Fire Season

The writing is done. Revisions, line edits, copy edits—all done! So while the editorial team at HMH is working really hard to bring the book to print, I have moved on to my next project.

My new novel is very different from PARCHED, and this is intentional. I hope to have a long and varied writing career, where I am free to follow the characters and stories as they come to me; free to work across genres and markets. I don’t want to get stuck writing the same kind of book over and over again. But actually doing that, trying something new, is sort of terrifying.

What if all my best attempts go up in flames?

Where I live, wildfire is just a part of summer. Some years are worse than others, and this season has been nothing short of devastating. But fire is a natural part of a healthy forest. In order to make way for new growth, the forest has to burn.

I began this summer with a plan. This wasn’t just going to be a vacation. It was going to be a working vacation. And I have worked—really hard. I finished a draft of the new novel, and then turned immediately to revisions. I planned marketing strategies for PARCHED and connected with writers and readers who share a love for stories and a commitment to getting them into children’s hands. But somewhere along the way, this summer stopped being a working vacation and became work.

I sat myself down in early July and asked why I was so irritable, why I was virtually crackling with stress. Here I was, living my dream, but the pressure of promoting the first book and writing the second had sucked the joy out of the process. And where was this pressure coming from? Not from my editor; not from my agent. No, it was all me. The combination of self-imposed deadlines and self-doubt knocked me off balance.

I camped this past Friday night along the Poudre River in northern Colorado. Two weeks ago, the canyon and forest all around was burning in a fire so intense it melted rock and devoured almost 90,000 acres and 259 homes.

The first thing I did when we got to our campsite was go down to the river, shuck my shoes and wade into the water. The damage to the forest was easy to see, but it took a moment for me to notice what the fire had done to the river. The ripples of sand in the riverbed were coated with black char, sediment that had washed down the burned hillsides when the rains finally put out the fire. That sediment altered the pH of the river, putting the ecosystem at risk. But even as I stood there, the river flowed, washing itself clean, finding its balance again.

For writers, there will always be stress and doubts and deadlines, self-imposed or otherwise. I have a month left until school starts again, until the bulk of my time and energy belongs to my students. A month until the first ARCs go out into the world and it’s time for reviewers and readers to have their say. The pressure will only build from here.

So I choose to view this fire season as an early warning. A chance to dig my fire lines wide and long. To create a protected space where I can write, where no doubts or pressures or negative reviews can reach. A chance to find my balance so I can keep it when the next fire season comes around.

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18 Comments

Filed under Anxiety, ARCs, Promotion, Writing and Life

18 responses to “Fire Season

  1. Natalie Dias Lorenzi

    This is a lovely post, Melanie. As a teacher, I totally understand the self-imposed tasks that we assign ourselves over the summer. My expectations always exceed what I’m able to accomplish in July and August. Thanks for the reminder to find balance.

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  2. Cynthia Levinson

    This is such an apt metaphor, Melanie. And, your advice fits me perfectly today as I’m getting ready for–meaning, getting very anxious about–my next research trip. Thanks for the soothing, cooling-down post.

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  3. Wise words. We are all our own worst enemies in this sense, I think.

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  4. Mike Jung

    Terrific post, Melanie, and one that’s very relevant to all of us EMU’s right now! I think you’re spot-on – we have to define our creative space and defend it against all intruders, especially ourselves.

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  5. My worst stress comes from my self-imposed pressure.And self doubt is the most toxic poison of all! You are wise to see that and look for solutions.

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    • At the beginning of the summer, each day on my calendar was marked by how many pages or chapters I needed to get through. For what remains of the summer, I plan to write in on thing I did each day just for me. Today: set up my inflatable pool!

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  6. For years, I rushed from one deadline to the next, most of which were self-imposed. True, it’s that kind of obsessiveness that got me to where I am. But I was missing out on too much time with my family. So now I’m giving myself permission to be okay with not rushing to get the next thing ready for sub. It may mean a slower career, but it’ll also be more balanced.

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  7. I get that the post is about balance and all, but I am just in awe that you finished a draft over the summer. I am a much slower writer. So kudos to you for that. But it can be hard to work when you are supposed to be on vacation and life imposes these insane deadlines.

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    • Well, I didn’t start AND finish the draft this summer…it was a partial nanowrimo draft that had been set aside to make way for the PARCHED revisions.But you’re right–I know now that I have the self-discipline to work hard when I need to, and that’s a really good thing to know when the real deadlines come along.

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  8. This post spoke to me in many ways, since I’m also attempting a second book that’s extremely different from my first and struggling with self-imposed deadlines…not to mention that I’m a recent transplant to wildfire country. So thanks for the wisdom and perspective. 🙂

    (Also, only one month until ARCs of PARCHED are out? OMG! I can’t wait!)

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  9. Pingback: Gotta Do It Write Away | EMU's Debuts

  10. Pingback: They call them deadlines because they can kill you, right? | EMU's Debuts

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