There’s nothing quite as satisfying as sitting down with your manuscript after having been away for an unconscionably long time. I spent the holidays recuperating from several frantic weeks of researching and rough-drafting the first half of my new book: 60,000 words across eight weeks, the last couple hundred literally only minutes before school broke up for Christmas.
And then I forced myself to let it go. Not to think about the love story as I was walking the neighbourhood and dropping off last-minute Christmas cards, not to ponder better, more subtle ways to kill my villain while baking Christmas cookies with my youngest, not to mull endlessly over what might make things even more difficult for my heroine or how exactly her eyebrows might look when she frowns. As the usual holiday bustle unfolded, I resolved to let plot and characters germinate for exactly eighteen and a half days.
It was hard. It was very hard. And it took several guilt-ridden days to relax into, but in the end it turned out to be glorious. I usually have a mental to-do-list a mile long, organised by chunks of time for ‘things to think about’. How many ways are there to lose your footing atop a cliff, gusts of wind, picking flowers, rescuing a dog? Five minutes waiting for the bus. Why would the heroine rescue a dog and whose could it be? Ten minutes at the supermarket check-out. And can she technically even be up on that cliff and back again before anyone notices? Stuck in traffic for half an hour. The hours of early morning insomnia have seen whole dialogues and entire love scenes blossom into existence and I have yet to sit on a train without dissecting people’s facial characteristics or speech tics just so I could pick that favourite set of eyebrows and watch how exactly it looks when the person frowns. I always, always have that secret mental film running through my head, which is wonderfully buzzy and keeps things interesting and sometimes makes me laugh out loud cycling to the shops. But the relentlessness of all the things demanding to be thought about is also restless and often exhausting.
So deliberately forbidding yourself that mental film, letting go of anything and everything to do with The Book, brings you back to ordinary things and to quiet, watching people’s faces just for the heck of it or not at all, and early morning insomnia can be spent reading your ‘to be read’ pile instead. And that strange beast that is a first draft, so elusive and rough and all too soon swallowed up entirely by the more public and presentable Draft 2, needs a break just as much as you do before you swap your author’s hat for that of an editor’s and come back to it to do battle.
And I’m glad to be back. Sitting in the library, listening to pages being turned and paper rustling and people tapping away diligently, I’ve opened my computer and turned off my phone, I’ve switched my mental film back on and am battle-ready for 2017.