“Note to self: Don’t die.” – Ryan Adams
I deserted my novel for a month; abandoned it like a half-baked casserole in the sun. Okay, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic, but it sure felt that way after days of beating myself in the brain trying to keep pushing forward. I left my WIP in the middle of a half-rewrite apocalypse, with pieces gutted and strung out like entrails after a hastily departed operation. Essentially, I had taken a big look at all the work that needed to be done, and the enormity of it swallowed up all the energy I had left. Honestly, I lost track of how many days I left it, because I was afraid the more days it gathered dust, the harder it was going to be to return to it.
In the time I put my book away and hit the road, I did a lot of living. Sometimes, writers forget that some of our best material is actually gleaned from–who would’ve thought!–real life. I went to three and a half concerts in two different states and had a lot of adventures along the way, and then I took an extended vacation to California and saw a little bit of the West. It was a whirlwind of sleeplessness, hastily-scrawled journals, frequent interactions with new people, not to mention an adrenaline rush of different and fresh experiences. I got to see rare Mexican wolves with intense proximity, for instance, and fell in love with surfing. (Not that I learned the actual act of surfing. God, no. I can’t even stand up straight on dry land. I’m a born observer of more athletic individuals.) I finally finished the book I’d been reading, U2: At the End of the World, learned how to play pinball, and chowed down on some amazing fish tacos. And I saw Eddie Vedder live for the first time, in what was one of the best concerts I’d ever attended. All in all, the best month (or so) I’ve had all year.
During my concert-blitzed week, I kept a separate journal of all my experiences, something I will treasure later. I nearly finished writing about the shows before I left for California, but ultimately failed and will have to fill in the gaps later. This will be the material I will use for an idea I’ve been kicking around for my next book. It seems insane to become excited about a new project when I haven’t even finished the one I’m working on now, but it’s such an interesting idea to me, I can’t really tuck it away. For the time being, I will continue researching like a mofo, as I have been over the past few months, sucking up every detail I can about my topic that could give me layers of insight later when I may actually sit down and begin writing it.
When I came home, I was apprehensive about cracking open that now-cold and half-baked novel, afraid that I might’ve forgotten the important threads I meant to reconnect; afraid that same old fear I’d magically forgotten how to write at all during my month-long hiatus. But the opposite happened.
I’d been clueless on how to finish the second chapter of my book and had left it as one of the glaring holes to fill in later. It was a foundational chapter integral to the rest of the story, but I just couldn’t come up with a clever way to tie it up. But the first time I picked up my novel after my trip and sat down to begin writing, I finished that chapter. It was as if the blockage in my head had been released, and my ideas were flowing cleanly once again. I looked at the rest of those scattered entrails, and their rightful place no longer seemed so intimidating; some of them, I now knew, could be cut without sacrificing what I loved about my story, and others could be moved around to preserve my plot arc. It was all coming together anew, and just because I’d given myself the time to look away from it and see what was really important in life…