A week and a half ago I finished the first draft of my novel, and because I did a terrible job of not reading what I’d written over and over, I have forced myself to put it on the shelf for a month.

Everyone says that it’s important sometimes to step back and get distance on a book project. Distance builds perspective, and perspective helps you see the difference between the scene that plays out in your head and the scene you actually wrote.

For most writers (I’m sure) a month between project phases like this sounds like an invitation to play time. Unfortunately, I’m a wannabe methodical writer who wishes the writing process was more typing and less process. I find the prospect of chipping away at a giant project for months on end comforting. Five minutes of ambiguity, and I fall into an existential crisis–Is a novelist really a novelist without an active novel-in-progress?–so as soon as I made the decision to give my novel a rest, I instantly went into denial. When I wasn’t sneaking off to write editing notes to myself in my journal, I was harassing the Hacker (the only person in the world I trust with work that hasn’t been edited under a microscope) for feedback. Eventually, I ran out of ideas and just couldn’t ask the Hacker if there was anything else one more time without putting my marriage in jeopardy, and I was forced to face the prospect of weeks without an active longterm writing project.

I wish this meant that I took a nap, relaxed, got over it, and started experimenting. Instead, I’m compiling a list of novel-related things to do between now and June that will, hopefully, keep the existential hounds at bay.

Research. Googling “how to knit a fishing net” is a terrific way to break out of flow, but the time between drafts is probably a good time to look up the answers to life’s most savory questions.

World building. I’ve always liked the idea of story bibles, and I love it when other writers allow me to take a look at theirs, but I find that going into the first draft of a story with one feels like trying to climb Mount Everest with an army of overly helpful babbling Sherpas. For years, I thought the answer was to force myself to become more structured and a better planner, but I’m starting to wonder if now, after the first draft would be a good time to do all of that map drawing I’ve always fantasized about.

Character building. At the very least, I should probably figure out a name for the character who appears in my book as CAPTAIN X… Though, I’m temped to name him Captain Echs.

Working on these things would make me feel virtuous, but they’re really elaborate ways of cheating. It would probably be better to spend this time actually playing–scheming up synopses, vignettes, character sketches, and experimental short stories–things that might help me segue into a new novel when I’m done with my current one. (And now that I’ve written this, I feel sufficiently lame enough not doing these things that I’ll find them impossible to avoid.)

But, really, how can I honestly call myself a novelist if I don’t spend a little time playing existential penguin?

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