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.
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….
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).
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 ….
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 ….
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?
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….