Turning Whine into Gold
The waiting was over. My agent called last Tuesday with word about my submission for novel number three: my publisher had passed.
(Read paragraph break as needed time for truth of this to sink in.)
We strategized. Then my agent said, “Okay Kathryn, well, I’d better go get a little rest and then head to the hospital to have my baby.”
Life. Its unpredictability never ceases to amaze.
My agent had hoped to be negotiating my deal on the way into the delivery room. She loved the characters and their story. I had my own reasons for wanting this book deal.
My second novel, The Far End of Happy, was the culmination of a seventeen-year calling to write about my first husband’s suicide, a goal that had led me up a mountain of healing and self-awareness—and completing it felt a bit like stepping off that mountain and into the void. I honestly don’t know who I’ll be beyond this book release, but if I had another book deal, at least I’d still be an employed novelist. With a running leap, maybe I could jump from one mountaintop right to the next and skip the void altogether.
Yet here in the void I now find myself floating, so I look around. It feels familiar. I’ve been here before, right after the suicide, when I had to deal with the horrific black hole my husband’s loss had torn in our lives.
Back then, the void taught me that when you can’t see where you’re going, it’s not a time to be running or leaping anywhere. You must take time to reorient to the new reality, as any heroine would at the start of a new tale.
I begin by accepting my situation and seeking its wisdom. A break could well be a blessing—less stress as I promote for the next few months. But to ensure that the break will be as short as possible, I intend to get back in touch: both with myself and a love of story that extends well beyond the topic of suicide. I could write about anything! What will it be?
Here are some of the strategies I plan to employ:
1. Commune with my bookcase.
Of the books I’ve read: why did I decide to keep them? Of the books I haven’t yet read: what drew me to them? The answers will reconnect me to the type of stories I love and the writing I hope to emulate. I look forward to this.
2. Re-enter the world for a spell.
While writing on contract last year I learned that to finish on time I had to remain driven and sequestered. While out in the world doing all I can to promote the new book, I hope to take a little time to make cogent observations about life that will fuel my writing.
3. Reconnect with friends and family.
While feeling unmoored after my husband’s suicide, I called friends who knew me back when my dreams were forming, and when the characteristics that would shape me were just starting to bloom. One friend said, “Tell me one time when you really wanted to do something in your life and you were unable to achieve it.” That kind of perspective is a lifeline when you are flailing in the waters of self-doubt.
4. Feed simpler passions.
The void itself doesn’t offer up a whole lot of material. I need to rediscover the richness of my own inner landscape, one step at a time. Where did I put that harmonica and learn-to-play book I was gifted a few years ago? With concerted effort I could introduce my next reading with a bit of mouth organ blues. I miss exploring new places on foot, too. So does my body. The fresh air will reinvigorate me inside and out. And where better to people watch?
5. Ramp up my developmental editing.
A practical concern on one hand, as I don’t have an advance on the horizon. Yet a life affirming decision as well: when you aren’t sure where you’re headed, it’s always a great idea to extend to others the experience of which you are confident.
The writing life experiences seasons of change like any other. This year, my creative winter just happened to sync with Mother Nature. There is no need to fear it if you use it. Experience has taught me: when you step out into the void, in faith, some pretty amazing things can happen.
How does the concept of “seasons of change” relate to your writing life, and what have you done to reinvigorate during your creative winters? Please share! Then go tweet congratulations to @AgentShea on the arrival of little Lucas.
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Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she hosts lakeside writing retreats for women in northern New York State, leads workshops, and speaks often about writing.
Kathryn lives with her husband in Bucks County, PA.