I am not at Left Coast Crime this weekend, even though it would have been a no-brainer, L.A. and all.
There was a time – like, yesterday – I would never have missed a conference. Conferences are the social reward of being an author, cleverly disguised as essential career business. I love them. They are always exactly what I need in the moment.
But tempting as it is, and much as I am missing everyone, I don’t regret it. I don’t want to take even a few days away from my writing right now. More than that, I don’t want to pull myself out of writing mode, and conference mode is really different from writing mode.
It’s been an exceptionally hard year for me, as it has for so many of the ‘Rati, and I think for many, many, many of our extended community. And the whole rest of the world.
So I don’t have a lot of energy to split my focus, right now. And I am so excited and grateful to HAVE a book I want to write again.
I tried this whole thing a little differently this time. I always wait for inspiration to help me choose a project. Well, “waiting” isn’t exactly the word, because it’s a more active process than that, deliberately throwing myself open to receive ideas, journaling, making lists as I’ve talked about before, foraging widely in subject matter that draws me.
But this year I’ve been working a 12-step recovery program, Al Anon, for people who have been affected by other people’s drinking (which would be, let’s face it, everyone, right?). One of the pillars of that program is releasing your own need to control everything under the sun and learning to first trust, and then gradually fully rely on a Higher Power of your own understanding. (And for the record, the first thing I do when I buy one of the daily meditation books or any other of the literature, is go through and cross out any mentions of “He” in regard to a Higher Power. Or add my own genders randomly.)
So this time, as I was finishing Shifters, my Harlequin Nocturne book that comes out in October, and getting that gnawing restless feeling… What next? What am I going to write next? I realized that if I am really committed to this spiritual path, this decision is like every other in my life – I needed to turn it over to my Higher Power. And ask: “What do YOU want me to write?”
(How you phrase the question in these communications is important, I’ve found. It’s not “What should I write next?” but “What would you have me write?”)
So every day, I’ve been asking, in prayer, meditation, in the car, lying awake at night – “What do YOU want me to write?
This question had actually become more and more desperate, especially once I’d finished the first draft of the current book. Because I didn’t seem to be getting any answers.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been a professional writer for most of my adult life and I actually have a backlog of perfectly great, pretty developed story ideas that would take me much more than the rest of my lifetime to write. But that isn’t the point. I don’t want to be out there on my own writing, any more. I want to be aligned with what the Universe wants from me.
But with no obvious answers forthcoming, I went into doubt. I started to feel not just confused, but completely blocked about what book to write next. I started obsessing about the need to give my agent some proposals (like, yesterday). And I worked on ideas, carded them, did all the right things – all the while being less and less trusting of myself to make the right decision. So over and over and OVER every day, for weeks, maybe months, I kept asking (in prayer, meditation, in the car, lying awake at night) – “What do YOU want me to write?” “PLEASE tell me what to write.” “I really NEED to know what to write, here…”
Then, week before last, I had the opportunity to go on retreat with some of my best writer friends.
I’ve written about this before, my posse of mystery writer friends (I should say goddesses, really) I hang out with in Raleigh: Margaret Maron, Sarah Shaber, Diane Chamberlain, Katy Munger, Mary Kay Andrews and Brynn Bonner. I was stunned when they asked me to join this group – my first book had just come out and I felt like such an amateur, comparatively. I’d been reading Margaret for years and it was really like getting an invitation from the queen.
We’re more a regular lunch group than a critique group, but several times a year we go on retreat to the beach or the mountains or some generally fantastic place – that’s how I came to stay in the haunted mansion in Southern Pines that I used for the model of my haunted house in THE UNSEEN. We get together in the morning to set goals for the day and help each other with story problems, work all day long by ourselves and then convene at night to have dinner and brainstorm on any new problem that anyone’s having. And of course there are walks on the beach, field trips to cemeteries and nearby historical districts….
This trip we went to Mary Kay’s beach cottage on Tybee Island, off the Georgia coast near Savannah, which is the same charming, funky cottage she wrote about in her book SAVANNAH BREEZE. Photos here. And I almost didn’t go because there is so much else in turmoil in my life, but then I thought, no, “I will go, and I will come back with my story. I have to.”
So we’re down at the beach, and a few days go by and I am still floundering, although it feels a lot better to flounder at the beach, somehow. But on the third day, at our breakfast session, I was telling everyone all about my several story ideas, and I swear, Mary Kay just channeled God. She got really intense, scary intense, and asked me bluntly, over and over again, “What do you WANT this book to be? What do you want it to do for you? You have to ask for what you WANT.”
Which is, always, the hardest thing for me to do.
And I opened my mouth and started telling them about a third book that I hadn’t even told them about because I hadn’t even figured out how to do it yet, and as I was telling them about it I was realizing that I have been, for weeks, getting the most clear signs about this book. EVERYTHING, everywhere. For every time I have asked this question the answer has been right in my face, in my inbox, on my shelves, appliquéd on the clothes I wear every day, in songs I hear, all right in my face.
But I still hadn’t gotten it, so the Universe finally took pity on me and gave me the most direct answer to my question I could possibly have asked for, unambiguous, unequivocal.
So I am here today to say, “Ask”. Whatever it is. Ask and wait for the answer. The Universe is so patient, and so wants you to get whatever it is you need, that it will stay right there with you through pain and confusion and doubt and turmoil until you are ready to hear the answers you need.
I would love to know, today, if and how any of you consult with the universe or your own higher powers, in whatever areas of your life you do.
And of course, reports from LCC from all those attending!