Stephen King says writers should wait at least 6 weeks before revisiting a finished manuscript, that we should walk away from it and return to it for revision after getting distance. In his craft memoir, he says, “How long you let a book rest—sort of like bread dough between kneadings—is entirely up to you, but I think it should be a minimum of six weeks. During this time, your manuscript will be safely shut away in a desk drawer, aging and (one hopes) mellowing. Your thoughts will turn to it frequently, and you’ll likely be tempted a dozen times or more to take it out, if only to re-read some passage that seems particular fine in your memory, something you’d like to go back to so you can re-experience what a really excellent writer you are.”
Maybe this year is that long 6-week break for us to review our manuscript, or in this case, the stuff we’ll return to one day.
Neither my story nor my manuscript is finished, but after talking to my writers group last night, I got a sense that the 2020 pause is more productive than we’re giving ourselves credit. It is taking a confounding pandemic to take the fat off the bone of our daily lives, leaving us to determine if this dish is better with it or without it. And beyond that analogy that references the old daily stuff—the hamster wheel and no-rest weekends–I’d like to consider if the confusion that has messed with our equilibrium is so bad for creativity. I know it’s been relatively bad for productivity, but that’s because we got tired of separating the wheat from the chaff.
Though boredom can be the playhouse of creativity, this equilibrium shift has made some much less productive than usual, or at least it feels this way. Up until recently, I think, I don’t remember a time I was bored. Boredom sounds like a waste of imagination and energy. It is something I confess that I associate with luxury and laziness. Being alone in a quiet space with nothing to do is not what I mean; I mean the lackluster association with what you’re seeing. But as I look back a smidgen, I think boredom became a defense mechanism from August until recently; it was as though my body was fed up with 2020 and sent out a blast of ennui. When this weird-bored bug hit, my body didn’t even know what to call it. I did my work and did my chores and shined myself and managed my family world, so it wasn’t that I wasn’t moving about trying to sludge through; it was that I found little personal satisfaction in it. I knew the painful situation involving my mother-in-law’s illness and ultimately her passing away had something to do with how monotone I felt; even my sweet tooth went away for some time, which is not important except that it’s something to appreciate alone, and those feelings felt inaccessible.
None of the usual suspects got me going, and I couldn’t fake it because I had stopped going to 5 am classes at the gym; those always got me feeling a high of accomplishment as though I squeezed the last drop I could of the day to shape myself. Consumerism wasn’t as appealing, and my emotions were all caught up family litmus tests, Instagram posts, and CNN. Like the rest of the U.S., I stared at the election map of the US waiting for it to get colored in, wanting to take a blue crayon to it and write 270 already!
The last few months—at work and at home—took the weird-new realities of 2020 and replaced them with boring-new realities of 2020. While there have been some absolutely lovely interactions—recent ones involving backyard Halloween and a neighborhood toast to Stacey Abrams —those that playfully punctuate the long simple sentence, with its prepositional phrases droning on and on, this fall season started strangely. But we’re getting past some of that now, and people are trying to take their joy back.
This is the year where Christmas trees came out early. I noticed a few days before Halloween, the Thanksgiving stuff got shuffled to the back near the Clearance aisle and Christmas took over, though no one really complained. There was hardly any rumbling on social media about holiday consumerism. We welcome it. People have posted about their holiday décor with unapologetic hashtags as they are determined to create cheer, even people like me who had a beautiful Saturday after the election results bloomed blue. So much depleted us this year that frankly there is a no-holds-barred banner on twinkle lights, plaid, and change.
I asked a question of the writing group last night: “Do you get so far along in your writing that you fear you’re forgetting what you’ve already written?” I worry that not remembering some organic details will make my re-reading of the manuscript painful in case I see holes that will let air out of the story. It’s not as though I’m writing freely and never looking back; I’m making careful choices each step of the way. The way each day of life begets one decision after another, writing a story does the same.
So, too, is my feeling about life: Are we driving so hard to the next plot point of our lives that it took the pandemic smackdown and this heavy year to… get bored? Will our 6-week holdout bring us back to a more creative soil? King urges us to “resist temptation” before we look back at what we made. In the spirit of this analogy, I think we’ve cheated in this case because we’ve had so much happen this year that reflection became part of every decision. Yet, I’m also intrigued by the “strange, often exhilarating experience” when you finally do sit down to that “correct evening.” I have this imaginary future moment that I’ve described to my best friend where we are old and sitting on a beach shore. We’re talking about the things we wish we’d done and stuff we worried about that seems so silly now. I keep recalling this image so much so that I feel the breeze and feel sure that it’s us talking. And you know what is most compelling to me about that imaginary moment? It’s the recognition that so much of what keeps me up now is likely not so much at all, and that the time of ennui won’t even equate in the future. It will be one long draw of breath. The image doesn’t take the bite out of reality now, no, but it does make me want to laugh with our old selves and see which part of our story never really helped the plot after all.