Writing in any genre is an emotional investment. For one, you never know what’s going to happen in the manuscript. There is always the element of surprise, whether working on a scholarly history book, a poem, a children’s story, or a novel. Second, we spend so much time on our manuscripts that some of us experience emotional burnout. Luckily, I’ve never felt that. Taking a few days off helps and also gives me a chance to reflect on what I’ve written and where to go. Third, when we are writing well…and let’s face it…just writing, it is an incredible high. I’m one of those strange writers who even loves editing. Last, there’s a lot of emotion around whether what we’re writing will get published. All those stages, from the contract to holding your new books, are so gratifying.
But I’m not thinking here of those kinds of emotional investments. Rather, I’m thinking of the deep love and care you have for your characters when writing a novel. Although I am writing about three generations of an African-American family and an Irish-American one, the main characters are two teenage girls. When they or anyone in the family suffers, I feel as if I do, too. I fret about them, just like a doting mother. How will they handle the migration to Chicago? I want to comfort them when a grandparent dies. When both girls are sent to a state reformatory, I want them to be sent back home.
But it’s more than that. I have found that I do not stop thinking about my novel and its characters. It’s like living with young children, who require constant attention. When I dream, I sometimes wake up and realize I’ve been dreaming about episodes or writing them. When I drive, I am thinking of the next chapter or how I will rewrite the last. When I go for a walk, I make sure I have my phone with me so I can record any ideas. I make sure to take the same path so I don’t get lost, except in my own forest of words. I make myself take days off so I can do what I must in everyday life.
Some might find this exhilarating…and I do, too. But it’s also exhausting. I am looking forward to having a good first draft finished so I can set it down for a longer time period. Maybe I can then discover a new walking trail.
I would love to hear about other novelists’ experiences. Do you feel emotionally drained much of the time? How do you handle it?