Ask any writer how writing a novel or screenplay can take over your life.
Once, I wrote a research-intensive novel in six months on a publisher’s deadline, start to finish. The Between, my first novel, took a year. My Soul to Keep took two.
Writing a novel is more than sitting at a computer to type words on a page: It’s bringing a world, and the people who populate it, roaring to life. Since I don’t have a beach house or a wintry mountain cabin retreat, I create soundtracks that help me fall into the world quickly, and that music truly does seem to take me somewhere far away.
When things are really working, it’s very much like Alice’s rabbit hole.
I see the scenes unfold. I hear the characters talking to me, even when I wish they’d shut up and leave me alone. I shed tears when I prick pain hidden in the imaginary world of my story.
I love my novels, or I wouldn’t have made the commitment to begin the journey—but there’s always a point when the project fills me with terror. At any time, especially before the all-important midway point, a long project seems to threaten to disintegrate into nothing but lost months and a failed project. (Since I’ve been a professional writer, I’ve only started one novel I never finished…100 pages that ended up forgotten in a drawer. It can happen. Luckily, it wasn’t under contract!)
Then, one day, the magical day arrives…and you type the words THE END.
It’s an amazing feeling. A whole section of my brain empties out. Celebration!
Except….what fills up the hole my project made?
Last week, I sent my editor the fourth installment of my African Immortals series that began with My Soul to Keep—this one entitled My Soul to Take (Fall, 2011).
The summer was a brutal rush. The last two or three weeks were particularly hard, since I could see the finish line: To bed late, up early. Glazed eyes when I talked to my husband and 6-year-old son, since I was nowhere near them. My soundtrack of operatic climax music blasting in the house all day long, and in my headphones until late at night.
Then…silence. Waiting. And a palpable sense of loss.
Now I miss the novel. Badly. I’ve been harassing my editor and advance readers, champing at the bit to jump in and start editing so I can visit the world again. I’ll have a couple more chances to live in the novel before it goes to press…but one day soon, I’ll be cast out for good. And no editing will replicate the feeling of creating the scenes for the first time.
I’ve been through this cycle again and again, and it never seems to get any easier. The empty feeling always takes me a little bit by surprise.
I mean, sheesh, it’s not like they’re real people!
But to writers, our characters are absolutely real. We can touch the worlds we create. Screenplays are even worse, because so few movies make it to the screen—at least I’ll see my novel in a book store one day! I could self-publish if I had to….but how many of us will go out and make our own movies?
As days go on, the ghosts in my head will be replaced by daily living concerns. And I’m lucky to be co-authoring a zombie novel called Devil’s Wake with my husband, STEVEN BARNES, that is well underway…so at least I have a new creative home to move into. All I need is a soundtrack.
But the only thing as hard as dreaming a world is leaving that world behind.