I worked all weekend. I use work interchangeably, now. For law and for writing. They are both work, in different ways. And in some ways, much the same.
I didn’t put my hair up with a pen – you know, like an artist might – or wear dungarees and take breaks for yoga. The reality of a weekend spent editing two short stories, one after the other – each of them ten thousand words – was not that. My hair was unwashed, held up by an old bobble with a curl of torn-out hair around it. Glasses on, no contact lenses. I had too much tea, too much coffee, too much Coke. I stopped for meals and, on the Saturday, to meet my father to give him my Kindle so that he could beta-read my short stories for me. I enjoyed that drive in the rain to the services at Junction 6 of the M42. I listened to rap music and let my mind wander.
I forgot to light a candle, the way a proper author might. I didn’t look at the framed poems I have hung on my wall – If by Rudyard Kipling, The Orange by Wendy Cope – and I didn’t look at the strange paraphernalia that surrounds me in my office – endless copies of my own book in different languages, a Penguin Classics mug with my book on, bookmarks and postcards and newspapers with my own reviews in. This stuff fades away as I write. Not because it’s not important, but because – it is sad, but true – I am only as good as the last thing I have written. Everything But The Truth must fall away as I tune in to something new.
The characters followed me around all weekend. Into the shower, late on Saturday night – I had to get out to write something down, my fingers wet on my iPhone, making the autocorrect go mad – and into bed with me. I got up in the night and wrote on the back of a receipt – try to evoke that feeling of meeting new people all the time and feeling like you’re really living life. That didn’t make it into the story, but, like the invisible first base coat on a wall, it didn’t need to, in the end.
I’m trying not to obsess about the obsessing. This is the way it is for me, the way it has always been, when I write, and the way it will likely always be. There are no carafes of water, no thoughtful, long, hot baths. There is only my one-beam focus, my blinkered gaze. I sweat under dressing gowns and change into Harry Potter t-shirts while still trying to type. I eat rubbish and do no housework. I feel in love with the characters, can’t break their eye contact.
I sent the short stories off today at lunchtime. They had taken me an age – several weeks longer than I wanted them to. I was frightened of them – their length, their form, the pressure of a new story, right in the middle of when I was writing a Big Book, and felt creatively tired – like trying to have a dream within a dream. I avoided them, faffed with them, moaned to people about how I couldn’t get them right, even though I had chosen to do them. And then, this weekend, I basically re-wrote them, in my Harry Potter t-shirt, with unwashed hair.
This is what it is like, in case you were wondering.