What I Did During My Month Off (and General Thinking About Writing)

For the month of September, I let my beta readers get a look at my novel. I picked a small group of people who I trusted, and whose opinions I respected, and let go.

And I tried to sit back and relax. I did.

But a part of me really wanted to hang over their collective shoulders and watch them read. And text them every day to ask how far along they were. And just generally be a pest. I mean, I had given them a month. That was way too generous an amount of time. I should have given them a week.

(As a point of reference, I asked them to read 1 book in September. To distract myself, I read 12. So clearly, I am not a good scale for how fast the average person can read.)

But all that reading didn’t help. Actually, it probably made it worse.[[MORE]] If I read a book I loved, I became depressed, wanting to take a lighter to my laptop, my bookshelf, even my crap phone that I use to read ebooks on the subway (scratch that, mostly wanted to destroy my phone. It is dying a very slow, frustrating technological death, and I’m not due for an upgrade until next year). There was a lot of screaming: shitballsdamncockyou, how is this so good! My piece of shit manuscript isn’t this good, and I’ve been working on it for a year! I mean…granted, they have an agent and an editor, but I bet even before that the drafts were better than mine. The kernel of the idea is better than mine.

And then there was a lot of chocolate to be eaten.

And if the book was terrible, there was a lot of hair pulling and teeth gnashing and cries to the universe: this is awful! How did this ever get published. I bet the author knew someone in the industry. I mean, I know people, but they’re not real people. How did this happen? There were so many outward signs of madness that, if I had been living in another time, someone would have shoved some smelling salts up my nose and shipped me off to the madhouse to become roommates with Bertha Rochester (who, I believe, would have understood my distress, and offer to share her chocolate).

So, clearly, reading was not doing the trick.

I tried starting another project, a jewel of an Idea that made me pat myself on the back to congratulate myself on how clever I am. This, I though, was such a marvelous idea that I was going to take the time to plot it out. I would map out the story arc from beginning to end, and detail each chapter in an outline. There would be no late night, wine-fuelled pantsing here, my friend. And I started to write, little snippets of conversation and scenes that would be the seeds from which my novel would grow.

But in the back of my mind was my finished manuscript, the one the betas were reading, the one I was not supposed to be thinking about this month. Whenever I was working on the new project, it kept interrupting, throwing in ideas of how it could be fixed, like it couldn’t handle not being the prettiest girl in the room. It kept scratching at the back of my mind like a cat at a closed bathroom door, and I just wanted to yell at it, will you relax? I’m just peeing in here, you don’t need to supervise.

So writing was out of the question.

For the month I took up hobbies for the brief periods of respite they gave me. I walked, I cooked, I ate, I drank. I got a piercing, got a new haircolor, got new shoes. Watched a lot of movies, rearranged my furniture, went to the gym.

And now it’s October and I’ve gotten the notes on my manuscript back (most of them. You know who you are), and gearing up to start another pass at revisions. But instead of being the recharged, refreshed, brimming-with-creative-fury writer I expected, I’m just exhausted. I’ve never run a marathon (I don’t run. I’ve never wanted to run. I’m not being chased), but I expect this is what those last couple miles feel like, where you’re determined to finish but angry as the asphalt and your feet and whatever gave you the idea to run a marathon in the first place.

But before I am locked away in a self-inflicted social hermitage (fare the well, dear friends! There shall be no more nights of karaoke until the new year!), I’m trying to figure out if I’ve learned something, some sort of wisdom to use the next time I’ve got a piece out to my betas, a go-to month long distraction. All I’ve got is a list of what not to do.

Next time I’ll have to take up meditation or something. Clearly, I’m bad at relaxing.


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