Screeching to a Halt
Students speak of the “gap year” when they do something else—tour a foreign country, join the Peace Corps, take a menial job or internship—before settling in to college for at least four years. Can writers, too, have (a) gap year(s) when they’re not working on A Very Big Project?
In March, I quit work on my latest novel, begun about two years ago, when, after finishing the third or fourth rewrite, I gave it to one of my sharpest critics to read. Also, that’s when my “second retirement” kicked in, and I decided not to teach even part-time at Sinclair Community College anymore. Thus, I found myself in that potentially squirrely, even depressive (if not desperate) stage known as Not Writing, a landscape littered with land mines for the novelist who’s not psychologically and spiritually ready for such a state.
This time, though, I’ve navigated it better than previously, even better than a year ago, right after my “first retirement,” when I suffered some depression. Here are my impressions this time around, dedicated to writers who admit, often with a nervous laugh, that they’re not working on their novels and maybe haven’t for some time:
- It’s liberating. To a point. There’s still a quite steady (but not hammering) sense of “Okay, what’s next?” But it frees me to consider other things, including new writing projects or even working on old ones.
- It’s not scary. Or not very. “Sobering,” maybe.
- It’s become lengthy. Three months is a long time for me not to work on a novel…and the gap could go on the rest of the summer, maybe longer.
- It involves some resistance. About a month ago, I received the first extensive critique of my latest novel from “Rex,” whom I thanked in my previous blog “Heart Critics.” Well, he did his usual number on me, for which I’m eternally grateful. Since then, however, I’ve found myself resisting, hoping my next critics find less to dislike (it’s now in the hands of two more). I’m really glad to be an experienced re-writer who can gather the necessary faith to plunge feet-first into the next rewrite, with renewed energy. For now, I seem to be husbanding my strength.
- I sense growing authority, feeling more willing to assert my own vision more and not be quite so willing to be governed by what I view as the marketplace: making changes for the sole sake of making a book palatable to as large an audience as possible. Maybe I shouldn’t de-quirk the book, when it could be the quirks that are the most original and truest things about it. As I strive for greater authenticity in my life, I crave it in my writing as well; making peace with the marketplace—essentially ignoring it—aids and abets my life journey.
- I’ve suffered no serious depression, even though I have the slightest suspicion that this “gap” could even be writer’s block as opposed to personal choice; i.e., did Rex’s comprehensive rejection of so many aspects of my draft shut me down? I don’t believe so. As I said, it’s only a suspicion.
- I’ve found other projects. I’ve written an almost-completed new short story, which could be the flagship for similar stories comprising a themed book on “wild” (natural) settings. And I’ve started another story already. Non-writers will exclaim, “What do you mean hiatus! You’re writing!” Novelists will know what I mean. I’m not working on the project, the Big Thing.
- I have space for being-not-doing. Rather than finding the gap potentially troubling, I’m finding it bearing fruit, as I give myself permission to not be goal-obsessed, not even setting “being” as a goal. It’s a way of living, a new way of living. I like it. Taking time off, whether months or years, doesn’t mean we’re not writers. It means we’re writers on hiatus. Let it be. Breathe.
P.S. – My poem “Father” will be read on Conrad’s Corner on WYSO 91.3 at 7:59 p.m. this coming Sunday, for Father’s Day. If you’ve never heard of Conrad, you can find out more about the show, and Conrad Balliet, from a previous blog post. Tune in if you have the chance.