Writing during the holidays is a test of endurance—to be attempted only by diehards and those on deadline. This year, I fell into the latter category. Novel two was due in my editor’s inbox bright and early on Monday January 7th. I was not panicking. I was not panicking. I was not panicking.
However, since every heroine needs a number of obstacles between her and her goal, here’s my list: I was the sickest I’d been since my son’s preschool days; the Jewish side of the family was coming for an English-Christmas-the-works; my son was turning eighteen, and a teenage invasion, I mean party, loomed; I hadn’t cleaned my house in a very, very long time; and our huge Christmas tree was still undecorated. (I’d strung the lights mid-fever, and our son, bless him, had attempted to fix them. It wasn’t pretty.)
When I’m overwhelmed, I tend to break life into daily goals and ignore the big picture. Drives my husband crazy, but narrowing my focus always works for me. While I wrestled the manuscript to a point where I could put it aside for five days, he valiantly morphed into Mr. Mom. He even organized the birthday cake, bought and distributed teacher gifts, and ensured we had the hard-to-find 15oz can of chestnut puree I needed for the stuffing.
Once the antibiotics kicked in, I became Molly Maids on steroids and baked at a level that would have impressed the goddess of English cooking, Delia Smith. I even took two days off to be sociable. Then I crawled upstairs to my office, closed the door, and stayed there for ten days. I emerged only to eat, sleep, and do laundry. On New Year’s Eve, I worked fifteen hours straight.
Friends left me alone or muttered, “Oh, you poor thing, how rotten having to work so hard over the holidays.” But during those ten days, something magical happened. Everything stripped down to me, my story, and my characters.
The Unfinished Garden, my debut novel, will always be my first baby, especially since it’s a story about my favorite topic—the courage it takes to fight OCD / obsessive-compulsive disorder. (I’m the proud mother of a brilliant obsessive-compulsive.) Novel two, however, has worked itself under my skin and into my heart. Even though it deals with dementia, depression, and the death of a child, it’s a hopeful story that circles a theme I love: finding light in darkness. It’s an emotional read, and to mine the psychology of my characters, I need to be fully present when I write their voices. For those ten days, I was.
Within a week, my revision letter came back from my editor, and I was eager to dive back in. I was energized. Writing to deadline over the holidays had turned out to be the Christmas gift of my dreams.
Barbara Claypole White is the author of The Unfinished Garden, a love story about grief, OCD, and dirt. Originally from England, she lives in the North Carolina Forest with her family and a ridiculously large woodland garden. Temporarily unnamed novel two has a publication date of January 2014.