Not-Writing Till I Burst

I haven’t been writing. I haven’t chosen the two books I’ll be working on this year yet—but I will say that one dire, shining possibility is staring me in the face now, and my agent has met this possibility, and he made me happy (don’t be coy: thrilled) by liking it too, and if I hear the word, “Go!” I’m leaping. That would be our #1 contender for YA. I’m hopeful, but not sure if it’ll stick just yet.

The second book for my Big Year of I Want to Write Two Books Let’s See if I Can Do It (even if it overlaps a couple months into the next year, it will still count, won’t it?) aspires to be a tween/middle-grade novel and I spent all morning piecing together the idea for a contender who surprised me by a swirling twist of inspiration in a cab ride down in TriBeCa with a seat of Little Pie Company pies beside me and I am wondering now… is she the one? I’m not sure. Though maybe she could be.

So, though I was protesting the idea of taking a break between finishing Imaginary Girls and starting my next book—the idea of not-writing bristling me, the idea of not-writing making me feel like a big Fail Whale—I guess my brain took over and made me listen to this wisdom anyway.

I haven’t been writing. But I’ve been flooded with ideas, gearing myself up for the writing.

I had lunch with a publishing friend, and she mentioned how one particular comment from my “Bye-bye, Novel. What’s Next?” post seemed like such wise advice. And, ever since she brought it up, I’ve been coming back to that comment too:

And if a story is building up inside your head, make it wait.

Write inside your head until you can’t stand it anymore, and then the story will burst out.

L.K. Madigan, you are a wise woman.

Yes, she gives great advice. And it’s happening. Because, truth is, I haven’t had the time to write. I’ve been juggling freelance deadlines, and to-do lists, (and a bout of anxiety over finishing a book maybe), and worry, and I just took another freelance project, and I’m getting our taxes ready for our appointment next week… and it’s funny how, when you can’t write, you NEED to more than ever.

Tonight I needed a break, so I read. I had to stop reading YA novels while writing Imaginary Girls because I needed Chloe’s voice to be crystal-clear in my mind, without any intrusion, but I’ve decided it’s okay to read now.

Imagine me on the couch, picking up a book I’ve been telling myself I wasn’t allowed to read for months. It’s called If I Stay by Gayle Forman. Fast-forward two hours or however long it took to reach the final pages when I am choking on sobs, tears running down my cheeks, eyes glued to the page, riveted with emotion by what was happening. I reached the last page. A certain line on that page broke me open and out loud I gasped in surprise. I finished. I closed the book. My eyes had so filled up with tears I couldn’t see the room through the blur.

E had fallen asleep on the couch beside me, but all of a sudden I was leaping away, leaving the book on the table and getting some distance from it—so affected by its pages I couldn’t touch the book anymore.

E sat up, alarmed. Did something happen? he said all bleary. What’s wrong?

I just read an incredible book, I said. That’s what happened.

How lucky we are to be writers. To get this chance to reach—with these words we’ve got jumbled up in us, the ones we scribble in cabs or street corners or stairwells or between jobs and life and taxes—to reach toward that moment of having someone leap up off the couch, disturbing her partner, hands to her chest so her heart stops thumping, almost choking, and say, “I just read an incredible book.”

Imagine the possibility of that.

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12 responses to “Not-Writing Till I Burst”

  1. Ohhh.

    I’m so glad I’m the first commenter.


    I didn’t get a chance to write this morning (overslept, taxes, haircut, family time), so my words came bursting out as soon as I sat down this afternoon. Ahhhhhhhhh … the bliss …

    And YES!!! I loved IF I STAY, too. I bet I even know which line crashed into you.

    I got an email from Gayle a couple of months ago, and I remember goggling at my inbox, murmuring out loud, “Gayle Forman? THE Gayle Forman?” She was writing to say nice things about my book. So besides being a breathtaking writer (in the truest sense of taking your breath!), she’s really kind, too.

    Enjoy your word-flow … when it finally comes …




    • Really: thank you so much for what you said! I know just what you mean about the absolute bliss that comes when you write after keeping it at bay for so long.

      And if I saw an email like that from Gayle Forman, I would have goggled at my inbox too. WOW, congratulations! Now that I’m finally allowing myself to read YA again, I can read your FLASH BURNOUT and I can’t wait. I’ve heard amazing things!


  2. That seems very smart, to give yourself time to breathe, think and say goodbye to your finished book. I love the feeling of the building up of an idea in my head, one that I won’t let out until it is (almost)ready to explode. Good luck! I wonder what would happen if I waited too long? IF I STAY is on my must-read list. Your description of it here just catapulted it to the top.


    • Heather, I agree! L.K. Madigan sure knows what she’s talking about.

      But you bring up an interesting point: I do wonder what happens if you wait too long… from experience, when I was so busy working full-time and ghostwriting and trying to live all at the same time, I thought I lost out on some very important things. I may have forgotten them forever, but I let them build and build until they burst… and I was at work and couldn’t do anything about it. So it’s a matter of knowing when it is TIME, I guess. I hope I know. But also it’s a matter of forcing yourself to take the time when you NEED to write even if you have a million other things to do. It’s a privilege… I don’t want to waste it.


  3. This is a fantastic post that just encouraged me at a time I need encouraging. From the point about writing in your head, reading or not reading while writing, taking a break to focus and then reading and having a book impact you like IF YOU STAY–if have to wonder—have you been following me around?? Or is it just the strange, mystifying and beautiful connection that writers share that makes very little sense to those folks who live with us and find us crying about created characters at odd hours of the day or night. Thanks!


    • Joanne, I’m so happy you found this post encouraging! I promise that I’m not following you around… not that I know of anyway. Hey, you weren’t just in a coffee shop in Greenwich Village, were you?

      Thank you so much for commenting!


    • I loved it. I bawled. Also, I am *very picky* and my taste in books is very personal, so all I can say is I LOVED this book and it made me cry! Endlessly, for pages and pages and pages.

      The last book that did that to me was Sweethearts by Sara Zarr.


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