When I finish drafting a novel, I always feel a bit stunned, as though I’ve been unconscious for months and have awakened to find myself in a different place. In a way, that’s exactly what has happened. With my ADHD, I am terribly prone to hyper-focusing. As soon as I get to the halfway point in a book, things that–only days before–caused me to lose sleep quickly slip away like fleeing roadsigns in my rearview mirror. I’ve always dreamed of being a steady, scheduled type of person, with spreadsheets and neatly filed correspondence and Scotch tape and wrapping paper in the same place from Christmas to Christmas (okay, maybe I do know where the Santa wrapping paper is–I think). If I were such a person, I would have a freezer full of homemade meals on hand for those evenings when I need to write up to the dinner hour and for sometime after. I would turn off my Internet for four hours a day, and speak with sweet sternness to anyone who dared to interrupt. There are writers like that. I know them. When I take ADHD meds, I’m almost that person. She lives, serene and blessedly organized, on a grand marble pedestal in the back of my head. (Unfortunately, along with a pleasing sensation of competence, meds also make me feel like my imagination has been bound and gagged and stuffed into a dark closet.) I have even managed to fake my way through a couple of days like that without meds. But then I forget what my plan was, and a dog always ends up rolling in dead stuff and planting himself under my desk, making it uninhabitable, or the bird feeders need filling, or we need more Cheerios, or…or… You can see where this is going, yes?
While I have serious attention and discipline challenges, all writers must get lost in their work to a greater or lesser degree. It’s necessary dreaming. Here’s what it’s like for me (today, anyway): think of living in your favorite imaginary world. Something on television or in a book. Anything that you want to happen there can happen. You don’t need permission from anyone to make it the way you want. But the edges of the world are foggy, and it’s the kind of fog that clears neatly as you get closer to it–but there’s always fog in the distance. You will never be able to see beyond the fog, yet you are desperate to try. Sometimes the things that appear closest to you are brilliant and vivid. Sometimes they are out of focus. Sometimes you find yourself diving into rabbit holes that transport you to somewhere else entirely. But living in that world brings you endless joy and you know you have to tell other people about it. It’s like living in an undiscovered country that you, the writer, must continually discover. (Not to be confused with death, Hamlet’s “undiscovered country.”) You’re the explorer who will lead others to that place.
I always feel a little guilty when I’ve been off exploring for long periods of time. Sure, I’m visible. I make it to the grocery store on a (mostly) regular basis, I get some kind of meals on some kind of table, and speak in multi-syllable words. I even manage to stay reasonably hygienic. But it feels selfish, like I’m in the service of someone, something else. That is the cost.
Okay. That all sounds a bit pompous and self-important. After all–I write entertainment. Not religious dogma or instructions on how to catheterize a kidney patient or even something really important and practical like a recipe for chocolate cake with mocha icing. What I write is fun. It offers escape. And it’s fun to do. The irony is that, in order to get you to suspend your disbelief, a writer has to work extra hard to be believed. Does that make any sense?
So this week, my editor has returned The Abandoned Heart to me with thoughts on making it a better, more believable book. (You want to believe in ghosts–please tell me you do!) These past couple of months, I’ve intentionally stayed out of Bliss House, even though it keeps calling me back, keeps peeking through the fog, whispering that it’s waiting to show me something new. Something I haven’t seen before. A telling detail, or perhaps some monstrous revelation that it’s only now ready to share. But I can’t linger long because The Abandoned Heart will be in your hands in October. So I must hurry. Hurry.