A trial separation

I’ve been away. Some people have even noticed. People have stopped by but there was no one at home. They left notes (thanks Adi), but I couldn’t read them until now.

The truth is, I’ve been on holiday from writing. I even took a holiday from my blog. At first it was because I needed a break, but writing (this sort anyway) is not a day job and I realized that no one could make me go back.

Over the last 6 weeks I’ve had a sort of writing crisis, a writing equivalent of a relationship breakdown, where I couldn’t face the thought of looking at my novel, or even keeping up this blog. Perhaps I’d simply worked too hard to finish the draft of my novel before my holiday, and read too many novels while I was away. Perhaps I’ve been expecting too much of writing, and writing’s been too demanding of me.

Never a cross word

The plan was to take a couple of weeks away from writing and then come back to it. But once away, I found I didn’t miss it. A holiday turned into a trial separation. I thought I’d get withdrawal symptoms. I used to say writing saved my life, it kept me sane, or at least provided an essential creative outlet. But it turns out that none of these things are strictly true.

I found that I already had another creative outlet, in photography. I’ll never be a great photographer. Ok, I’ll never be a ‘great writer’ either, but I always imagined that someone might one day say ‘have you read that book by Debra Broughton? It’s great’.

So finding that writing wasn’t essential any more came as a shock and I started to ask myself some questions.

Why am I spending time writing books that no one might ever read?

Is it worth the opportunities I’ve passed up, the friendships I haven’t pursued, even the nights out getting drunk?

When you’re serious about writing, you have to make those choices every day. You have to make sacrifices, compromises, there has to be some give and take.

This year, I’ve come almost to the end of the road with a novel that has gone from nowhere, helped me get an agent, almost got on the list with a great publisher (though I’ll never be sure exactly how close I came), helped me lose my agent, and got turned down by every other reputable agent in London. One of the dodgy ones was interested a few years back, but that’s another story. It takes a lot of energy to complete that cycle and start over with another novel.

Last Friday, I decided to give writing another chance, even if I can live without it. We spent the day together, and I enjoyed it. I’m not back in love with it, but we went on a date, and the date went well.

So I’m at a crossroads, and without really thinking it through, I came to a decision, or rather the decision came to me.

Just like a relationship on the rocks, we’re going to give it another go. I owe it to writing, and I figure writing owes it to me. And in these situations, it’s best to set some goals, and a deadline for improvement. I was going to put the deadline in the blog for all the world to see, but I don’t think that’s fair on either of us. But we’re not going anywhere, until we’ve tried to make it work out.

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11 thoughts on “A trial separation

  1. Hey Deb, I’ve been in this *exact* situation with music. Rehearsing 25hrs a week I spent so much effort trying to make it pay my bills that I somehow forgot to enjoy it. After a few years of music being “job like” I found I’d lost the compulsive drive to play that I’d had since age 13.

    I believe we’re naturally disposed to do more “fun” stuff and “less” work stuff so don’t stop writing, you’re great at it – just try a break from “career” writing. Maybe you’ll start to recapture that enjoying it for it’s own sake thing?

  2. Ok – I’ve had the ‘great’ comment, so I can retire gracefully.

    You’re right about it being fun. It is fun. But at the moment it’s not fun every day and not at 6 am (it used to be, honest). And ironcially, it’s novel writing I find the most fun, and it was novel writing that I’ve been avoiding.

  3. I’m sure writing has missed you, even if you haven’t missed writing. Sometimes I think I would have been a happier, better, more fulfilled, more rounded, more fun person if it hadn’t been for my damn writing addiction. It’s felt more like a mental health issue than a pleasure at times.

  4. Roger, that sounds familiar – part addiction, part mental health problem, yet some people still insist on calling it a hobby.

  5. May you always find your way back to writing, because you have something to say, Debra. Whether the trials of expressing yourself are worth the stress and pain to you or not, once a writer finds their voice–you strike me as one who has–it’s criminal to extinguish it. Sorry if that rings a bit harsh.

    I also understand the writing as addiction analogy. An absolute nightmare to be around if I don’t write regularly, if I want to keep my job and my wife, I have to write. Or I start thinking scary thoughts, and dwell in dark places.

    All that being said, I’d love to read books by Debra Broughton.

  6. Sam – thanks for your comment. I’m having trouble finding the right words to thank you because what you’ve written has really touched me. It doesn’t sound harsh at all, it’s a great compliment.

    I think you can only be a writer if you are driven – like you’ve said, a lot of writers need it to keep themselves and their loved ones sane.

  7. Debra, I’ve been there and I came to this conclusion: I’ve separated out the business of writing from the act of writing and decided that I can’t do without the act of writing. So, I do it for me. The hell with everyone else. I do it for me. Because I like the way I feel when I write. Because I like the way my mind leaps and soars away from my daily existence and inhabits worlds so different from my own. I don’t give a damn what the rest of the world thinks of my work–agents, publishers, other writers. For a while, anyway. But now as I’m finishing a second novel, the ugly business of writing comes back to haunt me. What will happen if my second novel gets turned down? I don’t know, but for now I’m happy! Some questions for you? Does the act of writing give you joy? If it does, then it’s a crime to stop.

  8. I do know what you mean, Patti, and writing does give me a certain amount of joy. But getting the work published is my motivation.
    I wish it wasn’t but that’s just the way I am. I envy people who can write and find satisfaction in the process, but for me, it’s not complete until the story has been published.

  9. I constructively say “polymath” to you!

    Why be boxed in to a single definition? It can be fun to wander amongst subjects and areas and see what emerges.

    With your gentle distant support I’ve go the bones of last year’s NaNoWriMo (my first writing skirmish) and I was actually cleaning up an edit of it last weekend whilst on a long train ride. I keep it on a memory stick on my keyring, so when I get a few minutes I can blat it into a nearby computer and continue the editing.

    But I also take photos, attempt to play the guitar, mess around with video and a bunch of other things because I enjoy it. Its great to have goals (like getting the book published) or getting Christina’s CD launched (and these things will happen) but I don’t let them define themselves as uncompleted targets, rather as joyous continuing adventures.

    So, I’m looking forward to (a) your novel (b) your continued musings in blogworld and (c) some spiffy photography whether monochrome or not.

    And might I also suggest maybe a few short themed pieces to get things going? And p.s. Christina is planning to come over to Amsterdam to visit Bart soon, by the way…

    Positively,
    rashbre

  10. Polymath! That’s a great word. I’m a bit allergic though, as there is a family trait, known as “dabbling” where you take something up (say archery or the cello) get just to the point where you’re becoming proficient at it, and give it up and move on to something else. I’m hoping I’m not genetically predisposed towards it, but I suppose having been writing so long, I’m more likely to be accused of not knowing when to give up flogging a dead horse.

    Christina is coming to Amsterdam? I’d love to meet her!

  11. Hi Debra,

    I’m not sure of the exact dates yet, but it will be sometime in the next three or so weeks. I’m supposed to be meeting my friend Bart, who is another muso and we are going to try to record another dance track with some synths and maybe also some dubbed voice from Bart.

    I’ve been to Amsterdam a couple of times before and I’ll probably be staying at the Victoria at the end of the Damrak, quite near to the train station.

    I’m guessing I’ll be around for 2 or 3 days, so nearer the time it will be great if you can point me towards some adventures!

    christina xx

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