Both my new books have gone to copy-editing. That means I have Nothing to Do until I get the manuscripts back, no doubt covered with suggestions and questions (for the record: I bow at the feet of copy-editors. They’re the ones who notice I’ve made a moon go from crescent to full in two days, or inadvertently renamed a minor character, or used the word “but” to start three consecutive paragraphs.)
When you’re used to writing all the time, every day, Nothing to Do is a strange place to be. It feels a little like being suspended in a hammock—mostly pleasant but also kind of precarious. You want to relax and let your mind go blank, but there’s a nagging feeling that this isn’t natural. You close your eyes and exhale and immediately worry that you should be describing this experience, taking notes and interpreting and connecting and seeing what you can make of the breeze, the flickering leaves, the mosquito who’s come to whine at your ear. Shouldn’t those happy, bare feet be on the ground? Shouldn’t you be beginning The Next Book?
Writing becomes more than a habit. It’s a muscle that wants exercise. It can be hard to remember that it needs to be rested, now and then. We need to let the world flood in, un-interpreted, purely experienced. When Alice Munro announced that she was retiring from writing, she said she wanted to “live life on the surface”. I think I know what she meant. In that open-ness, that receptivity to the world’s wonders and terrors—that’s where the next stories lurk, where they dodge and duck. That’s where they wait for me to try and catch them.
Munro, to our immense loss, may not make any more stories, but I hope I will. So here I am, suspended. Start that Something New too soon, or wait too long, and I’ll topple out of my hammock and hit the ground with an ignominious, not to mention painful, thud. I’m counting on knowing when it’s time to climb out.
Till then, please hand me my Charles Dickens, and another glass of peach Izzy.
My new books have names now. Next year, HarperCollins will publish “Every Single Second” and Candlewick will publish “Cody and the Mysteries of the Universe”. Who’s the world’s luckiest writer?