“How many hours a day do you spend writing?” my brother asked a few days ago. I wasn’t really thinking, so I said that I start about about nine in the morning after the family has left for work and school. Then I write, with short breaks, till around four in the afternoon.
“Blimey,” said my brother, “is that all?”
“No, no – wait – I didn’t mean that at all! I work all the time. Every waking minute!”
Actually I didn’t say that, but I wish I had. It’s a lot closer to the truth than the neat nine-to-four office-hours answer I’d given him before. He’d asked about writing, and in terms of sitting in front of a keyboard, my answer was accurate. But what nobody except writers themselves know (and those unfortunate enough to have to live with them) is that sitting down in front of a computer and typing the words is only the tip of the iceberg.
For example, there’s research. The book I’m writing right now is set in the twelfth century, and during the last year I’ve read scores of histories, chronicles, and source material connected with that period. That all takes hours of my so-called free time.
But the fact of the matter is that writers don’t have free time.
Writing a book is like being abducted by aliens. Your life gets spun off into a different dimension. You eat, sleep and dream the book. Your characters keep you awake at night. You fall asleep thinking about them and wake up in the morning thinking about them. You feel guilty doing anything but writing; and you feel guilty about all the other things you’re not doing. Weeds take over the garden. The dog doesn’t get walked. The ironing and washing piles up and up. The breakfast dishes stay on the table till teatime. You forget to pick the kids up from school. It’s terrible, exhausting, obsessive, fascinating…
Unfortunately, I can’t imagine living any other way...