Since last November I have been wrestling with trying to write a novel. This has featured long sections of block, bouts of despair, existential crises over the point of fiction, gloom over the state of the industry, frequent absence of faith in myself and other entirely unhelpful things. The novel has yet to achieve first draft status.
I have over the years written more than a dozen novels, most of which have been published with small houses. Technically I know how to do this. The question of what has been going wrong, and why a thing I once loved and defined myself through has become a form of torment, has taken some considering. Some of it is because you can spend months of throwing everything you have at a project and sell half a dozen copies – most writers cannot make a living, and that can get demoralising.
Things are better at the moment, and I’ve been writing a few scenes most days. I test these on Tom as I go, which means I have some confidence that it’s not total rubbish. So, what’s changing?
One of the answers is that I have greater financial stability. I’ve picked up other work that pays steadily, the flat is bought, the mortgage is cheaper than renting was, so I’m under a lot less pressure to produce commercially successful work. Rather than trying to write something that will sell, I’m rediscovering something I had in my teens and early twenties, and lost in the need to make writing pay. I’m putting the words down like my life depends on it, not my livelihood. It’s much more emotionally exposed, and a little bit like going mad in an organised way, but I am now giving this book everything I have, and I feel better as a consequence.
The other issue, is time. I can’t switch from my blogging, marketing press officer day job head to creating fiction at the switch of a button – I have nothing lined up to write about, and if I stay at the computer, things from my other jobs will flow in and I end up doing those instead. I have learned it is critically important to make spaces, every day, where I can think about what I’m going to write next. To do that I have to get off the computer, but then what? I can’t just sit round waiting for inspiration to strike.
The answer appears to be crafting. I love working with my hands, so that’s a happy thing all by itself. If I’m making something I’ll pay it a fair amount of attention, but it leaves some bits of my brain free in a way that encourages ideas to pop up. Working on developing ideas is nothing like as effective as holding the right pace, not working at it and letting things pop up in their own time (or me). If I’m crafting, there is space for that to happen, but it’s fine if nothing comes because I was doing something anyway. I’ve made two rag rugs and am working on an appliqué wall hanging, and around this a book is slowly getting written. I’m much happier. For now at least I have found a solution to the writing side of the problem. In terms of the commercial – I’m going to do what I love and see if anyone will buy it. I just don’t have what it takes it write fiction for a market, and there is no point pretending otherwise.
While I was writing this blog post, I got into a conversation about a possible joint project for next year. There are a few things in the pipeline, so long as I can keep my head clear enough to see them through. I’m going to need embroidery silks, and dead t-shirts, apparently.