A friend and I — both having finished writing novels close to the same time — found ourselves commiserating about the unsettled spot in which we found ourselves.
We had sent our manuscripts out to agents and were waiting and worrying. Waiting for good news. Worrying about bad news. Some rejections came for both of us and then more waiting. And more worrying.
“What do you call this weird space we’re in?” she’d asked. I found it hard to move on to new work even though I had lots of ideas percolating — stories, essays even another novel, and so did my friend. We were in that hard to name place of finishing something big and desperately wanting to let go and move on but being completely unable to. “We’re not writing but we’re not…not writing,” she said. And I had agreed. “Exactly. We’re in the space between.”
I had grown as fond of the characters from my novel as if they were quirky family members who came for a holiday visit and wouldn’t leave. The precocious ten-year-old birder who disappeared from a Gap store. Her self-destructive mother who obsessively collected junk thinking it was clues to her daughter’s whereabouts. Moving on to something new felt a little like cheating on a lover. Or was I grieving these characters as if they were dead? Would moving forward mean admitting the book was over and maybe nothing would happen with it? The fear of rejection loomed large, and standing still, doing nothing was safe. I felt like I needed a twelve-step program to wean myself off the book I’d spent way too many years on.
This non-writing time made me feel edgy and unproductive. But I was determined to make use of this free time I suddenly had, the time I’d normally be using to work on the old novel. Slowly I began to ponder new stories and characters. I let them rumble around in my brain while I walked my dog; I made up ‘what if’ scenarios about them in the shower. What if an octogenarian painter dies leaving the bulk of her work scattered about the globe in old lovers’ garages and attics? What if her landlady has to go find them? So I jotted down notes, cut out articles, went to the library searching for inspiration, hoping for those moments of happenstance when wonderful little coincidences pop up and new pieces of a story fall into your lap like a gift. But, still, I wasn’t writing.
Forcing the writing is never good. So I took a break from trying to move forward. That conversation with my friend lingered. “What do you call this weird space we’re in?” What do you call this uncomfortable hiatus? It couldn’t be exclusive to writers. Most artists must have the same feeling when they’ve come to the end of a painting, a musical composition, a sculpture, but have yet to launch into the next project. I wanted to explore this in between.
It felt to me like being on a ledge, with vast emptiness below my feet. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant place to be. It was a bit, I imagined, like withdrawal from a drug.
I remembered … Continue Reading