As soon as the contract for Persimmon Wilson was signed I started work on another novel. I knew I had just a slim window of time before the revision edits for Persy arrived in my inbox, and that once that happened I’d have to shut down whatever it was I’d involved myself in, so I worked like a demon. I followed the tiny thread the character and story had provided me, took from their hands the box of soggy matches and candle stub and entered the woods. Bravely, I might add.
I’d worked the story to a pretty good place when the edits arrived. I was sure I could come back to it and pick up the trail. Three months later, after my work on Persy was done, I returned to the new novel, but the trail had grown over. I was tripping over a lot of vines. I stopped and began the book in a different way. Then I did this again. And maybe one more time; I’ve lost count how many stops and starts I’ve done.
While researching Persimmon Wilson I learned that the Comanche would double back on their own trail and then split apart and double back again in order to create confusion for anyone who might be tracking them. It seemed I had effectively done this for myself. I’d doubled back so many times I felt I no longer held the original thread, and that the characters had snatched my box of matches and candle stub away.
Were they thoroughly disgusted with me? Had they pulled out, gone in search of another, more dependable, more settled writer? I didn’t think so. I’d done some good work on this novel. I’d uncovered a sweet relationship between a father and his daughter. I’d created a setting. I felt love in what I’d written, deep love, but my characters and the story needed something that I wasn’t providing and couldn’t identify. So I stopped. I stopped everything. I decided to take a month off from writing this book. I decided to noodle and read and write in my journal without worrying about what I was or was not producing.
I can’t tell you whether or not this has opened the portal for my characters to fully step into their own being, but I can tell you that it was needed and that hammering away at the work, grinding it into dust, or banging at it as if it was a piece of iron in a vice, was not working. I knew it. My characters knew it. Some editors may not have known it. Some readers may not have known it. Some agents may not have known it. Some would, but more importantly I knew it. The energy wasn’t there. It’s not that I’d become a slave to the story, it’s that I was panicked. I was clingy and needy. My characters needed space to breathe and be themselves and I wasn’t giving it to them.
Writing is a combination of the mystical and also hard, serious work done with perseverance. It’s not always easy to know what is required at any given time, and there are plenty of writers out there who will pooh-pooh at the mysticism aspect of it all. That is their right, but mysticism is one of the things I need to keep going. I need something to speak to me other than my own head. As Van Morrison wrote in one of his songs, “If only my heart could do the thinking, and my mind begin to feel.” Sometimes it’s an act of love to step away from the work. Sometimes you just have to step into the abyss and trust there will be some sort of net to catch you when you fall. Sometimes it’s the net you’ve been weaving all along, and sometimes it’s a totally new net, woven by unseen hands. I have yet to know which net will catch me. I’m still falling through the air.