by Tess Gerritsen
Last week, I turned in my final edits for for THE SILENT GIRL, my next Rizzoli & Isles novel. Now I’m just waiting for the copy editor to bounce it back to me in the next few days. In the meantime, I’ve written the acknowledgments page, gathered together my research notes and manuscript drafts in a box for storage, and cleared off my desk. That empty desk surface is something I haven’t seen in over a year. It’s been covered for so long in papers, notes, reference books, and general clutter that I’d forgotten that there actually is a desk underneath it all, a nice desk made of cherrywood. For the last few days I’ve been enjoying how tidy it looks, but I’m also feeling a bit lost. After a year of fiercely obsessing about the book, suddenly it’s finished and been sent into the world like a kid finally off to college.
I’m suffering from empty desk syndrome.
For the past year I’ve lived in a near-constant state of anxiety about the story. I’d startle awake in the middle of the night thinking I’d never get this thing written. I’ve had moments of stomach-churning self-doubt, wondering how I’d explain to my agent and editor that my writing mojo had vanished. On the few vacations we took last year, I could never really relax because I knew I’d have to return home and wrestle with the beast. I couldn’t leave the job behind; it was always with me, nagging me that I had only six months left till deadline… five months … one month…
Then, somewhere around draft #3, the troublesome manuscript seemed to snap into shape. The plot, the characters, the motivations all crystallized. I polished the final manuscript (draft #5) and emailed it off. A few days later came the happy phone calls from editor and agent. The book was done, everyone was delighted, and it was time to celebrate. I did, with dinner out and a few glasses of wine.
But now comes the postpartum readjustment. When you’ve lived for months with stress hormones circulating in your bloodstream, when you’ve forgotten what it’s like to take a weekend off, it’s hard to reenter normal life. Now when I wake up, I still feel the usual jolt of anxiety, and then I remember: The book’s done! You can relax! My husband says it’s weird having me in the here and now for a change. For the past few days I’ve lingered over the morning newspapers, surfed the web, and finally tackled the towering stack of galleys waiting to be read. I had my hair cut. I’m listening to Italian language tapes. I signed up for archery lessons. And I’m wandering the house feeling untethered because I’m not sure what to do with myself.
And … I’m coming down with a cold. It happens every single time I turn in a book. When stress suddenly evaporates, the body says: “Your job’s done. You’re allowed to get sick now.” So, right on time, I woke up this morning with a headache and sore throat. But what luxury to be able to recuperate at leisure.