I never imagined a writing sabbatical would be the key to finally finish my book
Recently, I took six months off from writing in the public eye. I deleted all my blogs and did my best to ghost any readership I had built — much to my own detriment. Six months turned into eight months, then maybe nine. Honestly, I lost track. The goal of this self-imposed vacation was to get my creative and real life in shape and not necessarily in that order. When that failed, I wrote a novel instead.
While that was not the goal, it has been a lifelong ambition of mine to write a book. I started probably a dozen manuscripts over the years, back when they were sloppily penned in spiral-bound notebooks or typed painfully on old-fashioned typewriters with crappy keys that stuck. Most of these stellar gems have been lost to multiple moves and better judgment.
This particular novel was started in 2006 as a single chapter. My life was falling apart and it was the first time I channeled my grief into fiction instead of just occasional journaling. My stepsister had died in a tragic accident — the kind you watch on the news, and even if your heart is made of stone, you take a sharp intake of breath and hug your loved ones close. A day or two later, the phone rang with news of another death in the family and another soon after. Suddenly, I was the star of my own horror film, splitting screen time with my mid-life crisis.
When the funeral processions were over and the casserole dishes returned, I sat in the empty living room, staring into the deep blue nothing of the future. The memory of that moment is as crisp and clear as the room before me now. Spring had come whispering of a hot summer but the breeze was still cool enough for the windows to remain open to the elements. The grey paint on the front porch peeled and the white sheen of the new front handrails glowed green in the haze after a morning shower. Somewhere in the backyard, my kids squealed with laughter as they jumped on the slippery trampoline.
In those minute details, I had discovered my own mortality ticking away like the raindrops hitting the porch and carrying away my opportunities like chips of old grey paint. Life had shown me that I could no longer be content in a mediocre marriage, waiting for my children to grow up and take my life with them when they left, walking around that house without a thought in my head like a doll in a dollhouse with only three walls made to serve at the whims of invisible hands.
The raindrops fell harder. What did I want? Drip-drip. To write? To love? Drip-drip. To live? My husband walked into the room. I told him I needed a break. I told him I wanted to be a writer. I told him I was done.
Fast forward three months or three years, it doesn’t really matter. I waffled back and forth over the years but ultimately ended up in the same place — alone and foundering. My marriage failed. My writing failed. My attempts to start anew in a fresh town with a fresh life failed. And as always, when I found myself alone and lost, I wrote. In 2009, I typed out chapter two. I read both chapters, looked at my kids and changed my mind, putting the book away for good. Somewhere between the peeling paint and chapter two, I became a professional paid writer.
I wrote for two or three years prolifically, though not on the novel — sometimes for me, sometimes for money. It was cyclical for me. Happiness-Loneliness-Writing like a crazy person-Rinse and repeat. I blogged on MySpace when it was new and the divorce was fresh until I met someone. I got a job writing for a newspaper when he was gone. I found Tumblr when my attempt at dating failed again. I wrote freelance as a second job and found a home in magazines and websites when my home got emptier and lonelier as one child left and another romance ended. I moved to Medium when my last child did exactly what I was afraid of in 2006 — they grew up and moved away and took my life of details with them, leaving me unsure of who or what I was other than a writer. Write, rinse, repeat.
The formula worked… for a while. I succeeded in many areas where I had once failed. It took courage to brush myself off and try again — whether it was love, writing, or just learning to be alone. That same courage led me earlier this year to those long-lost two chapters I wrote all those years ago. Facing my past 18 pages of angst blossomed into a full-length novel that I am proud to say I finished, yet it didn’t heal all wounds like I always imagined it would. Bucket list-yes. Panacea-no.
So, here I am again. I’d like to think age and experience bring wisdom, so perhaps in writing a novel there is more catharsis than any ten blog posts could ever offer. And yet, I suspect I will always be back, yearning for something that only writing can give me — that thing that calms the beast and comforts the soul in a way only the artist or writer can understand. I might have creatively gotten back on track but I still don’t have my real life together and suspect I never will. Then again, what kind of boring story would that make?