Monday, February 21, 2011

Welcome to Limbo

Some writers complain about the solitary nature of their business. They miss the proverbial chat around the office water cooler, the effortless lunching opportunities and the instant quasi-social life that most work environments provide. Other writers revel in their solitude and get back to it as soon as humanly possible. Personally, my ideal would be to mix periods of solitary writing with bouts of joint or collective endeavour. For me originating new material – at least of certain kinds – can be fun when done in small groups, provided there is mutual respect, and everyone gets along.
What I have never enjoyed is the period that follows immediately after the writing has stopped, when work must go out into the world and be judged. The time spent waiting for a response is time spent in limbo, and I’ve never yet met a writer who likes it. In fact, the more solitary the work up to that point, the less the content has been discussed, tested and sneak-previewed head of completion, the more onerous this interval is; because the less easy it is to anticipate the reaction. The writer has been labouring in the dark for a year or two on something that may turn out to be a golden goose or a complete turkey, meet all his hopes for it, or none at all. The first readings will give the him a good idea where the truth lies.
In the case of the book I’ve just finished, I'm even more in the dark than usual. I’ve shared very little of its content with anyone; and both thematically and stylistically it represents a departure for me. I really have no idea if anyone will, to use the over-worked phrase, ‘get it.’ But I'm going to find out soon, because my completed second draft is out with a trusted reader. I have entered limbo; and though I've been here many times before, I find it's as gloomy as ever.
The best way to get through such periods (for there are usually many) is to start work at once on something new. It’s not just a question of taking your mind off the fate or appeal of your last work; it’s a question of redirecting your ambitions away from it, so that all your eggs aren’t psychologically in the one basket. Of course, this is easier said than done just after you've completed a book. In my case, it’s next to impossible, with a new baby expected at the beginning of April. That said, I have managed to put together a short story for my German publisher's 50th anniversary anthology, to be published later this year (in German only!). Unfortunately, that task is now complete. So it looks for the moment as if I’ll have to fall back on DIY. All those untouched tubes and tins, earnestly acquired with running repairs in mind, may finally get opened - if I can just find the big screwdriver...