Squawk Radio

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Liz on Post-Coital (or, at least, post-book) Guilt

Originally uploaded by EliBev.
A funny thing happens to a writer after she mails a book to her editor. Besides the uncontrollable weeping with joy, I mean. And the total mental collapse. And the overgrown ass. And the realization that she missed--again--(pick any three): Christmas, summer vacation, the month of February, the new fall TV lineup, her annual pelvic exam, the neighbors' angry complaints about the eyesore her yard has become. (Though, okay, granted, those last few things I don't really mind missing.) Something else happens, too. Something phenomenal. Something amazing. Something spectacular.

A writer who's just mailed her book suddenly finds herself with time on her hands.

Time. Actual, honest-to-God time. Time she can use ANY WAY SHE WANTS. She realizes the morning after mailing her book that, having sent son and hubby off to school and work, she doesn't have to rush through a shower, pretend her legs don't need shaving THAT bad, down a quick bowl of Froot Loops, then chain herself to the desk to write the requisite number of pages necessary to meet her deadline. (And for me, toward the end of the book, that daily page requirement comes in at around a hundred and forty-two.) Nor will she have to cringe every time the phone rings or the e-mail chime goes off, since neither her editor nor the two guys named Vinnie and Sal her editor has hired to find her could be hunting her down anymore, wanting to know where the hell the book is. Nor will she have to feel guilty for performing such non-writing tasks as, say...oh, I don't know... Breathing, for instance. Eating lunch. Emptying her bladder. That kind of thing.

Plus, the time that comes to an author after the book is done doesn't move at the same frantic pace at which deadline time runs. After-book time actually runs like normal time. After-book time can even be leisurely. Enjoyable. Relaxing. Once we get used to it, anyway.

And therein lies the problem. Getting used to having time. After weeks, even months sometimes, of experiencing the terror and panic that claws at the throat when trying to finish a book, it's so hard to acclimate oneself to having time to do things. And it's so hard to NOT feel stressed out. Even when a book is done, and I know full well there's nothing pressing I need to be doing, I find myself rushing through everything, as if everything is on a deadline, the way the book was. Laundry! Vacuuming! Grocery shopping! Reading the paper! Hurry. Hurry. Hurryhurryhurryhurryhurry. Gotta do it FAST! Gotta do it NOW! Gotta get it DONE.

Oh, wait a minute. No, I don't. Once a book is finished, I don't have to hurry. I don't have to do anything at all if I don't want to. At least not for a few days. Laundry? Vacuuming? Grocery shopping? Reading the paper? !@#$% that. Hurry? !@#$% that, too. Having sent son and hubby off to school and work, I'm going back to bed. Then I'm taking as long as I want in the tub. And anybody named Vinnie or Sal who might appear in my life damned well better be holding a wine list or pedicure tools.

For people who sit on our butts all day, it's amazing how much trouble we writers have trying to relax. Even when we have the right to do nothing, it still feels...weird...to do nothing. Why is that, I wonder? Why do we writers have so much trouble letting ourselves relax? What's with the guilt that comes in taking a little time for ourselves, even when we're able--and entitled--to take that time? Someday I'm going to figure out the answer to those questions.

When I have the time.

So am I the only one like this? How does everyone else, writers and non-writers alike, make the transition from overtime to downtime? And why, dammit, can't we just let ourselves relax?
Elizabeth Bevarly, 10:27 PM