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Writing in the Lacuna

image by Les Haines
image by Les Haines

I must admit I had no idea what the word “lacuna” meant until Barbara Kingsolver released a novel by that name in 2010. Since then, I’ve found plenty of occasion to use it. The dictionary definition of lacuna is “an unfilled space or interval; a gap.”

The writing process is full of lacunas. (Lacunae?)

I find myself in the lacuna most often when I’m waiting for feedback on a project. Once I’ve finished a complete draft of a new novel and sent it off to my agent or my editor, I might have a wait of months until it comes back. Working on the book itself while that kind of feedback is pending isn’t a great idea; I might spend hours polishing scenes that later need to be deleted, or get deeply attached to sentences that have no place in the book. And I must admit, by that point in the process, I’m not even that tempted to work on something I’ve been hammering away at daily. I need time away from it so that I can come back with fresh eyes later on.

So what do you do in the lacuna? Besides remind your family what you look like and possibly re-organize your garage? How do you keep writing when you shouldn’t be writing the book you’re currently writing? Here are three ways.

Start the next book. Yep, this is the easiest answer, right? Even if you’re not ready to jump into full prose, this is a great time for brainstorming, character development, research, and all that other good stuff. The temptation for cheating on your current project with your next project is always great. Books that aren’t written generally feel superior to those that are, since you haven’t had the frustration of putting them on the page yet. Maybe writing that new book will make it more real. You don’t have to write a complete draft, and probably you shouldn’t, but you can do a lot of the important thinking that lays the groundwork for an easier process down the line.

Turn your writing social. I’ve argued before that every aspect of being a writer is writing, including social media — tweets and Facebook posts are made up of words, after all. The time when you’re not under deadline (either external or self-imposed) is a perfect time to reach out to other writers. After all, those aren’t minutes you’re taking away from revising Chapter 23, not in the lacuna. So play silly hashtag games, or retweet your friends’ Goodreads giveaways, or post #fridayreads about a book you recently loved — be out in the world with your words. It doesn’t move your current book project forward, but it’s a great way to be a writer all the same.

Pay it back, or pay it forward. One of the most important things writers do is critique. If you have critique partners or beta readers, or you’re trying to get some, reading their work and commenting on it is extremely valuable. And the lacuna is a great time to focus wholeheartedly on someone else’s writing besides your own. Problems in their manuscripts can illuminate similar issues in your own; their amazing writing can inspire you; or seeing any progress they’ve made since earlier versions can be instructive as well as reassuring. Reading great books is always a good use of time, but reading great books that are still in progress is especially good when yours is in progress as well.

Q: What do you write, if you write, in the lacuna?

About Jael McHenry [1]

Jael McHenry is the debut author of The Kitchen Daughter [2] (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books, April 12, 2011). Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. You can read more about Jael and her book at jaelmchenry.com [3] or follow her on Twitter at @jaelmchenry.