Sunday, 13 March 2011

Getting from notebook to novel - #3

3. Keep breathing – and sleeping and eating and exercising… Balance is the key!

You are officially writing a book. Well done you. You rock! And now that you’re a writer you’re just too damn busy to eat, sleep or clean the house. You go to bed late, head buzzing, and lie staring at the ceiling while your mind plays with characters and dialogue and plot twists… You become insular and a little bit obsessive. Other people become irritating, unless they are an enthusiastic sounding board for your latest ideas.

For a week or two this degree of narcissism is probably okay, unless you are skipping work or feeding your kids a diet of chips and chocolate. I’m lucky enough to have married an angel who takes it all in his stride (and let’s face it, he has his own periods of working like a lunatic on various projects). But sooner or later writing has to fit around ‘real life’ and that can be the challenging bit.

Last summer was when I broke the back of writing The Watchers. I was off work for weeks. I got up in the mornings and pockled around, did some writing and then headed to the beach for a walk. I got to the stage where I did less walking than sitting in the car with a travel mug and a big notebook, scribbling down ideas and muttering to myself. Then back home for more writing and cackling at my own cleverness.

It was exciting at the time but looking back it wasn’t all plain sailing. I was on that borderline between stress and excitement which can be very inspirational but starts to get unhealthy after a couple of weeks. My stomach was upset and I couldn’t sleep (both unusual). To be honest, I felt possessed. The night before we went on a cruise (yes, a cruise!) I screamed at the Murph that I could finish the book if it wasn’t for this bloody holiday…!

Maybe a first book is always like that – it’s the fear of losing the idea, the tension. For book 2 I would like to do things differently because by December I had a fully revised manuscript and an agent – but I had also eaten tonnes of rubbish, gained a stone in weight and wrecked my neck and shoulders by sitting on the computer for hours at a time.

So, in the end, writing has to be like every other job – you need to pace yourself. One writer I know, an award winning Sci-Fi author writes a steady two pages a day and has completed more than a dozen books while still working full-time. Another took several years to write a fantastic debut novel. Writing fits round life – but life is important too! Balance is the key.

• Eat properly, sleep properly, exercise. Writing intensely can be exhilarating but also exhausting. No one realises this unless they’ve written for several hours a day, day in day out.
• Give yourself breaks, especially if you’re juggling writing with a job and family life.
• Don’t spend too long on the computer / hunched over a notebook. You WILL give yourself problems. Check your workspace is set up properly. I recommend Pilates for improving general posture, strength and flexibility.
• Find people who understand – more on this next post.


Sarah Allen said...

Great post! And wonderful, wonderful advice.

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

Write2Live said...

Good advice. It's so tempting to get caught up in your fantasy lands and blow off the rest of the real world. You really do have to stop and tell yourself to eat sometimes...

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