Here you are staring at the white screen of the computer wondering how it could be possible that the vivid, lively and perfect book in your mind has dried up and blown away in the wind. Or why that beautiful sentence just can’t make its way down the synapses to the muscles of your fingers so you can put it down in ink or captured electrons.
Or perhaps it’s the fear of the second novel. You wrote that first one for a couple of years. OK, may more. You went to critique groups, to conferences, attended workshops. Revised and edited. Submitted to agents and editors. Finally got an offer. Revised again. Revised some more. Corrected galleys. Got books in the mail. Did a signing. Had a party. And now?
They want another book. Within a year. Sometimes six months.
Holy ______ (insert appropriate expletive).
Some writers have a whole queue of books waiting to be written, nudging each other in line, eager to see themselves on the page. These writers take a short break and then start the next one.
I’m not one of them. Yeah, I have ideas, vague notions about the next book or so, but not fully developed plots. I often reject these ideas at first, waiting for something concrete and certain to emerge. I jot down notes, make trial outlines of the inciting incident, the three big surprises, the darkest moment.
“But that’s so commercial,” my literary-trained brain says.
“Shut up,” the writer-self answers.
Ages ago, Susan Griffin introduced me to a technique to use for the critical voice that often interferes with the writing process. You know the one. “Nobody will read this.” “This has all been said before.” “People will laugh.” “This is bad.”
This critical voice (or literary-trained brain) can help revise a piece, can find the weak spots, or can suggest improvements to a manuscript. But it can’t create one. Only the creative self can do that.
Griffin suggested letting these two sides of our psyches talk. First one writes for five minutes, introducing itself. It can describe itself, tell what it likes to do on Saturday night, confess its secret desires. Then the other takes a turn. Then—horrors—they talk to each other. Sometimes they fight. But they must make a deal. Usually that deal is the creative self says, “Leave me alone for a while. I’ll show it to you before it goes public.”
We must be free to make mistakes to create something good. We must face the silence and let that next luminous piece surface from the pool of our mind like a beautiful goddess rising from the water. (OK, I wish.)
I just attended a concert of Deva Premal and Mitten. Deva Premal asks audiences not to applaud. She wants us to sink into the music as if it is a huge group meditation. She said, “Trust the silence.”
That’s what I say about facing the blank page, the next book. Trust the silence.