When I tell someone I just finished a book, I get the perfectly normal, acceptable response. “Congratulations. I imagine it feels good.”
And they imagine right. It does feel good, but there’s so many other emotions tied to crossing that threshold and finishing a story. And while this may sound a little crazy, some of those emotions are, well, kind of melancholy. Sort of like having a friend move away or having a long vacation end. Don’t get me wrong, there’s always a sense of fulfillment, and because I write happy endings, I feel the high of the all’s-well-that-ends-well. And because love plays a part in all of my books, I experience that sweet gooey feeling that love really can solve problems. I feel that huge sense of success. Of accomplishment. And then I find those moments when I’ll stop and wonder, did I tie everything up? Did I leave something out that I should have included? I’ll recall a scene I imagined, but didn’t add. And with every book I finish, I’ll spend some time worrying that my readers will not like it.
For me, writing a book is sort like having people move in with me for three or four months. I spend all those days and nights getting to know them. They become my friends. People I worry about. They are in my head. They are in my heart. I’m working endlessly to get them to tell me their secrets. Tell me what they are afraid of. What makes them cry. What makes them laugh. I need to understand the ins and outs of why they act like they act and why they do what they do. And believe me when I say these people have problems. Because yeah, I create those problems, because without problems, there are no stories. And for however long it takes me to tell the story of these individuals, their problems, are my problems.
When I close my eyes at night, I think about them. Sometimes I don’t sleep because I’m can’t stop thinking about them. And when I wake up in the morning, right after I have my first sip of coffee, I’m thinking about them again. What’s going to happen next? I’ll hear a line of dialogue from them when I’m making my oatmeal in the mornings. Or when I’m in the bath tub, they love to spout out lines, and I struggle to keep that bit of info in my head until I can write it down.
As a writer, my job is to make the reader care. To make a reader feel something. And to do that I have to care, I have to feel something. These people in my head have to feel real for me, so I can make them feel real to the reader. This explains why I get a massage every two weeks. Because these problems my character have and experience, I experience too. I get shot at. My mom had cancer. I need a heart transplant. I take on those problems as my own.
So often when I’m knee deep into a book, my husband will ask, “Where’s your head?” Then he answers the question before I do. “You’re thinking about your book, aren’t you?” Yeah, the people in my life often share me with the people in my mind.
So often when I’m living my life, I think about the characters that live cozied up in my cerebral storage area I’ve arranged for them. So often when I’m alone in my study, those characters will crack me up. I’ll laugh. Then there are times I cry. Sometimes I scare the crap out of myself. Ahh, but I also I fall in love and I get to feel that glowing feeling that makes your chest feel huge. I experience the wonder of sweet kisses, of those warm hugs. I make best friends with people who make me laugh and who will be there for me no matter what.
I help find these people resolutions. In a C.C. Hunter or a Christie Craig book, I always find happy endings. But after those endings, after a long nose-to-the-grindstone marathon to finish before my deadline, I feel a little lost. The first day I wake up and no longer need to go spend time with Chloe and Cash, or Mark and Annie, I feel a little lost and anxious. I’m like oh, my, what am I supposed to do now? Then I realize, oh yeah, it’s almost Mother’s Day and I need to go shopping for my mom. That’s right, I have a real life that I can focus on. And I do focus on it. But I know it won’t take but a few days before I’ll have someone else move in and they’ll redecorate their special spot in my mind, I’ll discover their problems, their quirkiness, and they’ll become part of my life for the next few months.
Yeah, writing and finishing a book is an amazing thing. It’s therapy, it’s stressful, it’s powerful, it’s humbling. It’s what I love to do. Sometimes it takes me away from my own problems, and sometimes it helps me solve them.
For anyone out there who has ever felt the desire to write their own story, to put pen to paper, hands to the computer, I encourage you to do it. Find the time, the courage, find a part of yourself, and take a journey that only another writer understands. If you aren’t a writer, pick up a book and lose yourself for a few hours in a world that’s not your own.