Letting go of your work

I’ve gotten more and more revision-oriented as my career has progressed. Lately, I’ve been heavily rewriting my novel for adults: The Storytellers. I liked the previous draft quite a bit, but at the same time, nothing in it was working well. The novel didn’t have the sense of expansiveness that I like. I couldn’t live inside it. And the characters felt bland; I like to have the sense that there’s much more going on here than what I could put on the page, but in my draft, I always felt like they were struggling to find things to say to each other.

I say that I’m rewriting the book, but it’d be more accurate to say that I’m not rewriting it. For the first time in years, barring the five months between being dropped by Disney and finding a new publisher at HarperTeen, I am not under contract. Moreover, I have a book coming out in a year, so I’m even free from the sense of stasis or the feeling that my career is going nowhere. It’d be far from accurate to say that I feel hopeful, but the nimbus of shame and dread that normally surrounds all thoughts of writing is at an all-time low.

As a result, I’ve felt a bit more able to relax.

I think when people talk or think about writing, it’s usually with this sense of painstaking craft. Every sentence needs to be examined and labored-over. And the longer a book takes to write, the more effort that’s been expended on it.

But I’ve never felt that direct correlation between effort and output. The truth is that writing is an act of imagining, and it’s not exactly the kind of thing you can work at. All my career, I feel as if I’ve been learning how not to work. How to look past all the things I’ve read and all the things I want my book to be, and to look instead at the essence of the story I want to tell.

With this book I’ve been consciously pulling back, consciously not writing, because I think some of the problems I’ve had with my work recently have come from feeling too anxious about output–too anxious to put down the first thing that comes to mind. Instead what I’ve been trying to do is to live with the characters: to feel them walking next to me; to imagine their problems; to hear their dialogues.

Hopefully it leads to something in the end, but in the meantime it looks a whole lot like not working at all.

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