The Dead Zone

Stacking books until...

Picture this, but higher and with a cat balanced on top. (Photo credit: Alexandre Dulaunoy)

I’ve hit a dead zone.

Everything I can* submit has been submitted somewhere. I’m waiting to hear yay or nay on…*checks files*…four short stories and a novel query. I have no big projects I’m working on except the editing, and that’s proceeding at its usual snail’s pace with no option on rushing. There are no short stories in progress; all the ideas from my last bout are finished.

So: what now?

This happens from time to time. These lulls between the word storms seem to crop up about twice a year. If I remember correctly, the last one I had was in January, right after I finished the zero draft of my last novel. There was nothing on deck to replace it, so I went into a holding pattern of read-research-think-plan. Which kicked off this latest phase of short stories.

At one time, I would have found something, anything, to work on at a time like this. Old novels. Other stories that weren’t past the idea stage. Half-assed novella projects. If I’m going to do this, I reasoned—this being defined as write in an attempt to get as much published as I can—then I need to do it all the time.

Which is bullshit, of course. That’s the very epitome of working hard but not smart. It’s also the fastest way I know to burning out. Do that long enough, and you’ll hate what you’re working on with the white hot flaming intensity of a thousand suns.

The illusion that effort is equal to product is a powerful one. And you’ll never hear me say that the way to success lies through slacking off. But there’s a difference between working to an end and working just to stay busy.

I’m still writing every day. I have the blog posts, of course, and my own journal entries. I also have exercises I do, little experiments to stretch my skills. None of that is meant to see the light of day—hell, most of them are less than 500 words—but they’re still important. Like the finger exercises guitar players do, even when they’re not writing a new song. It’s a way of keeping sharp.

So, the next few weeks will probably be about rebuilding. Keep working on the editing, because it still stubbornly refuses to do itself. And start looking for those new ideas. Some new short stories would be nice for summer. And NaNoWriMo is five months away, give or take, but if I want to get something done during that month this year, I need to start looking for the ideas now. It takes time to work out the story kinks.

In the meantime, this looks like a great time to catch up on my reading.

*In other words, everything I feel won’t embarrass me if I let it out the door.

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