I have just come off one of the most amazing months of my entire life. April involved traveling nearly the entire month, including a two week book tour,
teaching workshops and giving a keynote at a regional SCBWI conference, and attending the librarian paradise that is the Texas Library Association’s annual convention. It also involved one of my books being nominated for a RITA award, and another of my books even landed (briefly!) on the NYT list.
I have met hundreds of enthusiastic readers and librarians and booksellers and students and teachers, and my life has been enriched beyond measure by these connections.
The one thing I have not done is write a single word in over six weeks.
I know that some writers write on the road, but I am not hardwired that way. Being an extreme introvert means that as much as I adore meeting and connecting with all those lovely people, I also need recharging time. My brain is not able to produce words when it hits that level of exhaustion every day. Schlepping through airports does not feed my muse. Honestly, the idea of writing while I’m on the road feels like being asked to sing an aria while surfing an avalanche of rocks downhill.
Or maybe it’s simply my ADD kicking in and with so much stimulation on so many fronts (New city! New hotel room! New bookstore! Different high school!) my brain simply can’t get quiet enough.
But I’ve been home now for over a week and am finding it incredibly difficult to turn off the connecting/publishing/sales metrics part of my brain and find my way back into the book.
Not to mention there are hundreds of email awaiting my reply, and statuses to update on Facebook and readers to connect with on Twitter.
And while my work IS about connecting with readers—it’s about connecting through my fiction first. If I don’t write anything, I will have little to connect with them about since most of them don’t follow me simply to hear me share silly anecdotes about daily life.
All this connectivity can end up sucking all the creative oxygen out of my brain and starving my muse.
Or distracting her.
Or focus on external metrics that don’t feed her.
The truth is, when I’m connecting with the real world in big chunks, I find it much, much harder to connect with my work. I need to disconnect with one in order to be present in the other. It’s like I only came equipped with a one way flow valve.
Believe me when I say that I envy those people who can work on their story for twenty minutes, take a short twitter break, then dive back in. But my brain doesn’t seem to be wired that way. It can’t settle into my work, it remains poised, waiting for that next little ping that will let me know that I’ve received a message or email or have been Tweeted at. And yes, of course I know I can silence my phone, get off the internet, and turn on Freedom for my computer. But my brain knows that all those little distractions are merely one off switch away. It’s become addicted to that mental rush of, Oh, maybe that’s another piece of cool news.
I have never suffered real addiction, but I imagine this is an echo of what that greater struggle would be like—this constant pull tugging at my mind.
In fact, I think that might be the downside to all this amazing hoopla—it is oh-so-easy for our writerly egos to get attached to it.
I am also now much more aware of all those people out there who’ve read my work. It is no longer an abstract exercise, but very real. I’ve met these readers, shaken their hand, stared into their eyes, and suddenly writing my books feels far too much like standing in front of a room of hundreds, giving a keynote speech.
There are too many readers in my head. I don’t know if it’s because my own voice so easily absorbs other influences or because I am so hyper aware of wanting to/not being able to please everyone, but I can’t write with all these (imaginary!) people watching me. I need to clear the room. Send them all out on a coffee break, or better yet, close the door for a while.
But that’s also scary, especially in the modern publishing climate where our platforms and social connections are supposed to be the very thing that allow us to successfully publish.
I need to turn those voices off, as well.
The thing is, for the majority of my writerly career I have been focused on metrics. I could talk agents and houses and imprints, remembering which person was interested in what sort of book, as well as what the various advance ranges and royalty percentages were for each publisher. I could discuss print runs and sell-throughs and bestseller lists. And I knew precisely where my books fell on those spectrums.
But a few years ago I found that was diminishing the passion and love I felt for my work. It was robbing me of the one thing on this earth that I love to do more than just about anything else.
So I gave it up. I wasn’t able to go cold turkey, but I slowly weaned myself from the publishing metrics, stopped constantly assessing (and obsessing) over where my career was and tossed all those five year plans in the trash.
The thing is, I learned how to balance it, for the most part. I’ve done it successfully for quite a while. What I didn’t anticipate was how stepping back into that externally focused industry place would reverberate through my brain, even once I was home and ready to return to my work.
To my dismay, I’ve learned that I like starred reviews.
I like hitting the bestseller list (even if only briefly!)
I love hearing readers tweet or blog about how much they love the books.
But it is also like living in the writerly equivalent of Pinnochio’s Pleasure Island, and an easy, seductive attraction when compared to the hard work of rolling up one’s sleeves and buckling down to write the next book.
But now, like some pregnant animal anxious to give birth, I can feel the need for solitude, for voluntary isolation, pressing down on me. So once again, I will need to find a way to claw my way back to my creative center.
It will probably involve even slower email response times, fewer Facebook status updates, and significantly less time chatting with readers on Twitter. I will try to shift all of my connecting activities to the afternoon or evenings—not only when my writing is done, but also after I have given myself great big chunks of full immersion time. Time for my mind to wander down side paths and detours, to stop and woolgather along the way, because that is how creativity—or at least my creativity—works.
It doesn’t help matters at all that the current book is kicking my ass. Or maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s just all these new pressures are preventing me from approaching the work in the right way.
I won’t know until I find a way to shut the door.