Mourning My Imaginary BFFs

June 8, 2017

Oooooohhh, Zach and Scarlett, how I miss you!

Zach and Scarlett, the main characters in my upcoming young-adult novel, “All the Wrong Chords,” have been my imaginary BFFs for the past year. What stellar hang-out buddies they’ve been: Zach, with his unassuming sweetness, Scarlett with her razor-sharp wit, the smoldering chemistry that each is too shy to act on. . .

I’ve dreamed their dreams, captured their nuances and basically lived their lives for months now, and their abrupt vacancy from my brain is daunting.

Much has been written about “flow,” the creative state of mind that transcends time and ego so completely that you feel more like the passenger than the driver of the journey you’re creating.

Oh, how this book flowed! I’ve never loved characters so completely, unabashedly and unconditionally, flaws and all. And this book includes an additional source of joy: Zach and Scarlett are in a band, so music is basically another character in the book. (The soundtrack will be available soon on iTunes.) This book combines all my passions, and writing it has been deliciously sublime from beginning to end.

But the downside of flow is the abrupt absence of flow. Novel-writing can feel a little like an environmentally induced bipolar condition: the extreme bliss of creation followed by the inevitable sound of a buzzer. Time’s up. Sigh.

Don’t get me wrong: few things are more satisfying than giving an art form its wings. But once it flies the coop, the empty-nest syndrome is kinda crushing.

Even after I’d completed the novel, I was able to revisit Zach and Scarlett during the editing process, adding a scene here, a gesture there, a variety of spit-and-polish maneuvers that kept them alive. But that’s over now. Advance reading copies will be available in a couple of weeks, and when the book is published in December, Zach and Scarlett will be frozen in time.

Except that they won’t. Every new reader will breathe life back into them, each in a unique way. The completion of art isn’t an ending, it’s a beginning. It’s only when we hoard our art, keeping it in the dark, that it dies on the vine.

And although I’m on the gloomy end of my bipolar swing, I know another project is right around the corner. Now is the time for the fluttery insecurity — oh, who am I kidding: the abject fear — of pondering the possibility that my creative juices have run dry. Maybe I can’t do this again! Maybe I’ll never experience flow again!

But I will. I fully trust creativity to whisper in my ear again when it’s good and ready. Songwriter Paul Simon noted that the fallow times are as important as the fertile ones in the creative process. I have to respect and honor this stage, the yin to flow’s yang.

And I have the satisfaction of trusting that Zach and Scarlett will give other people as much joy as they’ve given me.

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© 2020 Christine Hurley Deriso