Saturday, 12 December 2015

Writing and Not Writing - Ruth Hatfield

Having changed the baby’s variously-stained clothes for the umpteenth time today only to observe the heartening sight of her instantly vomiting again down the clean ones, I sat down to finish my blog post on Patricia Leitch. The thought process went a little like this:

Patricia Leitch.


Patricia Leitch.


Patricia Leitch and wine.


I mean no slur on Patricia Leitch – she’s one of my favourite ever authors, and I’ll finish my tribute to her in January. But, the temporary relief of wine aside, a far more pressing topic for me this month has been: why is it so difficult to take a proper rest from writing? Is this a problem common to all writers, or do the experienced ones actually learn how long they need after finishing a manuscript before they start a new one? And what on earth can I do to convince myself that sometimes you have to let go of the handle on the crankshaft of creativity and watch it happily slow to a halt?

It’s been a month since I submitted my last manuscript to my editor. During that month, instead of having a nice rest, doing some long-overdue admin and accepting it as an important part of my work, I seem to have built myself up into a whirling fever of guilt. Guilt that I didn’t write my last book well enough. Guilt that I’m not working every single available hour building my writing ‘business’- planning workshops, organising events, considering exactly what the Message in My Books is, and how I can convey it to a wider audience through hilarious slapstick comedy, hypnotically entertaining talks and quirky slide-shows. Guilt that I’m not writing a new book, that I’m only thinking about writing a new book, and I’m not even sure if it’s the new book that I want to write. Guilt, in short, that I’m Not Doing Enough.

I talked to another author recently who said that she’d submitted her last book 3 months ago and hadn’t written a word since. Writing the book had exhausted her, and she needed to get over her exhaustion before writing another book. I listened in awe at her confidence. I went home, certain that I could find that confidence myself, that I could say, it’s fine not to write for a while.

I went home and tried to stop.

I had a meltdown.

It wasn’t possible. I couldn’t tell myself that it was ok not to be writing. I still can’t say it. I know that it’s ludicrous and completely counter-productive to try and keep forcing stories out of my pen when my imagination contains nothing but a few bleached bones and a dry desert wind. But the dilemma that I face – and I assume many other people trying to write for a living – is that there really always is something more I might be writing. My bookshelves are stuffed with dozens upon dozens of books by Agatha Christie, Dick Francis, Georgette Heyer – they kept them flying out, year after year. Surely they never took a break?

But logic tells me they must have – that’s how they kept it up for so long.

How did they do it?

So when I sat down to talk about Patricia Leitch this evening, I realised I was still trying to write, and still too mentally exhausted to write anything resembling a nice coherent post with a central point and a conclusion. And I thought, instead of providing an answer, can’t I use this blog to ask a question instead?

What do writers do when they need to stop writing?

What do any of you do?!


Sue Bursztynski said...

I once heard Terry Pratchett say, in a talk, that he had finished a manuscript. "And then," he said,"for about half an hour I was a man who wasn't writing a book."

Be glad you always have something to write. For most people, the problem is the opposite. And when they do finish writing something try need to find a market. So - be glad. Have a glass of wine and think about Patricia Leitch. ;-)

Sheena Wilkinson said...

Such a thoughtful and honest post, Ruth, and leads beautifully into what I'm going to post tomorrow!

Joan Lennon said...

No answers - sorry - would a companionable hug do instead?

Katherine Roberts said...

Ask Jenny Alexander! She's written a book about it: "When a writer isn't writing".

Lynne Benton said...

Don't be so hard on yourself, Ruth - you've just had a baby, for goodness sake! And I agree with Katherine: read Jen Alexander's book - it's exactly what you need at this moment. Good luck!

Sue W said...

You've had a baby! Congratulations! I'm surprised you can write anything frankly