Last Tuesday, my book entered the beta stage. I sent it out to half a dozen trusted readers to see what they think. This has come after a first draft (which produced an unreadable, poorly-paced, plot maze) and a second draft (confusing, better paced, and plotted), and a third, clean-up draft (as good as I could make it by myself; finally able to show it to others without crippling humiliation). I’ve asked my readers to go through the novel over the next month, and then they can give me feedback in exchange for beer.
What this means, of course, is that I’m not actively writing a novel right now. Since it’s been a week, I’ve properly let myself decompress (decompose?) after a push toward the finish, but I’m now feeling that void: I have nothing to do first thing in the morning, and there’s only so much sports news in the middle of the summer.
I have fully imbibed the writer’s adage: “I must write. It is my purpose. It is what I can give to the world.” (We do this, of course, to trick ourselves into actually writing.) The problem is that, for the next month, I have no purpose.
It seems my options, then are: a) spend the next month drinking and growing my beard as long as possible, plus wearing sweatpants in the middle of the day, or b) find a new way forward–fulfilling my purpose without working on my novel.
If I choose b, however, the problem is compounded by the fact that after the draft of a novel, it’s like I’ve finished a marathon: I’m tired, spent, and need a break to let the paralyzing soreness subside.
So, like a marathon runner, how do I hit the pavement again in a way the brings energy and sustenance, rather than beginning another long race without a break? For this month, here are my top three. Why three? One wasn’t quite enough (although I’ll boil it all down to one in the end), and any more than three really won’t happen. I won’t do all four or five.
1. Write outside my genre. After working a long time on a literary novel, I think a little cross-training is appropriate. I could go the short story route, but novel to short story doesn’t seem to be enough of a genre-buster, despite the differences in the forms. Instead, I’m going to start a screenplay that’s been bouncing around in my head for a while. I may never finish it, but I’m really excited to tackle the dialogue and conflict that’s necessary in a screenplay. In this last novel, I worked hard to break it into beats and scenes, searching for the conflict between characters at each moment. A screenplay will demand that I get stronger at this, and look more deeply at story structure. Plus, I’m always hoping to grow with dialogue–especially how it can raise conflict without always devolving into a shouting match.
Poetry, too, is a favorite of mine. I love writing poetry. But I don’t think it’s what I need right now. That is, I don’t need to work on rhythm and the attractiveness of my prose as much as I need to work on making things happen.
2. Take notes. I’m not a strict note-taker by nature, though I’ve come to realize that I don’t hold on to ideas unless I write them down. But this is simpler. Throughout the month, I’m going to spend some time each day taking notes: notes on what I see and felt and heard during a walk, notes on how I felt at a party, notes on how the evening sun shines through my daughter’s hair. I’ll note story ideas, should any come (and they usually do if I pay attention to them). I’ll record some dialogue (see no. 1 above). It’s a chance to refocus–and perhaps begin a new practice that aids in my writing.
3. Reach out. It’s not uncommon for me to think how I ought to call/text/email someone, and maybe even put this person’s name on my daily “To do” list, only to fail at reaching out. But writing is a lonely, lonely hobby, and my writer friends, I’m sure, would appreciate a note as much as I would appreciate one from them. Beyond my beta readers, it’s always helpful to talk with others struggling through their work, to offer encouragement and find some of my own. Especially as I take a break, it’s like I’m at the raft before treading water for another hour: my friends are out there in the water. I may as well encourage them before going back out, too.
All of this, of course, adds up to the idea of refilling my well. This is the mindset I need after a novel. Not stop and rest, but refill. Rest, too often, degrades into the aforementioned sweatpants. But refilling it a conscious effort. It’s doing new things to ensure I’m fresh for the next revision. It’s also celebrating what I’ve accomplished.
As a sports fan, I think of this whenever a team cuts down the nets, wins the Super Bowl, and confetti comes flying down. It’s a real moment of accomplishment, of stopping. They go to Disney World and talk shows; they rest. And, for a month or two, they refill their wells before beginning the process again.
We need more confetti parties for finished novels (though it would be a quiet, depressing party). Absent that, we need to make it a practice to refill our wells after the championship game: to rest, to do things that energize and prepare you for the next push.