Monday, November 21, 2022

Why I Took a Writing Sabbatical and am Back at Work on My Novel Now -- by Rachel

If you’re lucky – and I am – you have a passion that is central to your identity. It frames who you are, whether it’s art or medicine, homemaking or leadership. For me, that passion is writing. I hardly know what I think or feel until I’ve found a way to express it in writing. 

But having a passion that is also a commercial venture can get confusing. About the time my novel The Language of Sparrows was published, the complications in my life spiraled. It involved a painful divorce (what divorce isn’t?), promotions at work that required longer hours, and my girls entering their teens, which – surprise! – is more complex than raising little ones.

When I first started writing, my girls were young and I had a fulltime job. I got up before dawn to write, and edited during my lunch hour. It was exhausting and exhilarating. I finished two novels, published the second, and began work on the third.

If John Grisham and Diana Gabaldon could get their start stealing time to write in the wee hours around jobs and families, so could I. I was the little engine who could, chugging up the writing tracks with confidence. Until I couldn’t anymore. I couldn’t be a single mother, manager and author. I was burnt out. As any writer knows, letting your imagination dream up a coherent novel-length story requires loads of listening time and mental energy day after day after day. With my crazy busy life I no longer had time or mental energy.

I was convinced I had to write that next novel though, because I was published now and needed to strike while the iron was hot. I kept trying, unsuccessfully, until at last I surrendered to the blank page and stopped writing altogether. What a painful time that was. You see, writing isn’t a hobby for me. It’s my heart and soul. Without words I was emotionally parched.

It took about a year for me to rediscover the kinds of writing that didn’t have anything to do with publication. It was journaling for myself and writing poetry and short articles to share with friends. That kind of writing helped me rediscover the long-forgotten happiness of stringing words together for the fun of it, of saying exactly what I meant and saying it well. Writing bliss!

I’ve read so much writing advice that insinuates that if you’re a real writer, you’ll write through thick and thin, no matter what. I am a real writer, but I absolutely believe the time off was necessary and good, as it may be for many real writers.

During what I now call my sabbatical years, I got out of the house more, spent time with my girls, had profound relationships, took a few vacations, thought through hard personal topics. I experimented with different kinds of writing. I lived and I loved and I grew. Gradually, I returned to my third novel, but I wrote in slow snatches as I could find the time and only as ideas came to me. After several years I’m a little over half way into my first draft.

Time has allowed my story to marinate. As a result, it has more plot layers, richer characters and deeper themes. Maybe I’m rationalizing, but I think the time away from the story has paid off personally and creatively.

My girls are young women now, and a couple of months ago, I took early retirement. I’m back to writing my novel consistently. It’s my new unofficial job. It’s unpaid at least for now and comes with a demanding boss (ha!) 

I’m excited to be back at it though. I’m loving the pages piling up and the story taking shape. Also, it fills my heart to be working again with my favorite friend and critique partner, Christine Lindsay. As we write our novels, we’ll be sharing some of our tips on writing fiction and living well as a writers on If writing is your thing, I invite you to join us.

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