When I was a kid, I knew when my mother was in a mood. She was a pianist -- classically trained. If asked what my mother did, she liked it when I answered, "Concert pianist." In fact, performing made her sick, literally. She wasn't cut out for it. She was so good at the piano in part because she was obsessive-compulsive. A high-anxiety type, performing wasn't her thing.
But, man, she could play the hell out of some dark brooding classical pieces. And if you walked up to the house with some friends and she was into someone like Mahler, well, to be sure, our palsied Dalmation would be curled up and quivering under the baby grand and you should likely just turn around, explaining the dire situation to your friends, and head back out into the wilds of suburbia. (Eventually my friends knew Mahler themselves.)
Now, my kids know when I'm beginning a novel -- the brooding and glowering that comes before I light on something that I think can bear the weight of a novel. They know when I'm writing my false starts. And they know when I'm trying to finish a novel -- those final pages that seem to require my rapt attention. I warn them. I don't lock the door to my office, but they know that it better be good.
And the G., our sitter, knows this too. I'll walk into the kitchen and talk through some plot line. She knows she should like this plot line even if I tell her it's stupid. She'll remind me that I thought my last plot line was stupid -- the one that's now a novel. And I'll tell her that it was stupid, actually. I just spent long hours dressing it up so that it didn't look stupid -- like Sarah Palin who's had corrective eye surgery but still wears the glasses to up her perceived IQ. And the G. knows when it's kind of worthless to continue to talk to me, just let me go.
And then there's Dave who has to sit through this false start and then that one, who has to hear me say, "I've listed all of the things I can't write about and, as far as I can tell, it includes all of human existence." (When you write lists of dead ends, it means you're only seeing dead ends. It's a very bad sign.)
And so ... I have been in the starting mode. Yesterday, I called my editor for Bridget Asher novels and sighed my way through the current plot. "Is this even remotely interesting?" I'd interrupt myself -- ever the salesman -- and at the end, I said, "And then, you know, something happens or something and I don't know, what do you think?"
And we talk. She's brilliant, this editor. She knows my worlds very well. This is our fourth book together. And by the end of the conversation, I feel kind of humbled and shy and I say, "You're great. I mean it. Thank you ... for talking me through ... this."
(Did I mention the panic attack in the middle of the night -- the one in which I was sure I'd never write again?)
This is what helps -- having people around, smart ones, supportive ones, ones who let you brood and do your own versions of Mahler gloominess, ones who know when to let you talk and when to tell you to just get to it.