Thursday, April 7, 2011

Empty Time

I'm starting a new book, and it's going very slowly. For one thing, I don't really know what it's about yet. Well, that is, I do know what it's about—I have the heroine and the hero, and I've got the premise, and that's all written down in a blurb which I've given my agent and which she's approved. And I know that the theme of the book is knowing yourself and being accepted, about realising that even good people make mistakes, and more specifically it's about a woman who is trying to make up for something she did wrong many years ago.

So I know the big things. But I don't know the little things. I haven't got snatches of dialogue, or a picture in my head of the heroine's home. I don't know most of the characters' names and I'm not really sure what's going to happen on a page-by-page basis.

Discovering these things takes time. I discovered yesterday, for example, that my heroine keeps stashes of chocolate in her house in case her friends come round with a crisis. But that secretly, she comfort-eats it herself when she's alone. The details of her life, and her friends' lives, will emerge as I get the story down into real words, rather than big ideas.

But discovering these things takes more than just writing the real words. It takes lots of staring into space. Walks, and baths, and those five minutes lying in bed while the house is quiet. Empty time. Unfortunately, I've also got a new paperback out which means that every free minute is taken up with promotion, or also obsessively checking Amazon to see if it's selling. My husband isn't working, which is nice because I like seeing him, but is difficult because he assumes that unless I'm typing, I'm free for a conversation about guitars and/or whether we have any cheese. My son's funded nursery hours are stopped for Easter, which is also nice because we get more time together, but I have absolutely zero chance of thinking about anything but him (and Top Gear, and Lego) when he's around.

So I have been cranky. Craving empty time. And not able to appreciate the full time I do have.

Fortunately, next week is my birthday. And as my present, we are going to the seaside for a week. For five days, we'll all be together and I won't be working; it will be pure, guilt-free, family holiday time. And then, on the day after my birthday, my husband and son will go back home and leave me in the cottage on my own, for two days.

Five whole days of full time. And two whole days of empty time.

I can't wait.

How do you snatch your empty, thinking time?


  1. A good time is on a trail with my husband and dog. It's what we do together, usually on Sundays after church. We often go for long stretches of hiking without speaking (especially if the terrain is steep), him a few paces ahead with the dog. During those stretches my mind wanders and I usually wind up in the 18th century with my characters.

    When I'm not checking our six for stalking mountain lions or curious bears, that is.

    I totally relate to getting cranky when there hasn't been enough mental solitude (empty time), and the futility of trying to grab some while others are in the house. I don't know how writing parents do it. A husband is hard enough to manage! ;)

  2. Those five days plus two days sound absolutely blissful, Julie!

    I have been known to retire to a (very basic) cottage in Scotland for a week of walking in daylight hours and writing after the sun goes down (this only balances well in autumn or early spring!)

    But I think my best 'empty times' are driving. I get to do a lot of that, and if I remember NOT to put the radio on, there's a whole lot of thinking-and-talking-to-myself I can do on the way to work... :)

  3. Very jealous of the holiday and the 'thinking' time.

    I have started walking to and from work. It is almost an hour each way and I find that it is good thinking time as long as there isn't any nonsense work stuff going on to take up my time.


  4. I can totally relate to the husband disruptions! I don't mind if I'm just web-surfing or something, but I feel really cranky about it if he pops in when I'm in a groove. (Of course, he has no way of knowing when I'm grooving, so I try not to take it out on him.)

    My thinking time is either, like Lori, while out hiking or, like Anna, while driving. I take the dogs out nearly every day for an hour, so I usually have that at least.

    Enjoy the seaside! Hard to imagine a more relaxing place to be for a while.