to movies, or reading constantly, or taking up a new skill like pickleball. (I don’t even know what pickleball is, but I hear it’s popular.) During the end days of my failed novel, I’d started to feel this sort of heavy dread in the afternoons as my work time approached, a sadness of the futility I knew was to come. I thought it would go away when the book did, but….no. It stayed. So I’d sit there, at 3pm, not writing, and just feel so, so sad. The hours that I’d always treasured as my writing time now felt like detention. I could even HEAR my office clock ticking, something I hadn’t even realized it did before all this mess started. Tick. Tock. Nothing. Tick. Tock. Nothing. And on and on, until it was finally close to five and I had to let my babysitter get home.
These were not happy days. It didn’t help that it was also January and February, my LEAST favorite months of the year. The days were short and gray and cold, but those afternoons dragged on like years in themselves. Then, one day, out of sheer desperation, I decided to move some things around in my office. I changed some pictures in frames. Cleaned out a few drawers. And then, finally, moved the one leather chair I have for when company (i.e. my husband) visits from a far corner to right by my desk.
At the time, this didn’t really resonate with me. I was just tired of having to look OVER a shelf to see someone talking if they were if they were sitting in it. But after a couple of days, I started to consider it differently. Here I’d moved the ONE other chair in my workspace so it was nearby, facing me, as if just waiting for someone to come sit down in it. That’s what a chair is for, right? To sit a spell, as we say here in the South. I looked at that empty chair, and thought of all that nothing, and then felt another stab of the afternoon sadness that I’d become so accustomed to. And THEN, I thought: what if there was a girl that felt this way, too? But for a different reason. And if she sat there right now, how would she describe it?
And that, basically, was the beginning of Saint Anything, and my narrator, Sydney. It didn’t happen quickly, and the sadness wasn’t immediately gone. But slowly, slowly, a story began to come. Finally. After all that nothing, SOMETHING.
I was so scared I’d lose it that I wrote like crazy. In the mornings AND afternoons. At coffeeshops, in my office, in the pickup line at my daughter’s school. I ate, slept and dreamt this book, but unlike the previous one, it felt GOOD, albeit shaky, like a house of cards already wavering. I felt like if I talked about it, I’d scare it away, so I told everyone I was still taking a break, doing a lot of reading, enjoying my time off. Meanwhile, I kept writing. It was only after a few months, when I began to be able to see the end coming together in the distance, that I admitted I was in the “early stages” of a draft. So, yes, I’m a big fat liar. But it served a purpose, and at that point, I was superstitious to the point of paranoid. You do what you have to do.
I finished the book, took a DEEP breath, and sent it to my agent. Then I crossed my fingers, toes, everything, and waited. THANK GOODNESS she liked it. And just like that, the entire cycle started up again. Sending it to editor. Talking to publisher. Contracts, editorial letters, discussion of titles and covers. It was like the disaster of December and my total loss of faith hadn’t happened. But it DID. And I, for one, will never forget.
This will be my 12th novel, which is just crazy to me. It just goes to show that as an author you never “figure out” writing books, or at least, I don’t. Every single one is different. Will the next one (and I hope to start it sometime!) be this hard or easy or whatever? No way to tell, until you step into that vast, open field and take a look around. We’ll see.
But for now, the book is announced in PW. It’s REAL to everyone else, after being more than that to me for, well, ages. I can’t wait to share it with you guys in 2015. Thank you SO much for your comments, your patience, your encouragement. For the quotes from my other books you posted on Twitter and Tumblr that made me think I’d somehow do it again. You believed I could, even when I wasn’t so sure. I remember one comment, during that awful time in December. The person just said, “You got this.” It felt so not true at that moment. But the faith helped.
Over the coming weeks and months, I’ll be able to share more about the book with you. I cannot WAIT! But for now, I’m just grateful I don’t have to keep it a secret anymore. Stay tuned! And thanks.