The months prior to a book’s publication be a discombobulating time. There’s always a lot to do to help the novel into the world – articles to write, interviews to give, talks to prepare, newsletters to compose – but these things in service of the book that you actually finished months or even years ago, while important, feel strangely disconnected. I’m a novelist, and if I’m not actually writing a novel then it feels as if a part of me is missing.
Since the text of The Paris Hours was finalized, I’ve been casting around for my next book. I’ve had three competing ideas pinging around my brain for ages, but was having trouble deciding which one to choose. (And that’s a big decision: I’m going to be spending several years with these characters, after all.) In the end I realized I’d just have to sit down and write them out: I can never tell if a story has legs until it appears on the page.
So far I’ve made two false starts, abandoning both efforts after a few chapters.
I often begin new projects while I’m away from home, free from distractions. The first unsuccessful effort was started by the side of a lake in Maine late last summer, the second in a hotel room in Seattle in early January. But I won’t be going anywhere for a while, and couldn’t wait any longer to try again. So yesterday afternoon I switched off the internet, silenced my phone, and began to write. Conditions might not have been perfect (I won’t lie, I miss that lake in Maine) but, well, you know what say they say about beggars and choosers.
In the end I eked out about 600 words. Some of them were OK, although most are probably destined for the delete key at some point. But I’m writing a novel again! Getting to tell a new story every day, even just for an hour or two, grounds me in a way that nothing else can. There’s so much going on right now – the bookshop, the book festival, pre-publication malarky for The Paris Hours – that during the day I barely have time to draw breath. But telling a story forces me to be still, and quiet, and it takes me away from all of the other anxieties of my complicated my life. And no matter what frustrations I may encounter during the rest of the day, nobody can take those new words away from me.
This will, astonishingly, be my eighth novel. I don’t know where this one will take me, but that’s OK. The destination will become apparent over time. Right now, it’s the journey that’s the thing.