Monday, 21 April 2008

Tumbleweed Time

A lot of the writer's life gets documented in the 'highs and lows' style: slaving away over a hot computer for hour after lonely hour, followed by the weirdness of attending your own launch event, and the absolute wonder of maybe being lucky enough to get a good review. The highs and lows I can deal with. It's the bit in the middle I have trouble with.

I've just finished writing a novel. I've just finished the publicity drive associated with having a novel released. I've decided these are two lulls in activity that should never occur at the same time, for the sake of the writer's sanity. I officially have nothing to think about. Nobody is contacting me, asking me to hurry up to meet a deadline. Nobody wants me to do an interview on local radio (although last time I did I was between two interesting guests - a guide dog and a man who had eaten a human testicle: verdict was salty, so maybe that's not a bad thing really...). No characters are clamouring for attention in my head. I don't know how many copies I've sold or how many words I've got to go. There's no shape to my life.

Bring back the problem of wrestling with a literary conundrum or the thrill of checking the proof. I'm going spare over here, and for some reason I can't just throw myself into the next book. Why must I have this blank period of time? What should I do with myself?

Q: When is a writer not a writer?
A: When nobody, not even a character, is paying attention to them.

Maybe, in my case, the characters are also the audience. Ooh, deep.


Neil said...

Hurry up and finish our book then. Come on? *whip crack*

Lazy girl; bad girl.

Aliya Whiteley said...

Oh yeah. I forgot about that book.

It's just about done anyhoo. Sighhh

Faye L. said...

I can't handle that, either. I have to start reading for research for my next project straightaway when I finish one book, then I can relax in the knowledge that I am still working on something!

Aliya Whiteley said...

Yes, you get research. Ooh, wait, I'm meant to be doing a historical thingie!

*rushes off to research stuff*

Matt Curran said...

Hi, Aliya

"When is a writer not a writer?"

Well, I could give you the *witty* version: "a writer is not a writer when they are a mother/father, when they're watching a film, taking a walk in the park or any time when they are not thinking about writing".

But there's the rub. Can you remember a time when you weren't a writer? A time when writing wasn’t as important and wasn’t always on your mind? I'm talking about the time before you were first published and perhaps writing was just a pass-time. There was no real lull because there weren't any expectations other than the next rejection letter hitting the door-mat.

Now that I’m published, I suffer the same tumbleweed moments, needing to fill my time with blog entries or something else because life can feel empty when there are no writerly/publicity things to concentrate on. It’s probably why I started writing The Black Hours so quickly after finishing the second book. Unbearable silence is a great motivator to start “talking” again, don’t you think?

So, when is a writer not a writer? For me, I'm always a writer, even when I'm asleep. I can't switch off my imagination nor the urge to write it all down (I have over a dozen note-books around the house to show how obsessive I am about it). I just fill the lulls with more writing or more preparation (like Faye says, research is good for that).
God knows what I’ll do if I ever stop writing…

Frances said...

Oh, how I sympathise, Aliya! I have just this minute sent my corrected proofs to Will, the horse is off sick (again) the grandchildren don't need me, I don't do housework, and I'm stuck with novel no 3. How I envy those of you who do research. I make my books up as I go along (a very bad idea, I'm rapidly discovering)and inevitably run into difficulties. I did have a wonderful idea for a crime novel, which begins with a headless corpse emerging on the luggage carousel at Gatwick, but I don't know anything about crime so have no idea how to proceed. Would anyone like to write this one with me??

Tim Stretton said...

I tend to have quite long breaks between books. "The Dog of the North" was essentially complete in mid-2006, although I faffed around on it for nearly another year; and I've only just started a new one.

I need time to spin ideas out, and while I'm always scratching little somethings, I can quite happily go a couple of years without a major piece on the go.

How do I use the extra time? I definitely read more, and I suppose indulging my curiosity in various ways could be dignified with the name "research"--after all, how do you know what you'll eventually find a use for?

Alis said...

Maybe it's a bit like retirement - you have to prepare for it! I don't know, but I've promised myself that when Draft 1 of the wip has gone off to Will, I'm awarding myself a month to a) paint the rooms in our house which are in dire need (basically all of them),b) begin (again) to teach myself the guitar (I might even go to a tutor, shock horror!) and c) start learning Italian (ipod whilst painting should kick-start that nicely). But I know that I'll be sneaking in some research when my fingers are raw, my wrists won't work the paintbrush any more and I'm sick of new vocab! We just can't help ourselves, can we?

David Isaak said...

I think Alis has hit on the key to the whole thing. The best way to deal with those in-between times is to say, "I'm not going to write, I'm going to take a month and do _________."

There's no better way to find your head filling up with new characters knocking on your skull and demanding to be let out than to take a no-writing vow.

I find the time a writer isn't a writer is when they are trying to write. And I'm never more a writer than when I'm supposed to be working on something else.

But maybe that's my personal pathology...