Friday, 29 July 2016

How much space does a writer need?

I've been even quieter than usual here on the blog. Life's been busy, too busy for blogging, too busy for writing more than notes and fragments.

I tried writing in twenty minute bursts and it's taken me maybe half way through the first draft of my novel. But it wasn't enough in the end - I felt I was dipping in and out, never immersing myself in the cold water of the story long enough to let it warm my skin, to take a deep breath and make those long strokes that pull you deep beneath the surface.

So I'm doing something radical. I'm taking the whole of August off. I'm going to write.

I've never given myself this much time before. I may be a workaholic. I'm certainly afraid.

I believe it's normal to confess at this point, so here goes. Here's the story of a woman who almost forgot how to stop working.

After O levels I delivered newspapers so I could buy a new bike and some riding lessons. The dew and the dawns were lovely, and the secrecy of walking through gates and up paths while people slept above was magical. The bike was even better - it carried me round Ireland on my honeymoon many years later.

I worked Saturdays in a butcher's and then in a bookshop until my A levels, and then I worked on an archeological dig till I went to university.

There was no work in Leeds so I came home every summer and worked at my local sports centre, failing to save lives, selling tickets and scrubbing floors and urinals.

I graduated. I didn't want to teach so I became a trainee for a global paper manufacturer, moved into publishing, went freelance, had babies and kept on working all the way through. I took two weeks off when I had my first child because I hadn't dared tell a single client that I was pregnant. So I stood at my desk till the stitches fell out, and wrote letters to my authors apologising for not replying to their letters sooner. I'd been busy on another project, I said.

I slacked off when I had my second child three years later, and took three months away from the deadlines of publishing to drag myself from feed to nappy to feed. I had begun writing before her birth, but this was the beginning of a long, slow-lifting sea fog of exhaustion and I wrote nothing more for many years. It took a long time to learn that I wasn't just tired, but had ME. It took even longer to find out how to recover from it.

I emerged eventually and began to write again. But bills must be paid and I worked more than I wrote, and when I look at the stories I've written, the few words seem far too slim for so many years.

So this year, the babies now being taller than I am, and students themselves, I began a novel. And then life happened at me again and I gave the time I had to my work.

But I'm not going to let that happen again. So in fifteen minutes I'm going to set my autoresponder.

'Thank you for getting in touch,' it's going to say, 'I'm away from my desk this August. I'll be in touch as soon as I return at the start of September.'

It's scary, and exciting.

I'm going to find out what happens when there's space in my head.