We don’t need a list of rights and wrongs, tables of dos and don’ts: we need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.”
~ Philip Pullman
I’ve been quiet on the blog for a little while, and there’s a reason for that. I’ve been working on resetting before I prepare my second book to head to the content editor in late January.
Resetting is something I take very seriously. I have to push myself away from my work and drag myself out of my characters’ heads. If I don’t, I start to lose track of reality, of who I am. I don’t mean that in a melodramatic way, either. I mean it in a very real, existential crisis sort of way. A, I don’t know if I’m stuck in the matrix, sort of way. A, I’ve driven to the same place for my day job for six years and can’t figure out if I just missed my exit because I’m stuck in a world that doesn’t exist, sort of way. It’s honestly a little bit scary.
I usually know it’s time for a reset when my anxiety levels start to tick up. One of the symptoms of my post traumatic stress disorder is chronic night terrors and nightmares. Night terrors are different from nightmares, but I’m cursed with both. They’re not pleasant, and they worsen when I’m anxious. When the nightmares start to become unbearable, when I wake up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat, throat raw and aching, with blood under my fingernails from where I’ve scratched my neck or chest to the point of ripping my own flesh, I know my anxiety is rising and it’s time for a break. That advice about writing every day? Nope. Not for me. Writing every day for me is dangerous.
So for the last week, despite my January 20th deadline with the content editor looming, I’ve taken a much needed break. During this break, I’ve given myself time to read and get into someone else’s characters’ heads, characters who are very unlike my own. For anyone interested, I’ve finally decided to dig in to Sarah Maas‘ Throne of Glass series. I’ve heard so much about it (word of mouth is still king in this industry, y’all), I decided it was time. As a side note, major props to Maas on her development of Ailen. Ailen is a total badass, but I don’t envy Maas having to be inside that woman’s head for six books.
Reading is arguably the most important training for a writer. I read almost constantly, but when I’m editing or resetting in preparation to edit, I have to be extremely careful about what I read. What I read affects what I write, and when I’m about to set off down the editing path, I have to be careful and tread lightly.
Something writers are seemingly afraid to admit is that we’re all thieves. Every last one of us. Not in a copyright infringement sort of way, but in a subtle, we don’t even realize it’s happening until it happens, sort of way. We don’t steal words or phrases, we still emotion. We steal inspiration. But we have to be clever thieves if we’re to create anything worthwhile.
Hemingway once said, “Don’t ever imitate anybody. All style is, is the awkwardness of a writer in stating a fact. If you have a way of your own, you are fortunate, but if you try to write like somebody else, you’ll have the awkwardness of the other writer as well as your own.” It’s true, imitation will never work. If you sit down to consciously imitate someone, to appropriate his or her particular style or turns of phrase, you will fail, because it’s not genuine and people aren’t stupid. If people are good at one thing it’s sniffing out a liar. What writers do steal, however, is the feeling of a thing.
It isn’t necessarily only writing, either. This theft can come from almost anywhere. It can be a song (try writing a romance scene with heavy metal blaring in the background). It can be a painting, or a photograph, or a ballet. It can be as common as watching a small, simple moment. Part of the refresh and reset is to open myself up to these moments, these works of art, to absorb them and renew my spirit. But during these times, I’m careful about what I will and will not read. I don’t want to misappropriate the wrong feeling. I don’t want to unintentionally feed off something that won’t make my work better.
During any other period of time, I will read basically anything you put in my hands, but when I’m pushed up against a deadline, and I know my heart is open to absorbing whatever goes into my head, I’m choosy about what goes in. Whatever goes in during these periods will come out, so it’s important that whatever goes in is good.
Normally, I spend this period of time between beta readers and content editing to reread things I know invoke the right emotions. During this same period while I was working on The Wheel Mages, I reread Tamora Pierce‘s Immortal Series. This time, however, I took a gamble (not much of one, if I’m honest) on Maas, and I’m really glad I did. Aelin is not at all like Alena, which is excellent, because I needed a break from Alena. But the emotions Maas conveys are strong and powerful. They fill me up when I need to be filled with something different than what I’m lost in. They refresh me. They inspire me and help me press the all important reset button, so I don’t become too lost in the woods.
Especially during this time of year, we all need a little refresher. Don’t forget to take care of yourself: Rest, read, refresh, reset.
Happy Holidays everyone!
P.s. If anyone has any other recommendations for me for my next reset, plop them in the comments! I love to see what people are reading!