We all need something to push against. It takes a few decades to realise this. Growing up, our lives are structured by authority:
'Time to go to bed!'
'Time to wake up!'
'Time to get dressed!'
'Time to eat!'
'Do your homework!'
By our teens we are longing for the 'freedom' of independence.
Then 'freedom' comes and we realise we need to apply some structure to it or nothing gets done. So we have to start shouting at ourselves when it's time to wake up and go to bed instead; what to eat and when to work - the voice in our heads is just as loud as any nagging parent.
This is one of the earliest and toughest lessons to learn as a writer. I first discovered it when I left my busy London job to be a freelance journalist in Buenos Aires. Hurrah! I thought: No more early alarm-calls! No more idiotic clients! No more tedious meetings! I shall be my own boss. I shall do what I like when I like. But the dream of such freedom - of sitting around waiting for the inspirational mood to strike - dies fast. Time, if one isn't careful, becomes a dead weight that needs carrying around. It can become like living in slow-motion. Nothing gets achieved, least of all anything creative. One starts to miss not being chased up or called to account, even by idiotic clients.
Never have I written more efficiently than when my two sons were at nursery school. I had a measly two hours at my desk a day - TWO HOURS! - and boy did I throw myself into them. I produced a book a year for seven years, much to the delight of my then publishers My writing may have lacked a certain depth and not been as polished, but the time-friction definitely made me productive.
Since those days, I have learnt to relish the luxury of more time rather than being defeated by it, but different frictions have exerted their power instead. Things like, Indecision, Dread, Indolence, Perfectionism, Fear of Failur... t is in fighting these that the alchemy of creativity has managed to assert itself to produce eight more novels.
But now (with novel 16) a new friction has come into play, the most 'creative' yet. It's called RSI. Thanks to so many hours at my desk this year, chiselling at the coal-face of my manuscript, my right shoulder has decided to adopt a position which, inconveniently, fires shooting pains down my right arm. Horrible! Infuriating. Painful. I am writing this slowly, with breaks every couple of minutes to twiddle my wrists and windmill my arms. I am having hours of weekly physio. I am booked to see a Shoulder Specialist. There is talk of injections. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh.
And never - NEVER - have I been more eager to work. I can hear the end of my novel in my head. I know what it is about, where it is going, how to get it there........... those days of abstract distractions - navel-gazing or watching the foxes in the garden - are a distant memory. ALL I WANT TO DO IS WRITE. Perhaps, precisely because, for the first time in twenty five years, I can't.
I prefer the old type of frictions. I want them back. I'll never moan about them again. I promise. When the RSI is cured, I am going to be the most grateful, efficient, productive novelist the world has ever seen.