Imagine this. You’ve opened your heart and home to half a dozen troubled souls. You’ve taken on their burdens and practically made them your own. You’ve stayed up nights with them, pondered solutions with them, headed down bunny trails with them, intervened for them, stuck up for them, listened to them and gone out on a limb for them. You’ve helped them work through one of the most difficult times they will ever know.
And at the end of that journey, when it’s clear there is a light at the end of the tunnel for them, you finally take step back and realize, they’ve just about driven you crazy. Any novelist will tell you, when you finish a book, you are tired. Tired of writing, tired of thinking, and tired of those people you’ve carted around in your head month after month.
You need a break from them. You really do. You might think the best thing an author can do when he or she finishes a book is turn around right then, while you are still in the moment, and begin the tedious process of editing, but as Paul Kirby said to Amanda in Jurassic Park III, that’s a bad idea.
There’s a little maxim that goes like this: “Familiarity breeds contempt” which I admit, I always thought sounded rude and arrogant. Actually, it just means if you know someone very well you can easily stop respecting them. You don’t hate them. But they no longer wow you.
Any book worth editing should contain characters that still surprise, thrill and inspire you.
I remember mentally sending my characters off on a little vacation once. They needed the break from me as much as I needed it from them. I packed their little virtual suitcases, virtually hugged them goodbye and told them I’d see them in a week or two. And no postcards or text messages, please. No joke. And then I pretended that’s where they really were. Away. Gone. Unable to communicate with me.
Clarity is good. Sometimes it comes when everything is still and quiet – and that means the characters have to shut up and leave you alone for a pair of minutes.
I don’t always have the luxury of sending my characters off on a month-long cruise. Sometimes all they get is three days at Disneyland. But any distance from them is better than no distance. I am always glad to see them when they come home. I welcome them back, I toast their health and suntans, and then we get work.
Sometimes, it isn’t until I see them relaxed and rested that I understand the difference my story made to them.
And by golly, that surely surprise, thrills and inspires me! And makes editing less a chore and more a celebration.
Susan Meissner is the author of ten novels, including The Shape of Mercy, named by Publishers Weekly as one of the Best Books of 2008 and the newly released White Picket Fences. She lives in southern California with her pastor husband and their four grown children. Visit Susan at her website: www.susanmeissner.com