In early July, I realized that my current living situation and my summer off of homeschooling would be the perfect time to work on another novel. So for eight weeks, I spend every waking moment writing my third, Soulless Creatures. During that time, I shut down my online presence completely, except for an occasional Facebook status and concentrated on my creative work. This may be going against conventional wisdom, and I also know that other writers do things differently, but for me, this worked. And while it might look counter-productive in the short term, I think that in the long term, taking two months off to write a novel is a good thing for me.
I didn’t really write a novel in two months. What I did was, last August 25 (2012) I started notes on characters, settings and big questions. Intermittently, I added and took away from these ideas. (Roy’s original name was Roger. The original time span was 20 years, not 9 months. Abby was a Maddie, and at one point they all had superpowers because they ate magical breadsticks.) I also used my Nanowrimo time to brainstorm. So by the time July 2013 came around, I had a lot of the basic ideas in place. It was the drafting that took the 2 months. I write one chapter at a time, and I usually rewrite that chapter 5-6 times before it goes in the draft.
But I found that the drafting takes up all of my brain power. I don’t have energy, or desire for that matter, to do all my social media stuff, to market the other books, to crack wise on Twitter. So I shut it all down while I drafted this book. There were times in the middle of this isolation that I kinda freaked out about it –but this is what I noticed while I was absent.
First and foremost, I am a novelist. I am not a marketer, tweeter nor blogger. My very favorite thing to do in the world is write novels, so by putting this in the forefront for a couple of months was probably needed anyway. My online presence is there to serve my novels; if there aren’t any novels, then all of this is an exercise in narcissism.(It probably still is, but with the novel, at least I have something to sell.)
The end of my social media world didn’t come. Yes, my traffic slowed down on my blog. I didn’t have a huge gain of Twitter followers and my Facebook impact was minimal, but the basics of my platform is still there. I’m not too worried about it. I am confident that I can get the engine going again pretty quickly.
This arrangement best met the needs of my family. We’re a homeschooling family, so really, it’s during the summer that I have more time to write than any other time. There were days this summer that I spent 4-5 hours on this manuscript and during the school year, I just can’t make that kind of commitment. This is the second summer in a row that I devoted to novel writing and since it seems to work, I’m going to try it next summer too.
I channeled my stress into something productive. 2013 has been one of the most difficult years that I have ever faced (and if you knew us, that would be saying something) and by having a big creative project to think about, I was able to deal with the stress of my personal problems in a productive way. We read to escape, don’t we? I think I write to escape and I’d like to thank my characters, Roy, Jonathan and Abby for holding my hands through a difficult summer.
I used my life lessons as plot fodder. Soulless Creatures asks the question: how do we take care of our souls? And as I moved Roy, Jonathan and Abby through their crises, I could preach to myself about how to deal with my own crises. Roy encouraged me to keep going despite setbacks. Abby taught me to take care of myself and Jonathan showed me how damaging it could be if all I did was feel sorry for myself. Because these lessons were so real to me, I could communicate them to my readers using ridiculous situations, comedy and 18 year old college students.
I had interesting conversations with my readers. Just so you know, a book that takes place in 1986 is the closest I will ever get to writing historical fiction (unless time travel is involved, and this is a real possibility for book #4). So, to get my research right, I had to ask a lot of questions of my readers on Facebook, like What cheezy romantic ballad would you put on a mix tape? And what was the cool car that the rich kid at your school drove? This was so much fun and it allowed me to promote a book that wasn’t written, stay encouraged, because apparently my readers are excited too, and find that Howard Jones station on Pandora. (I’m always interested in having more readers’ brains to pick — like my facebook page and I can pick yours too!)
I grew in discipline. Don’t tell anybody, but I’m kinda outgrowing that 10 minute writer thing. I am finding more time, I’m sitting down for hours, not minutes. I see what needs to be done in the manuscript and instead of navel-gazing or stressing out in the manuscript, I just do it. This book made me feel like a real writer because I was so at ease with the actual work of it.
I grew in confidence. The first novel I wrote taught me how to write a novel. The second novel I wrote taught me how to market, how to gain readers, and opened significant doors for me. This novel, the third one, released me — I’ve never been so confident in my work before. I didn’t write to please the market, to please my agent nor to please all those writing books I’ve read; I wrote only to please myself. I feel like I found my voice. I broke a lot of rules. I played around with point of view. I broke the fourth wall. I had 3 point of view characters, 250 footnotes and put in over 150K words. I HAD A BLAST! I think that in some ways I’m more proud of this novel than the others because I was so free. I want this one, Soulless Creatures, to be the standard of what I write in the future.
So this is why there were no blog posts since July. I had a good reason. And soon, perhaps, you’ll be able to agree with me.
So, have you shut down your online life for a season? What did it teach you? Were you glad you did it or not? And what was your favorite cheezy love song from the ’80s?