Thursday, December 31, 2009

Novel Teas and High Aspirations

When last I blogged, which I realize guiltily was about a month ago, I was waiting on the notes for my novel.

Still waiting. Which is really no big deal, in the larger scheme of things. I want my editor to take her time and be thorough. (I am trying to repeat this, as many times as necessary, until I relax.)

This lapse in writing has given me time to stew on my story and get a bit of headway into Book 2. Everyone, including my agent, my parents, my husband, and my readers for Book 1 (they simply just want to know what happens next) wants me to work on Book 2. According to my contract, the synopsis and first five chapters of Book 2 are due March 1. This alarms me. Not because I don't think I'm capable of writing so much new stuff in so little time (that I know I can do-- heck, the synopsis is already mostly done and I've written some good preliminary stuff) but because I don't feel like I'm in the proper mental condition to begin writing hardcore on the next part of my story. I'm in this terrible state of limbo, where I don't know if I'm going to have to make major changes to Book 1 or smaller ones. So as I dip my toe into the pool of Book 2, which is warm and inviting but will still take several months of hard laps to complete, I hesitate. My mind wanders back to Book 1. I think of scenes. I think of little changes I want to make. I wonder if F will want more of this character or that backstory, if she'll want me to cut 25,000 words or add 25,000. Either way, I would be excited, really. I swear. I try to imagine reading it as F does, and then my entire novel gapes open with the sheer possibility of all that it could be. And Book 2 fades from the forefront of my mind. I'm still treading water in Book 1.

Still, I tell myself, I should work on Book 2. I can't afford to waste time complaining about silly writerly things like limbo and burn my creative energy coming up with clever metaphors that describe my current situation. I need to WRITE. I'm getting mentally flabby.

When I first became a "serious" writer, I made myself get a ritual. When I was going to write, I retreated into my bedroom, where my computer desk was settled in front of a large window. I often slanted the blinds to block out the sight of the rabble of kids who were always hanging around the tennis courts below, and gazed up into th perfect blue sky. I made one cup of tea, Earl Grey, decaf, with milk and sugar, which I brewed in a special tea pot and drank from a special tea cup. In silence, I donned a long black sweater coat, sipped the last dredges of my tea, and began to write. I thought that if I dressed writing up in as much ceremony as possible, it would be easier. And, to some extent, it was. The ritual made me take myself seriously.

This Christmas, my dear friend Wendy sent me a package. It was tea, NOVEL TEAS, to be precise--tea bags with literary tags like "She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain" by Lousia May Alcott. At one point in my life, I would have squealed in delight at this incredibly sweet gift. Now, when I opened the package, I smiled at how thoughtful Wendy was to think of me, her "accomplished writer friend" as she put it, and I plan to thoroughly enjoy the tea, but it occurred to me that I haven't had a cup of tea in ages. When I wrote this novel, I always had to hurry and write before my son woke up from his nap. I had to get the words down before I had to see to dinner or the next mountain of laundry or stack of papers. I wrote in my office, at the kitchen table, in the classroom when my students were working on their own writing, I wrote with a voice recorder dangling from my rearview mirror on the perilous canyon road to and from Malibu, I wrote in a notebook on the shore of Jackson Lake, I wrote everywhere I could find space and time. I had no more time for ritual.

Funny how we change without noticing.

And now I tell myself: WRITE. My single New Year's aspiration: Write every day, shooting for the good ol' thousand words, until I get the notes and finish Book 1 and then finish Book 2.

There's a very cool story waiting to be told.

I think I'll have a cup of Novel Tea.

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