I recently finished a new novel, Marching to Zion. I wrote it in a little over a year, maybe 13 months. They were an intense 13 months, too. I toured. I promoted. I took care of business at home. My mother died. So it feels like quite a feat I’ve accomplished, especially since in my younger years I was never such a quick study, taking to ruminating over minutiae endlessly and calling it work.
I was writing in the dark the whole 13, too. I’d started out with a concept I quickly abandoned. I turned up the drama volume early on and wondered: where the hell are you going to go after that? My husband reminded me I should follow my own advice: listen to the voice, the voice never lies. So I did. And the voice took me places I’d never considered before yielding a depth and scope that, according to my agent and publisher, represents my “finest work yet”, and “a triumph”, taking my prose “to a new level”.
Like that old penny that keeps turning up, once again my husband was right. But then as those of you who know me will agree, he almost always is.
Now here I am, pretty drained and taking some time off. There’s a strange kind of hush that happens to authors in the time between finishing a MS and getting ready for the edit that precedes publication. You know your mind’s not done with your story. You can’t push it out and start something new easily. You can catch up on your reading. Why, I’ve got at least ten books waiting for me on my iPad, but I have a feeling they’re going to wait a while longer. I’ve got travelling to do for business and family. That’ll take time. And oh my Lord, there are projects around the house I’ve simply got to get off the ground somehow. My garden’s a mess and the azaleas have budded. I’m not ready for them. I’ve got to reorganize my kitchen to make room for Mom’s china and silver that’s come to me. I should get my eyes checked. And I’ve got to get someone in for the windows, although my garden in disrepair is best seen through a scrim, so maybe that’ll wait. Oh, I want to take a nap. But if I do, I’ll be up all night. I’m left to consider that downtime isn’t downtime anymore. It’s a state of suspension, more like being under glass or boxed in jelly than resting or rejuvenating.
And when you’ve finished a novel, even after one’s editor’s had a whack, it’s not over at all. You need to sit around for a while and wonder: what was all that about anyway? Where did it come from? Why did you do it? You know, all the questions people are going to ask you anyway. I’ve been doing some of that.
I realized along the way that I’m a lot braver than I used to be. I don’t ask myself whether or not I have the authority to write about this or that, I just do it. These people that live in my head, the places they go, the conflicts they find themselves in, they just come whether I think I’m up to the task of explicating their stories or not. But I figure if they went to the trouble to surface through the mire that is my unconscious, I can do it if I work hard and listen to the voice.
And even in the downtime, the voice is whispering, whispering, whispering.