At 5.30 on Monday I typed the final full stop on my current novel. Well, that's academic, really. What I mean is that I got to the end of this draft; I'll have to go back and edit. But it was a watershed moment: it's been an all-consuming project since I started redrafting in January. My life has been on hold: I have forgotten to pay bills, forgotten to shop for food, been unable to get my head around anything much else, including blogging. I've found it hard to answer emails. Sometimes, when I've turned to tackle writing an article or report, my brain has balked and felt faint, and I've had to kick it forcibly forward. I've had to force myself to read the books for our reading group. I have seen things lying around the house, and the house getting untidier and untidier, but have somehow not had the space in my head to negotiate picking them up and putting them away. I have forgotten to do the laundry and kept finding myself without clean knickers. Every so often we've put up a visitor who comes to work in Manchester a couple of days a week, and taking afternoons out to get the house a bit straight and clean the loo and sinks and get some food in has seemed a ridiculous stress. I have thought of little else; I have woken in the night with new insights, sometimes I haven't slept well because it's been going round and round in my brain. For the first time in my life I have stopped wanting to go out. Every evening I have sat exhausted but on edge, written out but unable to put my mind to anything else, and indeed necessarily thinking of next day's writing, just waiting for bed in order to get up and start again. The whole time I have been writing there has been building work across the road from my writing window, but I haven't even heard the sounds of sawing and drilling and the clanking of the skips coming and going, I've been so involved. It's been impossible, time-wise and in terms of intellectual and creative energy, to keep up promotion of my published books.
I think I've been a bit mad. Today, having finished, I realise that I haven't been standing or sitting straight, I've been physically curled up around this thing I've been brooding and nurturing.
I couldn't have worked like this when I was teaching or when I had children at home. Maybe I would still have done it, but much more slowly, though I doubt it: an earlier draft of this novel was written under such circumstances and it didn't gel, and I had to abandon it until I had better conditions. Of course, it remains to be seen whether this draft works, but I know it's a lot better, more organic, and to achieve that it's needed the time and concentration and peace mourned recently by Carlo Gebler.
And it's been a huge slog. It hasn't felt like it because I've been so driven, but yesterday, the first day after finishing, I found I was exhausted, and had to sleep for most of the afternoon. I know I'm tremendously lucky to have had the chance to work like this, to be doing what I want to do to the exclusion of all else, since most writers don't have the chance, but the fact that it has been a slog and has taken so much out of my life shows that when writers have to work at other things to live, they and their art, as Gebler points out, are under tremendous stress.