Saturday, February 9, 2013

How to make words

I finished a book last week. Finished writing the scenes and making all the changes and finding the proper quotes for the epigraphs on Friday, and then spent the weekend hunched like a gargoyle over my computer typing everything up so I could send the file to my agent and betas. Even a week out, I don't hate it, don't want to scrub the file from everyone's computer and light the manuscript pages on fire, which is pretty much a victory. And early feedback gives me hope that I did what I wanted to do with the writing.

The thing about writing a book, at least if you're me, is that the story takes up a lot of space in your head. (My head. Let's see if I can switch to first person here. That may not actually happen - during a phone call with my agent this week, there was a point where I said, "Look, I can't make words.") The story took up a lot of space in my head. For about the last six weeks of writing, I couldn't work on any other new fiction, couldn't even think about new stories.

When I finished writing, my head felt empty. I couldn't make words.

Whenever I finish a project, I always have a certain amount of fear that I'm really done. Not just done with that story, but all the way done. Like maybe we are all allocated a certain amount of stories, and I've just used all of mine up. Usually, I work on multiple projects at once, and a side benefit of that is that I have something in progress when I've finished something else, and so that keeps the voice that says "okay, you're finished" from getting louder than a whisper.

I get uncomfortable when I'm not working. I don't necessarily mean when I'm not actively writing, but I like having stories in the back of my head. 

There are seventeen books stacked next to my desk right now, research that I did for the book I just finished. And these are just the seventeen that got used a lot. I could probably pull that many again off the shelves in my apartment. I had barely been putting anything else into my head. It's no wonder that when I finished writing, there was nothing else in there to come out.

So I'm trying to rebuild the part of my brain that writes stories. I am reading poetry, and complicated prose, so I can remember how to write a world into being. I am reading nonfiction - on music, and on cities, and on creation - so I find the small bits of strangeness and spaces between that are the beginnings of stories. I am looking at photography and listening to music so that I can pick the art apart in my head, and put it back together on the page.

I am remembering how to make words.


  1. I reckon we don't ever forget how to make words. It's like any intense endeavour. We must allow ourselves time to be empty once it's done, like when farmers allow their fields to lie fallow for a season before they plant the next crop. When Spring comes around the field is ready for things to grow. Even if the farmer deliberately doesn't plant anything, things will grow.

  2. Totally.

    After I finished the last draft of GIRL I didn't write anything for a month. I just read stuff I wanted to read and watched stuff I wanted to watch, and drew pictures and colored them in.

    But now I've started writing again. The words come back. They peer in through the fence and amble up to the front door and let themselves in. ;)

  3. One who makes words is a wordsmith?