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When The Fever Stops

The copy-edit stage of book production is the hardest for me, and many authors, apparently. It’s the moment when the fever of writing stops and the malaise sets in. What have I created? Will it sell? If so, who will want to read it? What’s next? I never have any problem with this last question: my projects are lined up like an airplane on a runway. In fact, I begin to resent what I have just completed—the time it is takes to enter all the copy edits and then get the book into production—and can’t wait to get started on something new. That “in the moment” blissful sensation may be the reason writer’s always answer similarly when they are asked: “And what has been your favorite book/article to date?”

“The one I am working on right now. I’m just crazy about it. I think it’s the best I’ve ever done.” And so on.

Of course, we are usually wrong; we have no perspective. And, of course, we can’t really jump into a new project instantaneously; we need rest periods, breaks, a time to refuel.

What do writers do when they are not writing, someone once asked me. The answer is: the laundry. Even if there are maids and nannies to do housework, I am sure you get my drift. I think it was Margaret Atwood who once said: I always clean my own toilets. I, too, clean my own toilet, shop, do the laundry, and I also try to get outdoors into the fresh air as much as possible, no matter the season. And having finished a draft of my new book—“What Returns to Us”—I took my laptop and headed to upstate New York to visit my daughter and son-in-law who are homesteading there.

Day 1, Thursday: I sat for five hours in their kitchen nook, watched the mountains and the sunset, entered all the copy edits and sent it off to my agent. Finito, for now.

Day 2, Friday: I was awakened at 5 a.m. by the rooster. It was still dark. Was he confused? I read and drifted back to sleep. The blinds were up and I could see the white birches and the ornamental cherry tree causing everyone sneezing problems. Before he left for work, I asked my son-in-law to put me to work at some hard, physical labor. I had already walked with the dog on the road; it wasn’t enough. So he pulled out bales of hay and asked me to spread it over some fresh seeding for a pasture he’s creating. I did that for nearly two hours.

Day 3 , Saturday: It was raining. I read, wrote in my journal—the journal never stops—did some email, made a couple of phone calls, and worked with my daughter and son-in-law creating a bed for a blueberry patch. First the rocks had to be pulled out—wonderfully hard work—then roots of the felled trees pulled and cut, sawdust from the felled trees sawn into planks (all recycled) scooped onto the bed, then the loamy peat on top of that, and wood chips on top of that. Hours of work in the soft, misty rain. The dog stayed near us the whole time, sniffed and romped. The cat came out to have a look. They were in Heaven and so was I. We were all wet and muddy. It didn’t matter.

Day 4, Sunday: Mother’s Day which I have renamed “Nurturing Day,” and a communal brunch with friends and neighbors: French Toast, fruit salad, bacon (for those who eat meat), fresh home-grown maple syrup, and fresh-laid eggs. Then, reluctantly, a journey back to the city.

As I write, it is Monday, and I am at my computer full of energy for a new project which I will begin this week. I’m already feeling feverish about it.

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