Note: the advice that follows should not be applied to marriages.
My manuscript is going to copy editing today. It's getting close to no longer being the thing that I live, eat, breathe, and dream about twenty-four hours a day. And that scares me. I feel like I'm on the cusp of losing a lover.
A writer friend of mine lost her lover a while ago, and I watched her become adrift. I remember when her advance reading copies were released — a beautiful middle-grade/young-adult novel. She wrote to me only weeks later in a dither: a prestigious review journal had published its list of monthly starred reviews, but the current batch didn't include her book. In the sort of meticulous insanity that only an author can exhibit, she had looked up all the other starred reviews, and had seen some with pub dates after hers, which could only have meant, in her tortured mind, that her book would not be receiving a star. Then she started to worry that it might not be reviewed at all by that journal, and went on to fret that she was not prepared to hear any reviews, let alone bad ones.
In comforting her, I came up with a bit of advice that has grown to become a personal mantra of mine: it's time to fall in love again.
When I was writing Syrenka (title change to come soon), I literally had the sensations of being in love. (In fact, I wonder if anyone has done scientific research on the hormones generated by creative pursuits.) Being in love with your own manuscript is an embarrassing thing, and I'm baring my soul by talking about it, but perhaps my example will encourage other authors to kindle manuscript affairs, and realize that it's a tool for productivity.
Here were the symptoms of my love: each day I wanted to be in the fictional world I had created as much as I wanted to be in the real world. I also had a wild crush on Ezra, the 1873 naturalist who falls in love both with Syrenka (a dangerous mermaid), and later with the main character, Hester. It was a healthy sort of crush, I assure you: yes, Ezra is so hot that it was impossible for me not to swoon over him myself, but mostly I wanted him for Syrenka and Hester: I delighted in shaping the early meetings he had with Syrenka; I took joy in having him spar with Hester and seeing her attraction for him grow; I was besotted when I discovered that he was protective of her. And then, in re-writes with my editor, Hester's friend Peter became a more substantial character and more important to the plot, and suddenly, unexpectedly (bonus!), I was in love with Peter, too. His steadiness and devotion to Hester made me eager to open my laptop every morning. He was the perfect blend of a geeky teen biologist, a physically strong sailor, and a loyal best friend. What a joy to write for him.
Lest you think I'm a pervert, it wasn't just handsome, young, male characters who made my heart palpitate while I was writing the book. The Scottish pastor — white-haired, wrinkled, and stooped — absolutely thrilled me. He was hilarious. He was noble. He was clueless. He was terribly, tragically flawed. I couldn't wait to write and re-write his passages. And then there was Noo'kas, the hideous, disgusting, deviant sea hag who tries to kidnap Hester and keep her as a plaything. I admit that I caressed that witch with language every chance I got. Even the settings in the novel made me love them: the trees and gravestones on Burial Hill called out; I wanted to be near the ocean of my book, to smell the sea, and look out over the bay each day.
Like new love, the feeling of writing a good story is addictive. I'm convinced it provides a rush of oxytocin that bonds you to your work and makes you want to be with it every day. The trouble is, when the book is finished and out of your hands, you no longer have that chemical coursing though your veins, and worry, insecurity, and obsession become your body's withdrawal response. When there's a lull in your writing, you move from a healthy romance straight to online stalking of your former lover.
That's when it's time to leap into new love — to distract yourself with another manuscript. My own next manuscript is just a gleam in my eye, but already I'm beginning to daydream in the most delicious way about the romance I will have with it. It will be the equivalent of a buddy flick: a Midnight Run, but with a boy and a girl. They will hate each other; they will protect each other on their journey despite those feelings; they will begin to see that the other is the one they can trust more than anyone else; they will eventually (maybe too late?) fall in love. I can't wait to be with them, and I hope my blossoming enthusiasm distracts and sustains me through the ups and downs of the promotional work, reviews, and sales returns of my old love, Syrenka.