Posted by: jeannineatkins | July 7, 2014

The Days Between: Finishing One Manuscript, Starting Another

For the past year or two, I’ve been working with a map, though one I made myself. I outlined the forests and paths of the manuscript I just finished, and erased old lines and drew new ones. Still, I had something to work from, and a dream to get it right. Now I have to think of blank paper not as a dare, but an invitation, and I tell myself: when I’m ready. My writer-self doesn’t like to be pushed. She performs better with loopholes and sweet talk than threats.

The blank page will call if I don’t panic. I keep the lined but otherwise empty paper by my elbow, but the porch isn’t church. It’s okay if I fiddle with the straw in my ice tea, flip through a magazine, stare into the green, even check my e-mail, though I’m better off now sticking with paper and my barely-decipherable handwriting than a laptop. I can fold over the corners of paper. I can stick my pen through paper. Watch it curl in the heat. Its everyday look evokes unscheduled summer days. But if the laptop with its built-in diversions calls, I’m not going to raise a fuss. If I take time off for poetry, I may come back with a gift for my work instead of outrage at some scandal, but let’s not go crazy separating bad from good habits, setting too many rules.

I’m trying to hold out just one admonition for the characters and place starting to form. I’m telling myself that this book won’t be drawn from history. I love stacks of books, but want a vacation from the nonfiction section, partly to catch up on reading poetry and novels, immersing rather than skimming surfaces, which is part of my research method: waiting to be caught by a concrete noun. A friend recently lured me to walk down the street of Old Deerfield, scanning the historic village map for a century that pleased us, but I’m off the clock, here as company for Deb, who is a weaver as well as a writer, and is open to something that might bring those selves together. We smelled the roses in my photo, and then the sawdust inside a recreation of an old joiner’s shop.


Finishing my manuscript was fun, even if there were no fireworks. More and more I let myself listen to the whispers of a few new ideas. Foolish, full of holes, overdone, not my style, or are they? I’m trying not to assess at this point. Maybe some history will sneak in after all, for there is an old house, and the mom looks like she might be a paleontologist, and what’s life without looking back? I was thinking no magic as I’ve tried and failed at it before. But could I try harder? I don’t feel obliged, but admire books in which magic weaves through realism. We will see. What great words to have as a job description. I feel my luck, I feel my trepidation.

Pushing out the judge-in-me isn’t just about having a better time. It’s vital to creation. To weigh ideas at this point would be like cutting down all the trees in a forest because none had painted signs showing a way out. I don’t know which dead old branch or falling leaf I’ll need. Maybe there’s not a theme in the brush, but a way toward one. I keep looking and walking, getting over stubbed toes, and grateful for the occasional blue bird.

It’s a thrill, or do I mean terror, to begin. At least there’s a lot of hope. I make folders with titles that keep changing, put in and toss out flotsam, while looking more closely at other bits. And writing a page is writing a page, whether it’s first, last, or in the middle. So it’s best to celebrate wherever I am in the process, at least with a smile, a tip of ice tea at the cat, when I’m, say, pleased with an image. Or a bit of dialogue, or the rhythm of a sentence. Or even that I spelled rhythm right the first time, which has taken a lot of years.



  1. I do love listening to your words, Jeanne, watching how you proceed & the metaphors you offer are helpful. Enjoy scattering the leaves, and gathering what looks good in your basket!

  2. Love – especially your last line, where you say it all.

    • We do need to celebrate the good parts, and one of the best is making friends through writing. So glad to know you, Sarah!

  3. Rhythm is tough to spell and hard to establish sometimes. I wish you luck!

    • Sending luck back your way during your at home retreat!

  4. Lovely post as always, Jeannine. I haven’t been posting and commenting on-line so much lately but I always love to come and sit with you and share in your sweet wisdom for a while. I’m in the middle of a project (I’m not quite sure how it will manifest yet) and I so appreciate making this journey of opening our hearts together even though we are miles apart. I so appreciate the way you allow yourself to listen to both your heart and mind in all the work you do. Thanks for sharing and being such good company. There’s a quiet joy as I write to know that your words are blossoming out on the page at the same time. Happy summer and writing to you! ❤

    • Yes, it’s lovely to know we’re working together if thousands of miles apart. The tea and scones are always out for you, Lorraine. Hoping you’ll find just the most intriguing messes, leading the way to light, on your pages!

  5. Coming out of the deep recesses of my revision cave to say what a pleasure it is to read this, Jeannine. Thank you for the reminder of how it feels to be starting something new. I would love to be able to come and join you on that porch! xoxo

    • Nice to know you’re deep into revising the end of the trilogy. Hope you’re happy with it, and enjoy your summer days beyond the cave! Thank you for stopping in here. I miss you!

  6. I keep returning to these lines, Jeannine: “To weigh ideas at this point would be like cutting down all the trees in a forest because none had painted signs showing a way out. I don’t know which dead old branch or falling leaf I’ll need.” This is where luck is married to trepidation, isn’t it? And isn’t it also lovely that summer almost gives us permission to slow the pace, and give ourselves room to lose ourselves in the greenery and the cool sips of ice tea. Lovely, lovely post.

    • I’ve always been a fan of writing in summer partly for the ingrained break in the academic year, and partly the humidity-imposed dreamier pace, that lets you stroll or stumble into new places So glad you are joining me!

      Some of that deadwood in the forest is so often what we need to let our characters trip and fall, maybe flat on their faces, or to get lost or perhaps behave badly. Someone like you who’s spent so much time being a great mom and teacher may find it hard to let your characters do what as an authority advises against. But can be just what a story needs. Cheering you on!

  7. I love this post more than I can say! It validates my own doubt starting The New Thing and your words give me the space to write with simply the joy in writing the story. (Not sure if that makes any sense…)

    • The joy of writing the story always makes sense. Good luck creating your tangled, brambly forests!

  8. “…but the porch isn’t church.”

    Yes, and amen. Same with my new writing desk, and my backyard bistro table. I’m finally seeing the truth and wisdom of this, and feeling the release. Whew, it’s “taken a lot of years.” I’m usually a quicker study…

    • Thanks for the yes and amen. We can learn so much when looking to the side, or on our “off hours.” Or playing in the margins. And I’m a quick study at nothing.

      • Well, I don’t think I stated that as well as I could have. “Quick study” is a relative term, absent any inherent value. I was just measuring it against my own time frame & goals…so very sorry if it came across otherwise!

        The thing that resonated most about this lovely piece is that it confirms what I’ve come to realize just recently–to know, really KNOW, down deep in my heart where it really counts: I’ve cramped my writing by sitting so long in the pew, hands folded and legs neatly crossed at the ankle. That success isn’t not so much about finding new places to sit/write as it is about not being afraid to sing a chorus that’s not printed in the hymnal.

        Anyway, I do hope you’ll invite me to sit on the porch with you and Lorraine. I’d dearly love to share a leisurely conversation over fresh-brewed tea and scones!

        • Perfectly, beautifully put. It does help to peel off the white gloves, kick off the black patent leather shoes. I know you can belt out your own songs. And yes I would love to talk about all this on the porch with tea! Cheering you from afar meanwhile, with big faith. xo

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