A few days ago I experienced another first. After its umpteenth rewrite, I handed the manuscript for my novel over to be copy edited. What happened next took me by surprise. My eyes brimmed with tears, and for moment, I wanted to snatch the damn folder back from my editor. However, after doing a quick emotional diagnostic I realized that the last time I'd felt like this was when my youngest left for college. The writer mum in me whispered, "let them go, Mandy, it's time..." But the clinging mum was in that place of attachment -- not quite ready to say goodbye to her characters. "I'll always be here for you," she whimpered.
For the past four years I've been lucky enough to find myself half way across the world, on my home turf, for the month of July. If I'm lucky, it will pour with rain when the plane lands, continue for most of my stay, and rain like bloody murder during takeoff. Tasmania is the little heart-shaped island at the southern end of that other very big island; it's the little sister to the mainland that is better know by its more formal name -- Australia.
I love winter, especially when I'm sitting at my computer with a story in my head. On my mother's farm, in rural Tasmania, cows run for shelter from the copious amounts of water that pour down from the darkness on moonless nights. And when I pull a mega-writing all-nighter, I get to witness the first glimpse of light when it tags the night, and the cows huddled closely together around tufts of grass, frozen and white.
This past July I read a book that changed the way I thought I had to think about the writing process; Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I sat with my Kindle, curled up on the sofa and read his book from cover to cover (0-99%), while drinking multiple cups of coffee, and munching on crackers and delicious Tasmanian cheese.
Mr. King's book prompted me to a phrase I tell my art students: "Follow your heart and your intuition -- draw what you see -- not what you think you're supposed to see." I closed my Kindle, ate the last stale cracker devoid of crumbly cheddar, and apologized to the characters in my novel for keeping them out of the picture.
Somewhere along my writing process I'd forgotten about my intuition. With this realization -- the gates of freedom opened up in my mind and allowed my characters to wake up from their sleep, reminiscent of Rip Van Winkle. My fingers have raced across my Mac's keyboard nonstop for the past two months, until finally two days ago my characters collapsed saying that they needed a break, and sorry to leave me hanging... Hanging, in this case, was fine by me.
Yesterday I slept, and swam, and cooked with my husband, and at sunset we walked our dog. At three AM this morning I awoke to the non-stop chatter of one of my characters with suggestions on what he wanted do in the next book. I begged him to let me sleep with a promise of taking notes any time after eight a.m. He relented -- thank god.
So thank you, Mr. King, for your wonderful stories and for the reminder of the importance of running with our intuition. You're a real gem!