It’s been almost a month since I began my career break. In some ways the time has flown. I’ve managed to finish writing three more chapters of Roundabouts and, although there have been small blocks, have found it reasonably easy to manage around a thousand words a day. I’ve read some great novels. I’ve planned most of my upcoming tour of the US and taken the time to arrange every one of my own books in alphabetical order. It feels like my days have been pretty full and a lot has been accomplished already.
In another sense, however, this has been one of the longest months I’ve ever lived through. I knew it would be a good learning experience to live for a short period as a full-time writer. I knew I’d learn a lot about my own character and temperament. I hoped it would give me some insight into whether or not this was a lifestyle I could pursue at some stage in the future. I didn’t realise just how stretching the experience would be. Some of things I’ve learnt this month have been old lessons, revisited, others have been brand new revelations. While I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to discover a little more about myself and my temperament as an artist, it’s definitely not been the easiest of months.
I’ve discovered that I am more social than I thought I was. It’s many years since I last spent such a prolonged period of uninterrupted time in my own company. After a couple of weekends where I went almost 48 hours without talking meaningfully to another human being, I realised that isolation, far from aiding creativity, actually drives me a bit mad. Small helpings of silence are absolutely fine and probably quite productive but every half day or so I need a good conversation to sustain me for the next period of writing. If isolation is allowed to continue for too long it leads to loneliness and loneliness seems to make my writing overly whiney and introspective.
I’ve discovered that what I’m reading directly impacts what I’m writing. I’m currently 750 pages into Murakami’s epic 1Q84 trilogy and am struggling to keep my novel’s feet anchored to the ground as I grow more and more tempted to introduce weird happenings just for the sake of seeing how much I can disconcert my readers.
I’ve discovered that I actually crave routine. I’m not a procrastinator. I’ve managed to write consistently and extensively throughout the month. However, I actually found the experience of writing into an excess of unstructured time relatively stressful. I like boundaries. I like business, (within reason). I write better under pressure. I do not need twelve hours to write a thousand words. If I’m well-rested and inspired I can write my thousand words just as well in the tiny two hour gaps afforded by a working week. This was quite an encouraging thing to discover as financially it’s unlikely that I’m going to have twelve hour uninterrupted writing days any time in the next thirty years or so. Crunching the numbers, I worked out that if I continue to write a thousand words a day,roughly 5 days a week once I return to work, and I factor in editing and promotion, I could still churn out a novel at least once a year. This is quite the relief.
I’ve discovered the importance of the basic things. I still need to a decent amount of sleep if I’m to be able to concentrate properly. I write with a much clearer head when I’ve been eating well and not coasting on caffeine and sugar. I need to walk for at least half an hour a day, otherwise the ideas seem to get stuck and the characters don’t develop properly. All these points, though rather obvious, have come as something as a revelation. For some reason I thought writers could exist outside the normal rules and perhaps I could for a short time, or if I was ten years younger, but full-time writing is just as disciplined as a full-time desk job and requires the same basic staples to sustain it.
I’ve discovered that the cinema is the only place where I can be 100% distracted from my own stories. I’ve therefore been spending an inordinate amount of time in the QFT.
I’ve discovered that too much introspection isn’t good for me. This month I’ve been having most of my best conversations inside my own head or on a computer screen. Without the levelling influence of friends and colleagues I’ve become more morose than I usually am. I’ve worried more than I usually do about things which rarely bother me and I’ve felt like a thoroughly selfish person, preoccupied with the inside of my own head. I think I’m beginning to learn that, at my most basic level, I’m wired for community and meaningful engagement with other people. All the very important thinkings which take place inside my head are not to be dismissed. They are of worth and my writing has undoubtedly benefitting from all this unchecked pondering. However, I don’t just want to be a writer. I also want to be a functional human being, a good friend, a decent work colleague, a person able to to practice care and kindness towards others, and so my introspection must always be balanced out with interaction.
I’ve discovered that, without the interference of an alarm clock, my natural waking time is nine twenty five. This strikes me as perfectly normal and proves that I am not as lazy as I was ten years ago.