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This blog was featured on 05/23/2018
How to Embrace the Not Writing Parts of Writing
Written by
She Writes
May 2018
Written by
She Writes
May 2018

This guest post was provided by our May Guest Editor, Natalia Sylvester

Most of my second novel, Everyone Knows You Go Home, got written when I was not actually writing. Allow me explain.

I began writing it on November 1, 2013. Two days before that, I’d received an email from my agent letting me know that my publisher, which was releasing my debut, Chasing the Sun, in about seven months, had passed on what I hoped would be my next book. I was devastated. I’d had high hopes for what I thought would be book 2, my next step in this writing and publishing journey. I remember thinking that maybe it was a sign that I should simply focus on the bright side: my first novel would soon be published, and maybe this was the universe’s way of telling me I should focus on all the pre-pub whirlwind of excitement and anxiety that comes with being a first-time author.

And yet.

It felt important that I keep writing. Years ago, when I’d been going through another separate, but equally painful, bout of rejection, my best friend had said something that’d stuck with me ever since. He said, “You became a writer to write books—plural—right? It was never your plan to write just one. So why wouldn’t you just keep writing?”

So back to November 1, 2013. Or actually, the two days before it. Somehow, I managed to condense a normally weeks-long cycle that consisted of me moping, grieving, and eventually, picking myself up again, into an unusually expedient 48 hours. I’m still convinced that what made all the difference was that I knew NaNoWriMo was coming up. Though I’d never participated, I’d always felt inspired by how fearlessly people commit to writing 50,000 words of a first draft of a novel in one month. I always loved how it seemed to force writers to just start putting words on the page, and push aside all other doubts. I wanted that. I wanted the renewed sense of hope that words on a blank page can bring.

On the first day of NaNoWriMo, I drove to the library with my laptop in hand and wrote the first few pages of a new story. It began with a simple line: They were married on the Day of the Dead, el dia de los muertos, which no one gave much thought to in all the months of planning until the bride’s deceased father-in-law showed up in the car following the ceremony.

From there I wrote a thousand more words. And the next day, about thirteen hundred more. And the next day, and the next—I couldn’t believe this was actually working. I felt invigorated and excited and oh-my-god so tired.

I lasted until Day 8. That day, I burned out and didn’t add more words to the manuscript for months. The holidays arrived in full swing and soon after that, THE new year in which my first book would be published. All my time, energy and focus turned to Chasing the Sun.

One night in mid-march, though, I couldn’t sleep. I’d been having this uneasy, unfulfilled feeling, like I was disconnected from the very thing that made all this pre-pub excitement worth it. I got up, grabbed my journal, and began free-writing. I found my way back to the story I’d begun writing back in November, and though I didn’t exactly start where I’d left off, I did end up with an outline for the entire plot by the time the sun rose.

Of course, it turned out to be nothing like the final draft of Everyone Knows You Go Home, but it didn’t matter. That early morning, I realized that I could write this book by not writing it.

I had no time in my life in those days to sit down in front of my computer and put actual words on a draft. But I had time for journal sessions now and then. I had time to think and obsess about my characters while I drove around town doing groceries. Post-It notes became my lifelines; I carried them everywhere and anytime a line or an image or an idea would strike, I’d jot it down. I wrote plot points on the envelopes of my junk mail; I can’t tell you how many credit card offers are still buried in a drawer somewhere with my characters’ deepest secrets scribbled on them. I wrote in the dark, just as I drifted off to sleep. I captured any and every idea I had for this book during months when I didn’t write down a single word on the actual work-in-progress.

I wrote, but I didn’t really. I worked on this book by living it and breathing it and letting it live and breathe alongside me. Then one day, when I was finally in a place where I could set aside the time and the mental energy it takes me to write, I began again. This time, armed with months of obsession like one longs for a faraway loved one, I didn’t stop writing the story until I reached the end.

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