R&R: Refill and Recovery

Triskele Susan Sarah here … Jane asked a great question a few weeks ago about how authors fill the creative well after the exhaustive process of finishing a book to deadline (or, um, a little past deadline….). Since I’m building today’s wee blog from her question, she gets an autographed book! I’ll send Jane a copy of a Susan King or Sarah Gabriel book with thanks for the inspiration.

I recently finished a manuscript and sent that to my editor, and I have another manuscript in progress with due dates pending … but that leap from one book straight into another can seem like a pretty wide gap. The creative well needs some refill and recovery first. After submitting a book, there may be only a short time before the work has to start in earnest again – if the editor is as fast and efficient as my Avon editor, that manuscript might come flying back through the door a week or two later with suggestions for revisions or at least a few tweaks. If the editorial process takes more time, the clock starts ticking on the next book in the queue, and all too soon it’s time to do some research or resume actual writing if work has already begun.

But first, a little rest and relaxation, some refilling of the well and author recovery is essential. Writing one book after another can be challenging when deadlines are tight – and flat-out exhausting mentally, emotionally and physically. Without R&R between books, burnout looms. I know — I’m one of those who can burn the candle at both ends and in the middle, too.

Candle_both_ends My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends —
It gives a lovely light.
                                             ~ Edna St. Vincent Millay

There are certain things that always seem to spark the creative urge again, so that I can start thinking and writing at a good pace — and not only that, but feel creative and inspired again. If all goes well (barring complications) – and if resuming work almost immediately is a good idea to stay on track with the deadlines – these methods usually help my overworked creative brain to rest, and help refill the inner well and stir that story soup to simmering once again….

Sheila_exploring  The first thing I have to do is clean house. This Phase I is not only imperative after a book has gone in, but therapeutic too. Either I thrive on Chaos in order to Create – or I’m so busy burning candles at both ends at deadline time that I ignore everything but the very basics of household management…the first explanation sounds better, but the latter is probably more true. Anyway, suffice to say there’s a good bit of housework to be done and laundry to be folded once the book goes in … it’s vastly therapeutic. And when I can see the floor of my office and the top of my desk again, it’s time for Phase II (the photo is of my cousin’s daughter a couple of years ago, busy creating a little chaos herself).

Stack_of_books This second stage in the recovery process is reading – a glorious glut of reading. It involves sitting around doing seemingly nothing … but we all know what important work reading is, especially for writers. I’m catching up on what I’ve wanted to read, what I absolutely need to read, what I’ve promised to read. This can last for a few days or weeks, depending on the available time. And it goes hand in hand with Phase III … which, for me, is catching up on movies and TV. So it’s fun and enjoyable, but it’s also therapeutic … watching movies is visual and auditory, and doesn’t have much to do with the written word. A different part of the brain is engaged, the eyes are not tracking words-words-words for the brain to translate into thoughts and images. And at the same time, films and TV shows fill that story well with character, plot, and other story elements, and as I’m absorbing story structure, I often find ideas starting to percolate. And then it’s on to Phase IV ….

If I can get away from home, I’ll do that next – a vacation isn’t always convenient or affordable, depending on the rest of the family’s schedule, but for Phase IV, I’ll try to escape for a few days and rest up a bit. For me, it’s an optional phase, as I really enjoy being home without a book to write – that’s a little vacation in itself – and after that break, on to the next stage ….

Vigeelebrun22 Phase V is when the urge to be creative in a three-dimensional way comes over me. Writing is two-dimensional and involves so much interior thought — now I crave doing something on a big scale that’s fast and totally different than writing stories, dealing with words. Something with a clear beginning, middle and end where the end is quickly in sight (unlike writing a book….) – a project that needs only a few hours, a day, or a bit longer. This could be gardening, depending on the time of year, or it might be knitting or crochet, or a little painting or drawing. Sometimes I’ll just move furniture around in a few rooms (I love a total room swap, though it drives my family nuts)– I’ll redecorate … and sooner or later, me being me, I’m gonna end up painting a room, wallpapering, or refinishing a piece of furniture. There’s something about that process that really helps balance the whole creative writing process for me. I’m climbing up and down on ladders listening to music, the windows are open, the fans are going, the rest of the family is banished from the vicinity (unless I suddenly need a tall person to do something, which happens pretty often). And at some point, the next story is going to start bubbling up as the paint is being rolled on the walls  …. and then it’s time for Phase VI ….

Waterman Now the stories and characters are starting to simmer and pop in my head again, and I go out and get fresh notebooks, pens, folders, and whatever lovely, addictive stationery items appeal … because I’m ready to start writing again.

There’s endless variation in the phases, and the time frame might be days, weeks, even months if I’m on a good elastic schedule (this rarely happens). And I don’t always get to each phase, though my creative brain seems to like this pattern of recoup and refill. 

This time, it’s been barely two weeks — et voila! the manuscript arrived today for some minor revisions and tweaking. I haven’t hit all the recovery stages but did enough to feel ready to start again … and after the manuscript gets a tweaking, the next book is waiting for some attention ….

I’m sure you all have various ways to rest and recuperate after intense creative work – what works best for you?

Susan Sarah

P.S. The manuscript about to be tweaked is the next Sarah Gabriel: THE HIGHLAND GROOM, the tale of a Lowland lady and a Highland whisky smuggler, an Avon release for January 2009….

45 thoughts on “R&R: Refill and Recovery”

  1. Cool, thoughtful blog today, SK! And since I know how wickedly you burn that candle, I can tell a therapeutic escape is essential. I wish I was so organized! I’m not sure I’ve even figured out when one book ends and the other begins, much less planned a strategy for in between. How many walls got painted this time? “G”

    Reply
  2. Cool, thoughtful blog today, SK! And since I know how wickedly you burn that candle, I can tell a therapeutic escape is essential. I wish I was so organized! I’m not sure I’ve even figured out when one book ends and the other begins, much less planned a strategy for in between. How many walls got painted this time? “G”

    Reply
  3. Cool, thoughtful blog today, SK! And since I know how wickedly you burn that candle, I can tell a therapeutic escape is essential. I wish I was so organized! I’m not sure I’ve even figured out when one book ends and the other begins, much less planned a strategy for in between. How many walls got painted this time? “G”

    Reply
  4. Cool, thoughtful blog today, SK! And since I know how wickedly you burn that candle, I can tell a therapeutic escape is essential. I wish I was so organized! I’m not sure I’ve even figured out when one book ends and the other begins, much less planned a strategy for in between. How many walls got painted this time? “G”

    Reply
  5. Cool, thoughtful blog today, SK! And since I know how wickedly you burn that candle, I can tell a therapeutic escape is essential. I wish I was so organized! I’m not sure I’ve even figured out when one book ends and the other begins, much less planned a strategy for in between. How many walls got painted this time? “G”

    Reply
  6. Your recovery is so much more productive than mine! You end up with beautiful redecorating. I emerge gopher like from the wreckage, look around at all the cleaning and filing that needs to be done, shudder, and decide it’s easier to write another book. 🙂
    But movies are definitely good, too!
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  7. Your recovery is so much more productive than mine! You end up with beautiful redecorating. I emerge gopher like from the wreckage, look around at all the cleaning and filing that needs to be done, shudder, and decide it’s easier to write another book. 🙂
    But movies are definitely good, too!
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  8. Your recovery is so much more productive than mine! You end up with beautiful redecorating. I emerge gopher like from the wreckage, look around at all the cleaning and filing that needs to be done, shudder, and decide it’s easier to write another book. 🙂
    But movies are definitely good, too!
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  9. Your recovery is so much more productive than mine! You end up with beautiful redecorating. I emerge gopher like from the wreckage, look around at all the cleaning and filing that needs to be done, shudder, and decide it’s easier to write another book. 🙂
    But movies are definitely good, too!
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  10. Your recovery is so much more productive than mine! You end up with beautiful redecorating. I emerge gopher like from the wreckage, look around at all the cleaning and filing that needs to be done, shudder, and decide it’s easier to write another book. 🙂
    But movies are definitely good, too!
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  11. Loved this! It sounds like one of those seductive “how-to” articles–so organized in your approach. Let’s see . . . today I am on Stage 1 with a little Stage 2 . . . Next week I’ll be on Stage 1 with some more Stage 1 thrown in and some Stage 2 lying by my bedside table . . . In 2010 I foresee Stage 1 . . .

    Reply
  12. Loved this! It sounds like one of those seductive “how-to” articles–so organized in your approach. Let’s see . . . today I am on Stage 1 with a little Stage 2 . . . Next week I’ll be on Stage 1 with some more Stage 1 thrown in and some Stage 2 lying by my bedside table . . . In 2010 I foresee Stage 1 . . .

    Reply
  13. Loved this! It sounds like one of those seductive “how-to” articles–so organized in your approach. Let’s see . . . today I am on Stage 1 with a little Stage 2 . . . Next week I’ll be on Stage 1 with some more Stage 1 thrown in and some Stage 2 lying by my bedside table . . . In 2010 I foresee Stage 1 . . .

    Reply
  14. Loved this! It sounds like one of those seductive “how-to” articles–so organized in your approach. Let’s see . . . today I am on Stage 1 with a little Stage 2 . . . Next week I’ll be on Stage 1 with some more Stage 1 thrown in and some Stage 2 lying by my bedside table . . . In 2010 I foresee Stage 1 . . .

    Reply
  15. Loved this! It sounds like one of those seductive “how-to” articles–so organized in your approach. Let’s see . . . today I am on Stage 1 with a little Stage 2 . . . Next week I’ll be on Stage 1 with some more Stage 1 thrown in and some Stage 2 lying by my bedside table . . . In 2010 I foresee Stage 1 . . .

    Reply
  16. Keri, I could be nominated for the least organized person on the planet, so this comes not from planning the stages, but more from observation over the years — what I tend to do, what helps me get back to feeling productively creative again.
    Tal, the social thing is just a given — with three strappin’ sons in and out, there’s always the stomp of feet and deep male voices (and their girlfriend’s voices) around my house — and of course I get in touch with friends and pay more attention to family after the books have gone in. I’ve blitzed through the final chapters of more than one book with family in high gear — three kids with strep throat, and me up for several nights doing the work that couldn’t be done during the day comes to mind; and just last year, college kids brewing beer in my kitchen while I sat upstairs finishing an Avon … so the urge is sometimes to get *away* from social occasions! *g*
    Pat, you’re so right, I can burn that candle pretty wickedly, down to globs of wax all over my keyboard … so some amount of recovery time is always needed….
    Susan

    Reply
  17. Keri, I could be nominated for the least organized person on the planet, so this comes not from planning the stages, but more from observation over the years — what I tend to do, what helps me get back to feeling productively creative again.
    Tal, the social thing is just a given — with three strappin’ sons in and out, there’s always the stomp of feet and deep male voices (and their girlfriend’s voices) around my house — and of course I get in touch with friends and pay more attention to family after the books have gone in. I’ve blitzed through the final chapters of more than one book with family in high gear — three kids with strep throat, and me up for several nights doing the work that couldn’t be done during the day comes to mind; and just last year, college kids brewing beer in my kitchen while I sat upstairs finishing an Avon … so the urge is sometimes to get *away* from social occasions! *g*
    Pat, you’re so right, I can burn that candle pretty wickedly, down to globs of wax all over my keyboard … so some amount of recovery time is always needed….
    Susan

    Reply
  18. Keri, I could be nominated for the least organized person on the planet, so this comes not from planning the stages, but more from observation over the years — what I tend to do, what helps me get back to feeling productively creative again.
    Tal, the social thing is just a given — with three strappin’ sons in and out, there’s always the stomp of feet and deep male voices (and their girlfriend’s voices) around my house — and of course I get in touch with friends and pay more attention to family after the books have gone in. I’ve blitzed through the final chapters of more than one book with family in high gear — three kids with strep throat, and me up for several nights doing the work that couldn’t be done during the day comes to mind; and just last year, college kids brewing beer in my kitchen while I sat upstairs finishing an Avon … so the urge is sometimes to get *away* from social occasions! *g*
    Pat, you’re so right, I can burn that candle pretty wickedly, down to globs of wax all over my keyboard … so some amount of recovery time is always needed….
    Susan

    Reply
  19. Keri, I could be nominated for the least organized person on the planet, so this comes not from planning the stages, but more from observation over the years — what I tend to do, what helps me get back to feeling productively creative again.
    Tal, the social thing is just a given — with three strappin’ sons in and out, there’s always the stomp of feet and deep male voices (and their girlfriend’s voices) around my house — and of course I get in touch with friends and pay more attention to family after the books have gone in. I’ve blitzed through the final chapters of more than one book with family in high gear — three kids with strep throat, and me up for several nights doing the work that couldn’t be done during the day comes to mind; and just last year, college kids brewing beer in my kitchen while I sat upstairs finishing an Avon … so the urge is sometimes to get *away* from social occasions! *g*
    Pat, you’re so right, I can burn that candle pretty wickedly, down to globs of wax all over my keyboard … so some amount of recovery time is always needed….
    Susan

    Reply
  20. Keri, I could be nominated for the least organized person on the planet, so this comes not from planning the stages, but more from observation over the years — what I tend to do, what helps me get back to feeling productively creative again.
    Tal, the social thing is just a given — with three strappin’ sons in and out, there’s always the stomp of feet and deep male voices (and their girlfriend’s voices) around my house — and of course I get in touch with friends and pay more attention to family after the books have gone in. I’ve blitzed through the final chapters of more than one book with family in high gear — three kids with strep throat, and me up for several nights doing the work that couldn’t be done during the day comes to mind; and just last year, college kids brewing beer in my kitchen while I sat upstairs finishing an Avon … so the urge is sometimes to get *away* from social occasions! *g*
    Pat, you’re so right, I can burn that candle pretty wickedly, down to globs of wax all over my keyboard … so some amount of recovery time is always needed….
    Susan

    Reply
  21. I recently finished my second novel and had a character from that one yammering to have his story told so immediately began my third, with him as my focal point. Well, I got to chapter 7 and he has shut up! grrrrr With my family underfoot all the time and the constant interruptions from crew and pets, I think he has decided to take a vacation and left me hanging! I’d get in the car and drive somewhere alone for some peace and quiet until I ran out of gas or money, but with today’s prices, I don’t think I’d get more than a mile or two.
    That said, I’ve been trying very hard to take a few minutes for me here and there and in return, my main character rewards me with two or three more sentences. At this rate, I should be done in oh…three or four years?
    Maybe I’ll try following your schedule for R & R next time and see if that doesn’t help to revitalize my little grey cells…
    Thanks for this great blog!
    nm

    Reply
  22. I recently finished my second novel and had a character from that one yammering to have his story told so immediately began my third, with him as my focal point. Well, I got to chapter 7 and he has shut up! grrrrr With my family underfoot all the time and the constant interruptions from crew and pets, I think he has decided to take a vacation and left me hanging! I’d get in the car and drive somewhere alone for some peace and quiet until I ran out of gas or money, but with today’s prices, I don’t think I’d get more than a mile or two.
    That said, I’ve been trying very hard to take a few minutes for me here and there and in return, my main character rewards me with two or three more sentences. At this rate, I should be done in oh…three or four years?
    Maybe I’ll try following your schedule for R & R next time and see if that doesn’t help to revitalize my little grey cells…
    Thanks for this great blog!
    nm

    Reply
  23. I recently finished my second novel and had a character from that one yammering to have his story told so immediately began my third, with him as my focal point. Well, I got to chapter 7 and he has shut up! grrrrr With my family underfoot all the time and the constant interruptions from crew and pets, I think he has decided to take a vacation and left me hanging! I’d get in the car and drive somewhere alone for some peace and quiet until I ran out of gas or money, but with today’s prices, I don’t think I’d get more than a mile or two.
    That said, I’ve been trying very hard to take a few minutes for me here and there and in return, my main character rewards me with two or three more sentences. At this rate, I should be done in oh…three or four years?
    Maybe I’ll try following your schedule for R & R next time and see if that doesn’t help to revitalize my little grey cells…
    Thanks for this great blog!
    nm

    Reply
  24. I recently finished my second novel and had a character from that one yammering to have his story told so immediately began my third, with him as my focal point. Well, I got to chapter 7 and he has shut up! grrrrr With my family underfoot all the time and the constant interruptions from crew and pets, I think he has decided to take a vacation and left me hanging! I’d get in the car and drive somewhere alone for some peace and quiet until I ran out of gas or money, but with today’s prices, I don’t think I’d get more than a mile or two.
    That said, I’ve been trying very hard to take a few minutes for me here and there and in return, my main character rewards me with two or three more sentences. At this rate, I should be done in oh…three or four years?
    Maybe I’ll try following your schedule for R & R next time and see if that doesn’t help to revitalize my little grey cells…
    Thanks for this great blog!
    nm

    Reply
  25. I recently finished my second novel and had a character from that one yammering to have his story told so immediately began my third, with him as my focal point. Well, I got to chapter 7 and he has shut up! grrrrr With my family underfoot all the time and the constant interruptions from crew and pets, I think he has decided to take a vacation and left me hanging! I’d get in the car and drive somewhere alone for some peace and quiet until I ran out of gas or money, but with today’s prices, I don’t think I’d get more than a mile or two.
    That said, I’ve been trying very hard to take a few minutes for me here and there and in return, my main character rewards me with two or three more sentences. At this rate, I should be done in oh…three or four years?
    Maybe I’ll try following your schedule for R & R next time and see if that doesn’t help to revitalize my little grey cells…
    Thanks for this great blog!
    nm

    Reply
  26. I have a similar process of recovery between semesters. There is always such a big push for getting everything graded and posted at the end. I’m lying awake these nights ticking off my list of what must be done tomorrow and what could wait until the next day. (I should be working now but I’m not!) The first thing I do is sleep until I feel rested. Sometimes that takes 2-3 days. Once I am rested enough to look around, I find yard and house work that has been left neglected and get that done. Then I start going to lots of movies and reading my TBR stack to catch up on those yummy stories I have been longing to experience. There may be only 2 weeks between semesters so then I have to settle in and get readings and lectures updated for the next semester. And we’re off to the races again.

    Reply
  27. I have a similar process of recovery between semesters. There is always such a big push for getting everything graded and posted at the end. I’m lying awake these nights ticking off my list of what must be done tomorrow and what could wait until the next day. (I should be working now but I’m not!) The first thing I do is sleep until I feel rested. Sometimes that takes 2-3 days. Once I am rested enough to look around, I find yard and house work that has been left neglected and get that done. Then I start going to lots of movies and reading my TBR stack to catch up on those yummy stories I have been longing to experience. There may be only 2 weeks between semesters so then I have to settle in and get readings and lectures updated for the next semester. And we’re off to the races again.

    Reply
  28. I have a similar process of recovery between semesters. There is always such a big push for getting everything graded and posted at the end. I’m lying awake these nights ticking off my list of what must be done tomorrow and what could wait until the next day. (I should be working now but I’m not!) The first thing I do is sleep until I feel rested. Sometimes that takes 2-3 days. Once I am rested enough to look around, I find yard and house work that has been left neglected and get that done. Then I start going to lots of movies and reading my TBR stack to catch up on those yummy stories I have been longing to experience. There may be only 2 weeks between semesters so then I have to settle in and get readings and lectures updated for the next semester. And we’re off to the races again.

    Reply
  29. I have a similar process of recovery between semesters. There is always such a big push for getting everything graded and posted at the end. I’m lying awake these nights ticking off my list of what must be done tomorrow and what could wait until the next day. (I should be working now but I’m not!) The first thing I do is sleep until I feel rested. Sometimes that takes 2-3 days. Once I am rested enough to look around, I find yard and house work that has been left neglected and get that done. Then I start going to lots of movies and reading my TBR stack to catch up on those yummy stories I have been longing to experience. There may be only 2 weeks between semesters so then I have to settle in and get readings and lectures updated for the next semester. And we’re off to the races again.

    Reply
  30. I have a similar process of recovery between semesters. There is always such a big push for getting everything graded and posted at the end. I’m lying awake these nights ticking off my list of what must be done tomorrow and what could wait until the next day. (I should be working now but I’m not!) The first thing I do is sleep until I feel rested. Sometimes that takes 2-3 days. Once I am rested enough to look around, I find yard and house work that has been left neglected and get that done. Then I start going to lots of movies and reading my TBR stack to catch up on those yummy stories I have been longing to experience. There may be only 2 weeks between semesters so then I have to settle in and get readings and lectures updated for the next semester. And we’re off to the races again.

    Reply
  31. WoW! This is exactly what I was after when I asked that question.
    Lovely, thoughtful blog…
    I am a candle-burner too, and that dry well-bottom can be awfully hard if it catches me by surprise.
    And my daughter made a crack yesterday that Dad’s a better listener because Mom’s at her keyboard and can’t be bothered. Oops.
    Here’s to a rejuvenating quick turn-around! And I love the room swap idea.

    Reply
  32. WoW! This is exactly what I was after when I asked that question.
    Lovely, thoughtful blog…
    I am a candle-burner too, and that dry well-bottom can be awfully hard if it catches me by surprise.
    And my daughter made a crack yesterday that Dad’s a better listener because Mom’s at her keyboard and can’t be bothered. Oops.
    Here’s to a rejuvenating quick turn-around! And I love the room swap idea.

    Reply
  33. WoW! This is exactly what I was after when I asked that question.
    Lovely, thoughtful blog…
    I am a candle-burner too, and that dry well-bottom can be awfully hard if it catches me by surprise.
    And my daughter made a crack yesterday that Dad’s a better listener because Mom’s at her keyboard and can’t be bothered. Oops.
    Here’s to a rejuvenating quick turn-around! And I love the room swap idea.

    Reply
  34. WoW! This is exactly what I was after when I asked that question.
    Lovely, thoughtful blog…
    I am a candle-burner too, and that dry well-bottom can be awfully hard if it catches me by surprise.
    And my daughter made a crack yesterday that Dad’s a better listener because Mom’s at her keyboard and can’t be bothered. Oops.
    Here’s to a rejuvenating quick turn-around! And I love the room swap idea.

    Reply
  35. WoW! This is exactly what I was after when I asked that question.
    Lovely, thoughtful blog…
    I am a candle-burner too, and that dry well-bottom can be awfully hard if it catches me by surprise.
    And my daughter made a crack yesterday that Dad’s a better listener because Mom’s at her keyboard and can’t be bothered. Oops.
    Here’s to a rejuvenating quick turn-around! And I love the room swap idea.

    Reply

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