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Friday Speak Out!: Empty Next Syndrome


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by Caitlin Hamilton Summie

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Having spent nearly half of my life writing about the same set of characters, I have finally come to the end—the short stories about them are all written, a novel about them is soon to be published (GEOGRAPHIES OF THE HEART, Fomite Press, January 18, 2022). There isn’t another prose piece bubbling about the Macmillan family.

My characters have “moved out,” so to speak.

It’s weird not to be writing about Sarah, Glennie, and Al, but there is really nothing more to say, and in my mind, I see them walking down a path I cannot follow, out and away, their backs to me as they leave. I imagine them going. They don’t look back.

I watch them go, though. All the way to the end of the path.

I am in the middle of empty next syndrome. I feel a little lonely but also am relishing parts of this—the extra free time, the knowing that I did my best for my characters, the chance for a quieter mind because I’m not springing up to scribble down a note or check a timeline.

What’s next? I have a strong draft of a middle grade novel filed away, and I would love to edit it again and find it a home.

I have a professionally edited picture book, ready to submit.

But nothing new. I hear no voice coming through in a line, which is where stories always start for me.

Here’s the thing about empty next syndrome: overall, I am okay with it. Goodbyes are hard. Change is hard. But I feel peaceful in this new, fallow period of my writing life. I’m putting my feet up, tilting my face back to catch the sun. I am okay with the silence.

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Caitlin Hamilton Summie earned an MFA with Distinction from Colorado State University, and her short stories have been published in
Beloit Fiction Journal, Wisconsin Review, Puerto del Sol, JMWW, Mud Season Review, Belmont Story Review, Hypertext Magazine, and more. Her story collection, TO LAY TO REST OUR GHOSTS, won the fourth annual Phillip H. McMath Book Award, Silver in the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award for Short Stories, and was a Pulpwood Queen Book Club Bonus Book. Her debut novel, GEOGRAPHIES OF THE HEART, was inspired by three stories in her collection. She spent many years in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Colorado before settling with her family in Knoxville, Tennessee. She co-owns the book marketing firm, Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity, founded in 2003. Find her online at caitlinhamiltonsummie.com
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Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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