Tuesday, 27 September 2016

I need more time, or is that an excuse?

Last month I wrote about taking August off to write. It didn't go quite according to plan and I'm wondering if that's because I'm not dedicated enough to my writing. Maybe I'm not really a writer, deep inside? Do I need to be more single-minded, more disciplined? More obsessed?

A writer I respect once told me that writing must come first, always. It took me years to get over her dictum because I knew that a sad child or an ill partner would always come first for me, so I believed I couldn't be a proper writer.

The thing is, that life has a tendency of happening at you even if your main character is teetering on the brink and desperately needs you to write the next scene.

Real though my characters are to me, they don't die if I ignore them for a few weeks. They just get a bit pale and I get frustrated.

So here's what happened with my glorious month off. I spent the first two weeks of it sorting out family stuff that popped up the moment I cleared my desk. Very neat timing, very frustrating, but needs must.

Or must they? I'm willing to bet that Virginia Woolf and James Joyce and all those people I think of as serious writers didn't abandon their manuscripts for weeks while they drove around the country sorting out care packages, or interrogating GPs, or comforting someone whose life's about to change completely.  Or, come to that, buying the weekly shop and cooking the evening meals.

The thing is, these things I do are part of me, so they're also part of me as a writer. I don't write domestic dramas, but I do write stories with people in them and everything I do feeds my writing.

The problem is finding time and space to think about my story and put the resulting words on the page.

Not writing for those first two weeks of August was awful. I got angry. I felt bad about being angry but I'm just not going to write a novel when someone I love is struggling. In the third week of August though, things calmed down and I wrote and wrote.

Then I had one week left. Just one week - I'd hoped to finish my first draft over the summer and there was no way, absolutely no way I could do that. What's more my house would be full of people, and I'd never be able to concentrate - I wanted to be able to wander around talking to myself, lie on the floor to think, write at midnight or ten in the morning, whatever it took. So I took a deep breath, rented a flat in Hastings for four days, and caught the train with a bag holding my laptop and a swimming costume, and told my family that I was running away.

I think they understood. My family is a lovely family.

Hastings was heaven. I wrote, I thought, I wrote and I thought. I swam and walked up the cliffs. I slept after breakfast and dreamed of my characters and no one interrupted them. I talked to no one except some old friends with whom I had supper one night, and Deborah behind the bar of the Crown pub opposite, who made me excellent coffee each morning. That's all the human contact I needed.

I'm back now, and working again. But a month away from my desk - even if half of it wasn't spent writing - has given me a fresh determination to finish my novel. I took a couple of hours off yesterday to write and I'll do the same today.

That's a piece of chocolate and Guinness cake, by the way, and some of the best coffee Tunbridge Wells can provide. Thank you Black Dog café, top writing spot of yesterday.

The thing is, I suspect that writing slow suits me. I've only just understood my second main character's motivation. I began to see it last week while watching a bunch of people at a neighbouring breakfast table in a conference centre play power over their muesli. I spent the next few days driving up and down the country listening to old, old music, with that scene simmering in my mind. It's on the page now, transplanted and transformed and I know what's happening in my story far better. Sometimes a good story just takes time, and I'm ok with that.