The Gap: A Writer’s Hiatus

Mind the gap photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/pommiebastards/4061144276/lightbox/

by Ed Davis on June 15, 2012

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:

  1. 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.
  2. It’s not scary. Or not very. “Sobering,” maybe.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Carl Tropea June 15, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Point#5. Picasso was teaching an art class and asked the students to take a blank sheet of paper and draw a perfect circle. “Of course, no none can draw a perfect circle.” Picasso told them when they were done. “Find the flaw in the circle and bring that OUT. That is you!”
I think you should NEVER de-quirk your writing. It IS the truest and most authentic part.
Of course, I suppose it depends upon the reason you are creating .
But if it is art for the joy and passion of creation and exploration of the world and the self,then why would anyone de-quirk or need/heed outside critique?
Also, why worry whether or not you define yourself as a writer?
Why is writing important?
Go have fun during your hiatus!

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Ed Davis June 17, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Thanks, Carl!

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Cyndi June 15, 2012 at 7:33 pm

I’ve been on a hiatus of sorts myself, although more out of desperation than from having finished a project. I’m just easing back into my writing, editing the latest novel so it’s ready for submissions, and finally writing a new short – first one in far too long! I’m still not sure I’ll return to blogging, at least on a regular basis, but in the meantime, I’m trying (with great difficulty!) to be kind to myself as I sort out conflicting emotions.

Thanks for reminding me I’m not alone in the writer’s journey.

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Nancy Pinard June 17, 2012 at 10:34 am

I’m the novelist who thinks you ARE writing so why does it matter what form? It’s the language that matters, the engagement with language. I see the playing with different forms as enriching to your process. And besides, you’re a damn good poet, so why deny us your poems?

How can it be writer’s block if you’re writing? Perhaps you need distance to distill the comments/criticism.

I adore point 8.

As to de-quirking, Isaac Bashevis Singer said, “When I sit down to write, I must believe that I am the only person who can write this particular story in this particular way.”

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Ed Davis June 17, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Very wise, Nancy. Thanks!

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Vivian Markley August 1, 2012 at 12:24 pm

I too know the Gap. Not as a writer, I am still a novice but as an oil painter. When I entered college as an adult with kids in college (I had never heard of grant monies), I had no idea I would become a Fine Arts major.
Kids to mom
“You should go to college’
Mom to kids
“But I don’t know what I would want to study. I don’t want a new career.”
“You don’t have to know, you just go.”
“But I don’t know what my major would be.”
“You don’t need one, you just go”
This was the most important thing I learned. When they forced me to declare, I chose Philosophy. What do they do? Write about anything abstract. That will work and then I began taking art courses, just for fun. And I discovered I was a painter. I won more scholarships. I would get picked as “best” by visiting artists brought in for critiques. After school, I was accepted for Juried Shows, but never won.
Life’s twist and turns then created “the Gap.”
I painted but not prolifically, I taught some sculpture and art classes but there were far more gaps and valleys than mountain tops.
A black and white picture of my mother and her sister that I had taken as a child with my first camera caught my attention one day. I should paint that and put in the Esther Price candy box, the source of a lot of my inspirations.
And after a very long Gap, I started painting. Two years later and ten years since school, I entered another well respected show. I got that blue ribbon. I could cross off one of my life goals, win a respected show.
I knew what had happened. The Gap cleared the road between my mind and my heart. I returned to the inner me and did not worry about the craft. I had become too technical. I desired to be the perfect craftsman. I knew what I would be judged on. But when I painted that picture, I found that the craft was there, it supported me. Yes, there are technical things that even today, I see and think, “I should have…”; but somehow what I did was enough. The Gap somehow restored the balance, enough craft with enough heart, that is the true gift of the Gap.
Love that you are getting a chance to embrace “the Gap”. Butterflies all must emerge from their cocoon some day.

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