Four years back, after the death of my beloved husband Jim, when I told people I was wasn’t writing anything, I was a little puzzled by the most common reaction. “Well, well, people said. “Just wait. You’ll be back to it again.” I guess what they meant was that it was just a matter of time until I was ready to behave like “myself.”
I know they were well meaning, but so are people who say off-base things at funerals about better places and the healing power of time, when there is no place or time but the terrible, awful now.
I wasn’t frozen in place. I had the months of his decline and inevitable death to ponder the post-Jim me, and when he died, I had far more important work to do than bury myself in the products of my imagination. It’s taken a long time to figure out why very nice, sweet people expressing confidence in me made me so angry. Really, it’s taken the work on the screenplay of my novel Penelope’s Daughter to bring this four-year hiatus into focus.
People seemed to think it would be comforting to reassure me that I would once again return to the familiar, the trusted, the tried-and-true. I could keep writing one, or a half-dozen more (who knows?) historical novels, and I certainly should, because after all, I’d gotten so good at it, no?
What? I used to think. Did they think I was somehow obligated to keep going, that I owed the world the fruition of every last idea I ever had for a book? (BTW, as a bit of advice for readers, don’t express disappointment about there being no book in progress unless you have read everything else the author has ever written. If not, there’s something that’s still new to you.)
But I digress….I didn’t have writer’s block. I never stopped loving writing. I still came up every week with great new ideas for another historical novel. But it turned out that “been there, done that” was my problem, even though it might have been what others thought was the solution.
When my son Ivan and I started collaborating on screenwriting, my synapses started tingling with the excitement of “never been there, never done that.” Figuring out how to write with only screen direction and dialogue (no thoughts, little description) was a challenge, as was distilling the story to 120 pages with lots of white space, as opposed to 333 more densely packed pages. And then, as I learned, there’s this thing in screenwriting called a “beat,” and though I’m still not sure exactly what it is, it has to do with keeping the kind of pace and tension that keeps moviegoers from thinking about the snack bar and the toilets. Novels can be a lot more leisurely.
Wow! What a learning curve this has been, and I haven’t been happier in a long time. Plus, it’s always a good sign when, after more revisions than I can count, I still LOVE my flying fingers, and wouldn’t at all mind doing one or ten (well maybe not ten) more revisions. And then, really, it’s just beginning. If we are lucky to sell the option, I’ll have more to learn, and if we actually get to production, even more.
It’s the learning curve. There just isn’t anything more exciting! Hope your lives are staying curvy too.