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Notes From an End–and Perhaps a Beginning (Or: A Different Sort of Writer’s Block)

photo by MikeBehnken

Apologies in advance if this reads like a downer post. Hopefully it doesn’t. I’m in an In-Between Place right now and not on sure footing, and that’s what this post is about. All right, then. You’ve been warned…

I’ve been here just once before–this place between the end of one book and the start of something new. The first time around was in 2008, when I finished writing what would be my debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, then happily found an agent and publisher, worked through the editorial process, and tada. Unlike the fairly exhilarating process of writing that story, drafting the next book was rife with a deep and tar-like fear of failure connected I’m sure to my two-book deal; I talk a little about that in a recent interview with the generous Lisa Ahn [2]. That’s behind me now. I’ve trudged through the bog in my mind and on my pages to finish a first draft, a second draft, more revisions, then edits, and I’m so, so proud of what will be my second book, The Moon Sisters.

So here I am again. Finished with it, mostly, until publicity kicks in next year. I’ve seen copy edits, followed by first- and second-pass pages, and made my last tweaks. The back-of-the-book description is polished, the cover is nearly ready to be revealed, and the ARCs are slated for production. Finish line. It’s great to finally be here.

For a long time while working through The Moon Sisters I thought I’d never write another book again. That may sound overly dramatic, but I told myself at the time that I wouldn’t have anything more to say. I’m rethinking that now, for a lot of reasons, one of them being my recent health scare. I’m being more honest with myself about a lot of things, including my reluctance to write anything more; in many ways that choice/threat was based on the fear I just described to you. It was also based on a lack of stability in the publishing industry. Case in point, in the five years since I sold The Last Will of Moira Leahy and landed that two-book deal, my imprint at Random House–Shaye Areheart Books–closed; I was shifted to Crown. My original editor left. My second, assigned, editor left. My third, assigned, editor left. I was assigned a fourth editor (who I LOVE, thank the gods). My publisher became Penguin Random House as The Big Six became The Big Five. And I haven’t yet mentioned the more global upheavals–the surge of self-publishing, the battles over book pricing, trials at Barnes and Noble, the holler-scream for authors to do more and more and more of their own publicity and marketing while owning the world of social media and continuing to write The Best Books Ever Because That’s What Will Always Matter Most.

This is a crazed time. Many are confused, unsure if they want to continue or how they want to continue if they do.

So I’m seeing that now for what it is, and I’m standing on this line–this fault line that feels less stable than the San Andreas–and I’m asking myself: Do I write again? I’ve been thinking through terms–rules to abide by if I decide to travel down the rabbit hole a third time. They go something like this:

I can promise all of that, I think. But here’s what I’m stalling on:

Why does a writer write? What motivates us to keep on keeping on?

Sure I have a point of view and would like to be heard, but can’t that be accomplished through a photograph or a drawing or a good conversation over a nice bottle of red?

What I do know is that, if I continue, I need to accept the uncertainty of this industry. Write in spite of it. Write for me, and not because of a promise made or a contract signed or because it’s just what a professional writer does. Those are all the wrong reasons for me to sharpen my pencil.

At this point, I stopped writing this post and thought about deleting it. It wasn’t very positive; in fact it was the most Un-unboxed post I’d ever written. I reached out to my friends on Facebook and asked for fresh ideas for an essay because I felt blocked, and as suggestions trickled in my husband read what I’d already come up with.

It was good, he said, because I was starting a conversation about why we all write. Then he told me why writing is important to him–he of the 8-5 job and evening playwright gig. Writing makes him feel that he’s contributing something, that he’s making meaning. It’s something I identify with on many levels, but it didn’t feel like my perfect slip-it-in-the-lock key to the reason I write.

And this post still felt too negative for WU.

I checked back on Facebook, and noticed that Dave King had suggested a topic for today: “How about writer’s block? I love self-reference.”

It occurred to me then that this whole thing–the entire enchilada–could be seen as a form of writer’s block, even if it’s on a grander scale that what we usually discuss.

I am a writer. I am not writing.

Interesting. I pull out my toolbox.

Typically when I experience writer’s block it indicates that I either (1) made a wrong choice somewhere, (2) have to face something especially challenging or, (3) haven’t a clue what comes next.

Without a stretch, I can make a case for both (2) and especially for (3); I haven’t a clue what comes next.

Here’s another thing I know about writer’s block: We don’t usually understand it completely until we’re past it, until we’ve written.

We write to know.

Maybe I write to know, too. Maybe I write to know myself.

I’ll think about that. And maybe I’ll sharpen a few pencils, just in case; I wouldn’t want to fall down the rabbit hole without one.

Why do you write?

About Therese Walsh [3]

Therese Walsh co-founded WU in 2006 and is the site's editorial director. She was the architect and 1st editor of WU's only book, Author in Progress [4], and orchestrates the WU UnConference. [5] Her second novel, The Moon Sisters [6], was named one of the best books of the year by Library Journal and Book Riot; and her debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy [7] was a Target Breakout Book. Sign up for her newsletter [8] to be among the first to learn about her new projects (or follow her on BookBub [9]). Learn more on her website [10].