Today I’m happy to host Anesa Miller, author of Our Orbit, to discuss an issue that most writers have to deal with from time to time. Take it away Anesa.
Every writer knows it’s not much fun to find ourselves stumped on a scene halfway through a book that’s been going well (more or less) up to that point. When this happens to me, it usually means I’ve procrastinated on some essential piece of research that can’t be delayed any longer. For example, 200 pages into my novel, Our Orbit, it came time to write the scene in which two young girls visit their father in prison. I had put off drafting this episode as long as possible, but once I got out from behind my desk and went to visit a prison myself, that influx of information gave me the confidence to send words flowing freely out my fingers and onto the page.
Such blocks to the writing process are bad enough. What’s even worse—in my case, at any rate—is the paralyzing letdown that lies in wait after the completion of an important project. I call this “post-partum writer’s block.” It can devolve into a fallow period of months’ duration.
This is understandable up to a point: there’s bound to be a sense of dangling at loose ends after a big job that has occupied one’s mind for a long time, perhaps years. One positive interpretation is that the springs of creativity need to recharge before one feels ready to start something new. Unfortunately, a chorus of nagging voices may tend to overwhelm the mind:
Why aren’t you writing? How long can this drag on, this doing-nothing?? You really don’t have another book in you, after all! I knew it—everybody always knew it!!
On & on, ad nauseum…
Some of my writer-friends swear by planning ahead for these pitfalls: keep the next project simmering on the back burner—make notes, maybe an outline, engage with the characters just enough so they’re ready to pop when the time is ripe. As soon as a front burner frees up, move the simmering project forward and carry on like nothing has changed.
Voilà —post-partum blues outsmarted!
This is surely sage advice…indeed, it’s a bit too wise for the likes of me. My psyche seems to require a fallow time to grieve, as it were, for the fruit of my imagination that is now separate and independent. For the characters that have grown up and moved on. Or maybe for my unrealistic expectation that life would glow forever golden once I managed to publish the novel. This grieving process seems to entail a very low word count for as long as it takes.
I don’t mean to discount my friends’ advice. Shifting a new project rapidly to the front burner may prove very helpful for some. I’ve actually followed this advice as best I can. But when I need more time to get the next creative endeavor up and going, here are some of the things that make my days pass productively and hopefully hasten the joy of finding my way back to the writing zone—
- Don’t begrudge yourself plenty of rest. Other obligations permitting, sleep as much as you like at least a few nights per week. Ditto on relaxation. I would recommend avoiding addictions (especially electronic ones), but if TV dramas help you unwind, now’s a fine time to soak up that expert plotting without self-reproach.
- Go outside for a few minutes every day, minimum. It’s true that winter is setting in across North America, but try to find a sheltered place to get a bit of sunshine on your skin.
- In a related move, get some exercise whether indoors or out. Your next book is likely to require a lot of unhealthful sitting, so shape up now in order to withstand those long writing sessions to come.
- It’s fashionable these days to recommend meditation for whatever ails us. Personally, I never cared for it—in the past when I tried it, I always fell asleep, or just wound up fretting over the same problems I’d fretted over all day without benefit of meditation. More recently, though, I’ve allowed myself to sit and count breaths for a modest ten minutes at a stretch without any big expectations. I find it does give rise to a serene state of mind.
- Indulge yourself in something you’ve never done before: try a new craft or sport, listen to some foreign-language lessons, visit a place you’ve never seen. Or if novelty doesn’t attract you, page back to an old neglected hobby, a creative road perhaps tried but not taken in the past: quilt a pillow, build a birdhouse, bake a pie.
- And no matter what, keep journaling! It doesn’t matter what you write—some of it will no doubt be drivel, but the first sentence for your next book may turn up there soon. And your fingers will stay limber for the words you’ll eventually want to share with the world.
Thanks so much Anesa! And now here’s a little about her debut novel, Our Orbit.
Genre: Mainstream/Literary Fiction
In Anesa Miller’s new book, Our Orbit, nine-year-old Miriam Winslow has never worn new clothes, was not permitted to cut her hair, and believes that children must repent their sins with major displays of remorse, or harm will come to their loved ones. Barely half a year after her mother’s death, Miriam is thrust into a different world when her father, a militant tax protester, is jailed on weapons charges.
Miriam finds herself in foster care, her teenage siblings sent to other homes.
College-educated Rick and Deanne Fletcher quickly come to love their “new little girl.” Then they encounter the rest of Miriam’s family: Uncle Dan believes he was abducted by aliens. Sister Rachel, just out of juvenile detention, harbors many painful secrets. Brother Josh is outraged that the Fletchers disrespect Christian teachings. When his plan to remove Miriam from their home fails, Josh reacts with growing hostility to outside interference in their way of life.
Anesa Miller bio:
A native of Wichita, Kansas, and longtime Ohio resident, Anesa Miller is a writer with training in Russian language and literature. Her work has been published in The Kenyon Review, The California Quarterly, the Southern Humanities Review, and others. Her debut novel, Our Orbit, is a story of cultural conflict set in Appalachia in the 1990s.