As many people know by now, I have finished my novel. My 16th. It is called 'The Distance Between Us' and has taken THREE YEARS to write, FOUR if you count the year before that when I was 'charging my batteries', or 'filling the well', or whatever euphemism you want for the business of living life for a bit instead of trying to write about it. The length of time has many possible reasons: I have been getting divorced; my mother suddenly died. Then a year ago I suffered a shoulder injury (it is impossible to write - with a pen or a keyboard - when you have a shoulder injury), which has still not fully healed. But those excuses aside (they are good ones, you have to admit!), the plain fact is that writing novels is HARD and the more I write the HARDER THEY GET.
All of which has caused me to stop and consider why on earth I do it. This is how the cycle goes, beginning with where I am now:
Finish novel. Punch the air, but feel a touch desolate (you get attached to your novel). Main emotion however is: I AM NEVER PUTTING MYSELF THROUGH THAT AGAIN. (Think Steve Redgrave, standing up in his boat after his 4th gold medal, not that I am comparing myself to the mighty SR, but you get the gist). Set about telling friends and family that, though happy, you are NEVER PUTTING YOURSELF THROUGH THAT AGAIN.
Tinker with ms of completed novel in run-up to publication. This can be quite fun. The horrible bit is done. The tinkering is fine-tuning. The novel starts to feel more separate - a completed object that happened to emerge from you rather than being painstakingly agonised over and crafted. It starts, dare I say, to feel............ inevitable. Like it pre-existed and all you had to do was jot it down! This is a dangerous and INCORRECT feeling. You try to fight it, but you can't.
Your life has entered a new phase. You feel great! Your bank account goes down more rapidly (because you have time to shop) but you are sleeping well a)Because you don't feel guilty that you are sleeping instead of writing b) Unworkable solutions for plot-glitches don't keeping pinging into your subconscious in the small hours.
Then, one terrible day, you have an IDEA. This may be triggered by reading...... er......... Dostoevsk... ut it is more likely to happen while browsing through 'Hello' or staring into space at a bus stop.
You try to ignore the idea because it is so small and pointless and obvious - eg one sister nicks another sister's boyfriend. But it niggles.
Then the idea starts to grow tentacles. One sister could be ugly, the other beautiful. The boyfriend could be an old flame, getting in touch after years and years. The sisters could have had a difficult childhood....
You reach for your notebook, just to jot down the idea - get the tentacles out of your system. But they start to get worse, more prolific, more complicated.
Meanwhile, your last novel gets packaged and launched. It looks nice! You feel pleased and proud! Fatally, you think, 'Well, that wasn't so hard, was it?' Next time your agent calls you let slip that you are working on a new book.
And so it begins... A bit like childbirth (bear with me) in that the actual sensation of PAIN is fogged over by the passage of time (not to mention the joys of parenthood) reducing it to something remembered rather than actually FELT. This is why women have second babies.
But I am in the Steve Redgrave phase! If you see me so much as open my notebooks again, please feel free to shoot me! In the meanwhile I shall be sleeping, eating, seeing friends, shopping, reading, travellin... IVING.