I feel like I’m in writing limbo at the moment. My third book, Tell Me Lies, is done and dusted (almost, just pesky things like proofreading to be done) and that marks the end of my contracted writing. My publisher, wisely, won’t look at any new work until they’ve seen how well Gone does, so it’s going to be a few months before I know what the future holds. I’ve already written a fourth book and once that was dispatched to my agent I started wondering what to do next, and whether there was any point considering no one was considering my work for a while.
And then it occurred to me that waiting for an audience before writing was insane. I’ve written plenty in the past without one and will no doubt do so in the future. In fact, apart from the lack of security and wondering where the next meal will come from, writing without being under contract gives you a certain freedom to do things differently and even time to work out what it is you really want to do.
The fourth book was the one I’d planned to write after Stolen but kept being put aside as I couldn’t work out what I really wanted it to be. I’m glad, finally, to have written it, and maybe without that time and freedom I wouldn’t have gotten there. It’s also turned out to be my favourite book of mine, perhaps because the subject matter is important to me. I even found myself crying when reading it back, something that I’ve never done before. Which brings me to my point – does what we write affect our mood?
I suppose to a degree it must. If you spend months thinking and writing about murder and the like it’s probably going to get to you eventually. But on the whole, crime writers seem to be a jolly lot despite submerging themselves in misery on a daily basis. I’ve never subscribed to the idea that writers need to suffer for their art. My own experience has proved that depression prevents me from writing rather than making it better. Sure, we can use bad experiences later on, but if I’m going to write for a living, suffering isn’t going to help. Being unable to get out of bed isn’t going to get the daily word count done.
But the experience of reading my book didn’t actually depress me, it just made me sad for the characters involved and their real-life equivalents (the book is primarily about domestic abuse). Maybe the fact it got to me is a sign that it’s working, something that cheers me rather than depresses. But still, I’ve recently broken out the Sylvia Plath, a sure sign that all is not well. So what is it?
Before I started writing novels I wrote screenplays and there was one idea that I planned on right from the start which still (until a few weeks ago) had come to nothing. But I was reminded of this project recently and immediately started feeling down. Partly because I’d wanted to do it for getting on twenty years (!) and had yet to begin, partly because I was scared of the subject matter, that it included so many things I knew nothing about, and that I could never do it justice. And partly that after so long, someone would beat me to it.
But I’ve finally got off my arse and started, knowing I have this time and freedom to do what I really want to do. And I’m so glad I’ve started. But…
I think about it day and night, staring off into the distance and unable to concentrate on the real world and find myself on the verge of tears at regular intervals.
I keep asking myself if it’s the subject that’s making me unhappy or am I just now attracted to the story again because misery loves company? And is it dangerous to wallow in such a sad story, to think about it almost exclusively, if it brings me to tears (this from the woman who decided the best thing to do when clinically depressed was buy a Joy Division box set), or is this how you know a piece of work is worth pursuing? Is being so immersed in another world that it takes over your life what every writer aims for in order to write something honest or is it just stupidity?
I don’t know. But as long as I’m still writing, then surely there’s nothing to be sad about.