Recently, I turned in the rough draft of my 18th novel to my publisher. Initially, there’s always a sense of exhilaration that I completed this monstrous creative task but after the high fades, I’m swamped by feelings of loss.
For months these imaginary people have lived in my head, their voices have twittered about whatever plot point I happened to be working through, and I’ve become accustomed to the chatter.
But once the book is finished, the voices go away and I’m left with just myself.
On my Facebook I wrote, “Somedays I wander into crazy and it feels familiar.” This statement was starkly true. But then artists are stereotypically odd, right? I mean, if I didn’t wander into Crazytown and book a room now and then, could I create character after character, plot after plot repeatedly? It’s a good question.
One thing I have discovered about myself after 18 books is that my creative process is dangerous.
I need pressure to get the words to flow. And I’m talking extreme pressure; the kind that would pop the eyeballs from an ordinary person’s skull.
Last weekend I spent every waking moment writing so I could meet my deadline. I took very small breaks to eat and then I went back to the computer until late at night, then rose early and started again. I wrote 100 pages within 72 hours. My fingers were swollen, my brain started to misfire and I’d started to lose feeling in my rear from sitting too long. When Monday came, it seemed as though I was punch-drunk. I’d gone to bed at 11 p.m. the night before and rose at 4:30 a.m. to write the last two chapters. That’s roughly 20 pages. Remember in high school how you used to lament writing a two-page persuasive essay? I can write two pages in my sleep. (I think I have, actually.)
But the end result? The words flowed from my taxed brain onto the page in large torrents of prose that when I went back to reread what I’d written, I couldn’t believe it was me.
Sure, there were some missing words here and there, which is a natural consequence of writing at a speed that would send some into a paroxysm of shock, but overall, I was impressed with the essence of the story.
As impressed as I was with the work, there was a scary aspect to it, too, that might surprise most people; I didn’t remember writing some of it.
This isn’t new. When I hit my stride, I slip into what I liken to a writer’s trance. I lose track of everything around me, and I’m lost to the words flowing around me and the voices in my head vying for attention. It’s all I can do to keep up.
So, yeah, sometimes I trip and a word doesn’t quite make it to the page but the words that do…beautiful stuff.
This is all well and good, except, this last trip to Crazyville almost did me in. When I emerged from my writing coma, my brain felt soggy. I wanted to collapse and sleep for days. The mental and physical exhaustion was unreal. I had trouble processing simple information and my bones ached. It felt similar to the after-effects of a weekend bender filled with drinking, dancing, and activities I would likely regret when I finally sobered. And I didn’t do any of that!
But I got cleaned up, consumed lots of caffeine, and then went to my day job to write some more.
Suffice to say, my husband doesn’t like my process.
He sees the dark circles, the almost-manic creative side of me taking over and he worries.
I don’t blame him. When I wake up from that place, I’m a little worried, too. It always takes me a little time to come out of it. I’m disconnected from my family, my husband, and my life. I turn into a wild-eyed, driven beast who snarls, acts nuts, and barricades herself away from other humans lest she inadvertently eats one of her young.
So I can understand why my husband — who always treads cautiously around this creative nutjob — is relieved when I finish a manuscript.
And while I can agree that I need to modify my process because in the end, it might very well kill me, I’m not sure how to do accomplish this without putting a restrictor plate on my creative engine.
The pressure pushes me to greater heights and the adrenaline rush is addictive. I never considered myself an adrenalin junkie but I think I’ve found my secret addiction.
Perhaps I need a 12-step program.
Do they have that for writers?
If so, let me know. My next book is due in May. I suppose I should start writing now…but…May is so far away…
Kim Van Meter is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News, and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at email@example.com or by calling 847-3021.