I’ve named it CWS, this affliction I suffer from: Chronic Writer’s Syndrome. It starts out simply enough, with the feeling that just maybe you’ve reached the point where you’re ready to take on the challenge of writing a full-length book, and before you know what’s happened, a few years have passed and you don’t feel you’re living at your fullest unless you are writing a book.
I have written four books in six years, beginning in early 2004 with UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH, and ending with a finished first draft of THE LAWS OF MOTION in September 2009, so I know how CWS sets in. You get, say, 80 percent of the way through one book, and you find your mind wandering to what might be next. It’s a subtle, almost unnoticeable process by which another set of characters from another place and time start tiptoing into the study and sitting down to wait quietly for you to notice they’re there.
Next, I find my breaks from writing being taken up with online bookstore crawling for works on the subject of the next novel, as well as quick online searches for answers to little questions that start lodging in my mind. At this point, there might still be a battle going on between several ideas for books– probably lucky those characters aren’t really sitting in my study, since it might get ugly! I haven’t been grabbed yet by one idea or another, but by some subtle process I can’t explain, one concept, or era, or character emerges, and everything else is put aside as I acknowledge to myself that yes, I now know what I will write next.
Diane Ackerman very wittily calls this stage of the process “coming down with a book.” And I have come down with one. This is the stage where writers tend
to be very possessive and don’t to share much, so all I will say at the moment is that it will be set in Iberia in the era known as Age of Exploration. It will be a multi-generational saga, set in the richest cultural and historical setting I have ever worked with. It will be the most difficult challenge of my career as an author, and I am ready for it.
It’s a little rocky for me right now, since I don’t really want to be coming down with another book quite so soon. I am always exhausted physically and emotionally after finishing a project, and I order myself not to jump into the next thing. And this time I was doing a little better. I’ve been writing book reviews for various publications, creating new materials for my humanities classes at San Diego City College, and developing presentations for upcoming appearances. But it’s not feeling like enough. I’ve learned that, surprisingly, I could do all those other things and be writing a book too, since having less time is good motivation to use all time well.
My good friend and fellow author Stephanie Cowell gave me this beautiful advice about this dilemma: “It’s hopeless to fight it. The wonderful stage of beginning something is it’s so free…you don’t have to make the thing come together as a whole piece. You are just wandering in a wonderful new country like a tourist with money in her pocket and no place she has to be, sitting in a cafe, drinking wine thoughtfully….”