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Six Things I Learned When I Took A Year Off Writing Novels

Colourful collection of washi tape on Deryn Collier's wooden work table.
Sometimes the magic happens when you just let go.

I recently wrote about the year that I took off from writing novels. Today I wanted to summarize what I learned during that time, and the direction I will be heading next.

1. Action Does Not Equal Result  

Over the last 15 years, I have done everything that was asked and expected of me, including writing 1000 words a day, networking, joining writerly organizations and volunteering, attending conferences, pitching manuscripts, keeping up to date with social media and generally following all of the best practices touted to authors.

For a while, all of that worked, until it stopped working. When I took a year off writing novels, I took a year off from all of that as well. And that’s when things started moving forward, with barely any effort from me.

Who’s in charge exactly? The answer clearly is NOT ME, and might possibly be NO ONE.

What makes things happen? WHO KNOWS?

It seems that I am not the one in control, and cause and effect, at least when it comes to writing and publishing, is a broken link. There is no guarantee that taking any action will lead to a particular result. Therefore, the only logical conclusion is…yes, that’s right…to spend more time doing creative things that give me joy! Because who knows how it will turn out?

2. Let Go. More than that. No more than that. More.

We often hear the advice to let it go and let things happen. We tell that to single people, to job seekers, to anyone waiting for the kettle to boil.

I believe this is true, but until this year off, I had no idea just how much of a letting go it needed to be. No peeking. No crossed fingers. No looking back to see. No superstitions, no stepping over cracks. No hope, really. I had to completely stop thinking, or caring, about writing novels and publishing. I had to get so excited about the alternatives that when my ideal choice was presented back to me in the form of a book deal, I gave real thought to whether or not I wanted to go back to all that, since I was having so much fun doing other stuff.

3. Let Go of Form

 I had to let go of the form my stories would take. I sat with the nugget at the centre of me:  I am here to tell stories and share them with others. Traditionally published novels is just one way, and while it’s the way I’ve always imagined, and the way that feels most direct and validating to me, it is not the only way.

This past year, I learned that I can tell stories in lots of ways. Through social media, through my blog, through working on other people’s projects. I tell stories all the time when I lead training, or when I write clear, logical technical documents for my day job. There is satisfaction and purpose in all of that, too.

4. I Missed Writing Novels

When I finished the last pre-publication round of edits for my work in progress last November, I had to stop myself from jumping right into another novel. That was really hard, because the fact is, I simply like my life better when I am working on a novel.

I missed having the secret excitement in my day of being the only one who knew what a character was up to. I missed having a long form story unfolding in my mind. I missed the daily, magical interaction with my imagination. I missed the sense of purpose that working on a big project gives me. I missed my characters.

5. I Missed Bern

Some of you may remember Bern Fortin, the coroner and sleuth from my first two published novels. I haven’t written in Bern’s voice for many years now, and taking this year off made me realize how much I yearn to write him again.

I have always known that I was not done with Bern, but part of me was hoping he would dissolve in the sunset of my imagination during my year off, since the practicalities of continuing to write him have not made sense for many years. But he didn’t go away. He’s still very much here, with me, waiting his turn in his polite and patient way. Yes, Bern. I see you there.

6. I Don’t Have To (But I Want To)

I have known since I was a very young child that all I wanted to do was write mystery novels. I tried doing other stuff for a whole year, and it was really fine. More than fine — it was a whole lot of fun. It was invigorating and necessary and I learned a whole lot. I’m a better writer for it. I’m more confident in my ability to do my work. I’m more willing to put my work out into the world independently when needed. I know that if I never publish another novel, I will be just fine. I’ll live a good life and continue to do good work.

But you know what? Writing mysteries is still the thing I want to do most. After a whole year of sampling other items on the menu, it’s still the dish I would choose every single time, just like the mushroom ravioli at my favourite restaurant.

What’s next? I’m taking time to play with ideas and themes and characters for a new novel. One that I will start working on in the new year. At least, that’s my plan. But, taking into account lessons 1 and 2, who knows where this will go? For sure I know there will be stories and sharing and lots more mysteries.

3 thoughts on “Six Things I Learned When I Took A Year Off Writing Novels”

  1. I LOVE THIS!! I’ve had similar experiences and espouse similar advice…though I do wonder what my perspective would be if I hadn’t ended up with publishing deals and a books at the end of it all.

    1. Hi Kerry, Thanks for commenting. Yes, it’s hard to keep going when that light at the end of the tunnel isn’t there. I did have a whole plan ready and that road would no doubt have been fun and full of creative work and connection too. AND I’m super happy to be back at it for the time being!

  2. Thanks for this Deryn! I’ve had a similar experience and come to a lot of the same conclusions. Though never got it together to capture it in words, as you’ve done so well. Here’s to letting go, having fun, and doing it just because you want to!

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