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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A writer's empty nest

For the last week or so, I've been in an odd mood and I couldn't figure out what was the matter. Life is basically good: the book is selling well enough to warrant another print run; I've turned in the Medici manuscript; and now I have that much-anticipated free time I've been craving to catch up on my reading and relax.

Instead, I've been restless. I am reading, but I always do that; as for relaxing, I'm not enjoying it as much I thought I would. Of course, I know this free time is limited and so I called a good friend who happens to be a writer and mentioned that I thought I might need Prozac. She laughed and said, "Do you feel depressed?"
I told her, "Yes, kind of. Not exactly sad, but just . . . you know, blah. And the worst part is, I'm guilty about it. So many writers out there are fighting every day to get published and see their book in print. I feel like an ungrateful cur. Why can't I just enjoy it?"
"It's writer's empty nest syndrome," she replied. "We all get it after the book comes out and we turn in the next one. You've let your babies go out into the world on their own and you're at sixes and nines over it. The only cure I know of is to start a new project. ASAP."

Now, let me just say that I've never referred to my books as "babies." I've heard other writers use the term and that's fine, but I personally can't do it. Books are words on paper: they are not flesh and blood beings. If they get lost or misplaced or stolen, I can always buy or print out another. But as I considered my friend's words I started to wonder. I was feeling "sixes and nines-ish", as though something was missing from my life. I realized I've been writing steadily since I sold these two books early last year, first with the revisions to The Last Queen and then cutting Catherine. And in between, I had copy edits, marketing plans, interviews here on the blog; in short, not a spare moment. Sure, I caught a movie and went out to dinner and lived, but I always knew in the back of my mind that I had work waiting. I realized that I thrived on the deadlines and now, without any, I was bewildered.

"It's a sickness unique to writers," my friend explained. "We aren't ourselves if we're not kvetching or rhapsodizing over our latest creation. We're Frankenstein. We must stimulate our brain daily or perish."

Just as an experiment (no pun intended) I finally went to my desk - now cleared of the atom-bomb explosion of papers and open books that comprised the Medici revision - and took out the spiral-bound notebook where I outline upcoming projects. The next novel is there, fully realized. I stared at it for a while, then started reading it. I then pulled out the research books I'll need and ordered on the shelf I reserve for books I use when I'm writing. I did all this rather tentaively, thinking as I did, "Am I nuts? I just finished a manuscript and haven't even heard back from my agent or editor yet. I should be catching up on Netflix."

Then I left my study quickly and went to make dinner. As I cooked, I felt at ease. Relaxed. I felt . . . like me. I had to chuckle. My friend was right. I'm just not myself if I don't have a book brewing. It doesn't actually matter whether I've started physically writing it; the ideas have to be percolating , the words disentangling and arranging themselves like threads on the loom. I must know, soon I will start to write. And if I do, I'm okay.

So much for free time. Have a wonderful Labor Day weekend, everyone!
No doubt, I'll be writing.

8 comments:

Marg said...

Hi, I am not sure if anyone has let you know or not, but Historicalfiction.org has become defunct!

If you want to come and play with us still, we are now at www.historicalfictiononline.com.

Hope to see you there.

Marg (aka Diamondlil)

Sarah Bower said...

You know, Christopher, I really identify with everything you say in this post and I agree with your friend's 'diagnosis' - though the really dark bit she omitted, which I think is at the heart of this post-book restlessness, is the awful, unconfrontable (is that a word?) fear that you might not be able to do it again. Not that, in the case of a man with such an enviably prolific imagination as yours, such a fear is in any way justified. But boy, it worries me!

Lezlie said...

Any hints as to what's "percolating"? Curiosity is killing me! :-)

Lezlie
Books 'N Border Collies

Mirella Patzer said...

Good for you, Christopher for your forthright admission. I admire honesty.

My guess is that it is just being without a project that is causing this. The excitement and passion over reserching and writing about a new, exciting person is waiting just below the surface.

Glad to see you started the research. You'll see, this is the best medicine for you. This too shall pass.

I'm thrilled with your success on Juana's story. Congratulations.

Mirella Patzer said...

Good for you, Christopher for your forthright admission. I admire honesty.

My guess is that it is just being without a project that is causing this. The excitement and passion over reserching and writing about a new, exciting person is waiting just below the surface.

Glad to see you started the research. You'll see, this is the best medicine for you. This too shall pass.

I'm thrilled with your success on Juana's story. Congratulations.

Carla said...

Ah, yes, the between-books feeling. Don't worry, you've found the cure.

Marg beat me to it; I wondered if anyone had told you the address of the new forum.

C.W. Gortner said...

You know, I was wondering what had happened to historicalfiction.org. Thanks so much for letting me know the new address! I'll visit soon. I really enjoy the time I spend there.

Yes, I agree with all of you and of course Sarah, you are right: the fear lurking under the surface is that I'll never get it together again to write another book! But I have started writing the first chapters, and as soon as my agent gives me the okay to share the idea, I promise I will. I don't mean to be coy :) but I promised her I'd not reveal anything until she and I had a chance to discuss it further, as she'll be the one presenting it to my publisher to establish their interest. They have the first right to say yea or nay, and apparently, there's a strict etiquette surrounding these transactions. But I can say I'm excited about the new project and hope everyone else involved will also be.
Hope everyone had a nice weekend!

literatehousewife said...

Oh, I can't wait to find out about your next book! In the theme of "babies," I can't wait until you get your ultrasound tests back so we know its identity. ;)

One thing that may also affect your mood is the change of seasons. I get depressed and anxious every year at this time. Keep a eye out for that next year. As the day shortens, your brain may be missing the sunlight.