This past year, I went welding, fell in love, stuck my toes in the sand, traipsed through Buenos Aires, slow danced in several antique stores, spent lazy afternoons in my favorite places in New York, laughed more than in the last five years combined, and committed to my health in a way that has been affirming and energizing. (Yes, in 2023 I became a meathead. I’m loving it). It was one of the happiest years of my life.
You know what I didn’t do a lot of? Write here in the blog. Or write much anywhere, actually.
It led me to wonder: do I create more when I’m suffering?
The question arose because I’ve started writing a new novel. It’s a departure from what I’ve published, although certainly not from other things I’ve written, and especially not from what I love to read. I would pick this book up from a shelf in a hurry, even if it wasn’t mine. It’s twisty and tortured. It’s about family secrets and how they hurt us even before we uncover them. I love it.
I’m so miserable writing it.
Part of it involves how high I’ve made the stakes for myself. It’s been a few years since I made a book deal, and I’ve never sold an adult book (meaning non-young adult, which this manuscript is). So… what if no one wants it? What then? I was in the desert between my first and second book, unable to sell anything for six years, and I have a distinct feeling of time running out. So I want to hit a home run. Not exactly the headspace of someone who is just having fun creating.
The other point is that it’s a tough book to write. It’s tough emotionally, necessitating me going to deep and difficult memories and thoughts. It’s also tough from a writing perspective, with several intertwining plot threads that all have to fall together just so in ways I don’t quite yet have figured out. I can sort of see it, but sort of not. That’s scary for a control freak like me. It feels like a bigger book than my writing skills can muster at the moment. Which, of course, is exactly the kind of creative stretch I need. But it’s not always fun.
So… should I just keep focusing on my new, happy life and forget this pesky writing? It’s tempting. I have a lot of cool things in the hopper for this year. But, no, of course not. I am not fully digging into the best of me when I’m not writing. I love searching for that metaphor or that unexpected descriptor. I love the satisfaction of an emotion well conveyed. I live for the moments when a character does something unexpected (a treat I got just earlier this week).
I told my new love the plot of this book (as I currently understand it) one cozy night at his place, on his couch. I loved the look on his face when I explained one of the twists I was planning. When he said, “I didn’t see that coming,” I was high off that for days. In my core, I crave an audience, a reader, a sign that the things that matter to me matter to the people who read them, or hear them.
So… am I at my happiest writing? Yes. And no. But it is a part of me, so here I go again. Wish me luck.