Paul Doiron here—
I have spent the better part of the past year writing a novel titled MASSACRE POND, and I am nearing the end. As always happens to me when I am finishing a book, I find myself growing a little spacey. I am so focused on the writing that I begin to neglect other aspects of my life. I stop going to the gym. My diet—which is usually pretty healthy—suddenly starts including slices of variety-store pizza and cans of Red Bull. I forget to pay bills. Emails pile up in my in box. (If you have sent me an unanswered letter, I apologize, but I promise to get back to you.) My wife throws up here hands and begins planning shopping and birding outings that don’t include me.
It isn’t this way at the beginning of a book. I easily compartmentalize my writing life and my other life. Little by little, though, something changes. Writing a novel involves creating an entire fictional world. Somewhere during the writing process, I begin to spend more time in the world of my imagination and less time in the actual three-dimensional world.
I am evidently not alone in going through this transformation. Tess Gerritsen has written about how her personality changes when she’s in the middle of a book:
For the past few months, my every waking moment was overshadowed by anxiety about finishing my next book. I worked seven days a week, and into the nights. I practically lived in my office, scarcely stepping out of the house. I let the email pile up. I didn’t write any Christmas cards. Any holiday shopping I did do was while sitting at my computer screen (thank you, Amazon, for being a one-stop shopping mall for everything from bread makers to telescopes!)
Then, last week, after completing the fourth draft of ICE COLD, I finally got up the courage to press “send”. For better or worse, off it went to editor and agent. It was only one day late.
For the rest of the day, I wandered around the house feeling lost. I cleared piles of papers off my desktop and discovered unopened mail from seven months ago. (“Sorry for the tardy reply” sounds pretty lame at this late date.) I tackled the emails in my in-box. I invited my mom for dinner. I finally wrote Christmas cards. I watched some mindless TV. Mostly, I just felt relieved.
Writing can be a schizophrenic existence. There’s life before delivery” and “after delivery”.
Schizophrenic, indeed. People are always curious about the writer’s process, but this aspect of our existences is hard to explain. If we are lucky, our loved ones stop trying to make sense of it and simply accept these interludes of spaciness.
I keep thinking there must be some well-balanced authors out there. It seems unlikely that all novelists experience these fugue states during the composition of their books. I’m not sure if I envy them or not.