Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Mary: The In Between Time

I have good writing habits. I read a lot. I write almost every day. I set aside good chunks of time to do so. I make manageable writing goals for myself and usually reach them. Yup, I’ve got great discipline! First drafts, revisions—I’m all about butt in chair. Unless, that is, I’m in between projects.

I’ve come to see that there’s a pattern to my in between time. Here’s what happens. Several weeks ago I sent Sara my latest middle grade novel, Boomerang. This time, she gives it the thumbs-up. It’s ready to send out.

Terrific! I breathe a sigh of relief, pat myself on my back for finishing another novel, and cross all fingers and toes.

But now what?

Phase 1.

I go on a house-cleaning rampage. I have my car’s oil changed. I get caught up with all the facebooking, blogging, and twittering world. I clean my office.

I exercise more. I spend more time at the piano. I get my hair cut, buy another pair of black pants. Actually, I’m feeling pretty damn good. Fit, energetic, musical.

I look into classes at Cambridge Adult Ed. Jewelry making, Italian, Intro to Astronomy. Hey, maybe I’ll start a new career. Volunteer. Take a trip. Viet Nam. I’ve always wanted to see Viet Nam.

Time passes. I start to feel dizzy, unbalanced. Creepy crawlies skitter across my skin. What are those spasms in the pit of my stomach? Maybe I’m coming down with something. Maybe I should see a doctor.

No. Maybe I should get another dog. Puppies are so cute! Or a cat. A pair of Maine Coon kitties chasing each other around the kitchen.

Errr, ummm, maybe you should start writing again? a little voice says.

Phase 2.

There must be something in my file cabinet I can resurrect. What about that novel I once wrote about the girl who builds stone walls because her father’s sick. All it needed was a plot. Surely I can insert a plot now. I have an MFA, after all.

What about that poem that wants to be a picture book? Or that picture book that wants to be a chapter book?

Looking back at old projects, some finished, others not, is also part of my in between time. I always find much to admire in these pieces. What beautiful writing! Such talent! What a great premise! What a touching ending! What an unforgettable character! With a little work, I could easily turn these into publishable pieces.

But the truth is, I’m not the person who I was then. Whatever I was working out in that book, story, or poem, I’ve worked out. I have other things on my mind now.

So, Mary, little voice asks, what are you going to work on now?

Phase 3.

Bring on the craft books. Pile ‘em on. Old ones, new ones. From the library, bookstore, my shelves, my friends’ shelves.

Another week passes.

Reading about writing ≠ writing.

I call my writing friends and complain about the fact that I’m not writing. They’re friendly and understanding but they can’t talk long. They’re deep into revisions, doing copyedits, or struggling through the middle of a first draft.

I go out for coffee, lunch, drinks with non-writing friends. I throw a dinner party!

Really, a second dog would be nice. Someone to keep Maisie company.

No, Mary, little voice says.You know what to do. It always works. It’s time. Just do it!

Phase 4.

So here’s what works for me, but only after I go through all that mishugas above: Take out the journal. Put on the timer (I’ve moved from ladybug wind-up to microwave timer to iPhone app). Commit to write 20 minutes for 30 consecutive days. (For me, the 30-consecutive-day commitment is key.) Trust that during this time a new story will emerge.

In my journal I grumble about writing and not writing. I describe the fringe on my rug in intricate detail. I ponder the art of time in fiction. I make a list of words I love. I recall an event from my childhood. Days pass. Trust the process, I tell myself.

And soon a character appears out of nowhere. I interview her. Who are you? What do you want? What’s the problem? A new story idea begins to take shape.

I’m writing again!


  1. Oh, yes, you've nailed it, Mary. Kudos to Boomerang getting out there in the world, and for your fierce dedication to the process.

  2. Oh, the in-between is such a tough time. It takes me awhile to get to Phase 4 too, but like you, once I'm there, the story always emerges.

    Congrats on Boomerang, Mary! (And good luck finding that new story) :)

  3. I could have written this exact post - wow! Even down to the journaling part to help me figure out what I work on next.

    I think the breaks are important. Not long ones. But the writing brain does get tired, and it's good to give it a little rest from time to time. :)

  4. Love it! You are a writer's writer. Congrats on Boomerang. Hope success comes sailing right back to you soon.

  5. I love this! And I so relate. I especially loved your Phase 4. What an excellent way to get back into it again!

  6. Thanks, everyone! Phase 4 brings back the magic...and the house stays clean for a little while.

  7. Yay, Mary, on Boomerang!

    I can so relate to your in-between time. I hadn't realized that my yearning for new puppies was tied to my writing procrastination though. I just thought I wanted more puppies. I seriously can spend hours online looking for them. Now I know: get back to work.

    I'm a sprinter and a rester when it comes to writing. Going from sprinting to resting is easy, but from resting to sprinting is hard. Thanks for sharing your process. It helps a lot!

  8. That's good post.I am searching more several blogs.Thanks for sharing..

  9. Oh my god --- you can't see me but I'm giving you a standing ovation for how hilariously (and tragically) PERFECT that was. Thank you. I now have the strength to go on.

  10. Wow. Thank you. I just wrote a post about writer's block yesterday because I haven't been able to write a lick for nearly two weeks. Thank you. Like Cupcake Murphy said, your beautifully tragic honesty is giving me the strength to just go write something!