I quit. I quit on average about three times a month. Sometimes I stay quit for months. Sometimes I stay quit for only hours. Sometimes I quit a particular project and sometimes I quit the whole gig.
The last time I quit was about two weeks ago. I was taking my morning walk and my mind drifted to how I feel differently about the current novel than I did about the last one when it was in progress. The narrative flow for the last one was like stepping into a rapid river. Once there, my job was to keep breathing. The new novel is an epistolary novel. It’s an interesting way to write. I can only deliver little tiny spyglass views of information to the reader each time I sit down, and I’m finding that there’s less opportunity to play with language. So I decided I missed narration too much and was going to abandon this project and start up with another character that intrigued me. I went to bed that night happy in this knowledge, and then I dreamed about the current characters. I dreamed about a pair of fringed gloves, and the young girl who is my protagonist trying to learn how to use a lariat, and I woke up and knew I had to continue with this book and I started again.
I have been thinking about this a lot lately, this tendency I have to quit. There’s power in quitting. It’s like releasing a pressure valve. I need to quit now and then to remind myself, that writing is a choice, that I am not chained to a desk, a computer, a screen, an imaginary world, or a character. If I don’t remind myself of this I start to feel like writing owns me, and that’s not the relationship I want to have with it. The relationship I want to have, the one I insist on, is one of mutual respect.
My writing and my characters have to know that I have other things going on, that I need breaks, I need the real world, I need to read sometimes, or watch TV, or cook. Mostly my writing and characters need to know that I am an expendable commodity. I do have limits. I do have needs. I do have things that are at least as important, and sometimes more important, than the book I’m working on.
In return for that, I try to respect my characters and their stories. I don’t “play god.” I don’t make things up. I listen and am lead intuitively into the places I need to go in order to pull this one off.
Some characters are quieter than others. Persy, of the previous book, wasn’t quiet or illusive. He wasn’t loud, but he was strong and sure of himself, and that made me sure of his voice and the story. The characters in the epistolary novel have been like shadows from lace. I wasn’t really sure if they were there. It wasn’t until I quit, that they really asserted themselves through that dream, and then in the work.
No matter what the relationship, one thing that keeps it healthy is the knowledge that it will end. It’s knowing that it’s ephemeral that gives it such sacredness. This is true for writing too. Even if I don’t quit the process of writing a particular story, the relationship with my characters will be over at some point. When I finish a book I can feel them leaving. I feel the point of departure. No one ever prepared me for the sorrow I feel at the completion of a project. No one could. But I expect it now. I know it’s going to be sad. And if I feel, in the midst of writing, that it’s just not working out, or worth it, I quit. Sometimes I return, and sometimes I don’t.