When Not Writing a Novel

What does a writer do with herself when not writing a novel? I read. I read the New York Times and Thumbnail Magazine. I catch up on my subscription to Oxford American. Then there’s the research–finally getting to read about war again because it won’t distract from the writing. There’s Fobbit and Fire & Forget, not to mention a draft of Can’t Give This War Away sitting on my desk for preview. Of course, there’s trail work to be done with the Carolina Mountain Club and peaks to climb with the NC High Peaks Trail Association…and Gus the supderdog needs his daily adventures in the woods as well.

My characters are still with me, in the back of my mind. I don’t talk out loud to them as if they were in the room anymore, but I haven’t completely buried them, either. When I think about my protagonist Nathan, I wonder about how to authentically portray his PTSD throughout the novel. When I think about his Afghan counterpart, Aaseya, I wonder if I have persuaded my readers about her willingness to adopt a child. And then there’s Rahim,perhaps most difficult of the three. He doesn’t go after what he wants and he can’t name what it is anyway until it’s right under his nose. That’s a difficult character to get up and over a narrative arc and I’ve got some real thinking to do about what it’s going to take in the early pages of the book to pull this off. Then there’s the orphan boy. I love him for the passages he lets me write. But have I gotten his age right based on his behaviors?

As soon as my mind gets going on all this, I’m tempted to open up the document or pull the manuscript from the drawer. But I don’t have any answers yet. And my characters certainly aren’t talking directly into my ear right now (if they were, no doubt about it, I’d listen). This is the time for steeping. For letting go. For trusting that while I busy myself with other things, there is still work being done. I can’t measure that work in word count right now, but it’s still work nonetheless.

So it’s back to the trails and books, it’s into the city for my meditation group, and out during the week for the occasional drink with a friend. It feels aptly timed with the coming of spring. Things are cooking below the surface. With patience and faith, they’ll bloom.

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