After the wonderful wild rush of happiness that comes with finishing the first draft of a book, I’m always eager to begin the first read-through. After all, didn’t I just spend months researching and creating and pushing myself through writer’s block and worrying that it wouldn’t all come together? And now—it has! Miracle of miracles, there’s a real book that didn’t exist before, a new set of characters to whom I’ve become very attached, a mystery and a solution.
Of course I’m excited to read it immediately, make sure it flows, catch those minor or major mistakes. As usual I dove right in. And, not surprisingly, I found myself floundering about a third of the way through, unable to concentrate. Not because I wasn’t enjoying the story—I actually was. But I do believe I had a serious case of burnout.
I just couldn’t read my own writing any longer. I was, for the time being, DONE. This happens with all creative work. You get to a point where the juices simply aren’t flowing. Burnout, writer’s block, whatever it is, the best thing you can possibly do is allow yourself time away from the project, even just a day or two. Find some perspective on the thing, get space from it, come up for air. Enjoy how far you’ve come without worrying about what’s next. (Come to think of it, that’s pretty good advice for life.)
So that’s what I did. I put the book down and picked up a Josephine Tey. And then another. And then a Ngaio Marsh, or maybe a couple. A week has passed. And though my indulgent break from any kind of productive work on my book has been incredibly satisfying, I’m ready get myself back into editing mode. The burnout is fading, which means it’s time to jump back in. I know a first read is as necessary as it is rewarding—painful as it is to come across large missing pieces in the plot or sloppy chunks of writing. But that’s the point, it’s a chance to fill the holes and clean up my prose before I share it with anyone else.
My goal for this week is to read the rest of my book. And I’m going to do it! (But first I just need to finish “A Clutch of Constables,” because I HAVE to find out who the bad guy is. Damn you, Marsh!)