Editorial notes at last! They arrived in my inbox on June 19th, and while I read them immediately, I spent all last week at a writers’ conference, so I couldn’t start working until yesterday. I woke up at 5:30, heart thumping, my stomach churning with a mix of anxiety and excitement. It’s been over a year since I read the manuscript, and I was nervous, filled with the same anticipation I’d feel meeting up with an old, beloved friend. Overall, I was pleased with my editor’s suggestions, most of which I found encouraging, insightful and workable. Still, I wasn’t sure how long it would take to hear the storytelling voice and feel the rhythm of the language. Until now, three months was longest I’d ever gone without writing fiction, and when I got back to work, it felt like I had cotton in my ears.
Begin at the beginning, I decided, and opened the manuscript. I read the first page, then the second, not expecting to hear the story’s music right away, but hoping I’d at least fall into the story the way I do when I read any novel that is new to me. But the writing sounded tinny in my ear, as though I were listening through an empty can tied to the end of a string. The story felt distant, cold as a three-day old corpse. And then there was my editor’s suggestions that I re-write the story in past rather than present tense. I toggled between the two, reading the story in present tense while trying to convert it, in my head, to the past. The more I read, the tenser I felt.
Strange what can happen in a year, how one’s tolerance for noise can expand; how one’s attention span can wither. This time last year, the mere mention of television was an insult. Now, a late night on the couch has become an embarrassing habit. I must have risen from my desk twenty times yesterday. Suddenly, the trash needed dumping, the mail needed sorting, bills needed paying. When had I become such a scatterbrain?
If I’ve learned anything about writing, about my own creative process, it’s that sheer will isn’t always the answer. Sometimes, I have to pull back, give myself time and space. So, rather than push on, I closed the manuscript and decided to read instead. I pulled a few cherished books from the shelf. Reading, either poetry or prose, before I write, is usually a guaranteed antidote for the skittish, monkey mind. And so I read, and after an hour, the world got quite. When I turned back to the manuscript, something had shifted. I wasn’t lost in the story yet, but I felt comfortable enough to start making notes.
So now it’s Sunday and I’m back at the desk. I’ve lost a little bit of the ground I gained yesterday, but I’m not worried. I have my trusty books with me and have spent the last hour reading. My mind is quiet, my attention more or less focused. My friends, always willing to offer advice and comfort, are just a phone call away. I feel like my old writerly self. I’m thrilled to be back to work. It’s wonderful to finally be back home.