Since finishing my novel, following a brief period of depression (see my Post Novel Blues blog) I have entered a period of exuberance and proliferation. That is to say, I have been enjoying my newfound freedom.
Working on a novel is a long-term commitment. It ties you down. It guards you jealously. In order to get the job done, it is necessary to be dogged, blinkered and fiercely faithful. No forays into other writing projects. No flighty flirtations with anything that doesn’t directly appertain to the novel. Well, now, this is no longer the case. Now, I can do what the hell I like.
Reading, for example. Now, not only do I have more time for it, but I seem to be enjoying it more. It reminds me of years ago, when I finished my BA in English Literature and took up reading books purely for ‘fun’. Whilst writing my novel, at the back of my mind I was always trying to draw some lesson from every book I read: some intimation of whether or not I was on the right track with my own writing and, if not, how I could do better. Now, there is no secret anxiety and I somehow feel freer to read what I like.
Most recently, for example, I have delighted in Joanna Rakoff’s ‘My Salinger Year,’ followed by Salinger’s own ‘Nine Stories’ and on audiobook I have luxuriated in Meryl Streep’s narration of Colm Toibin’s stunning ‘The Testament of Mary.’ I haven’t cared if it made my own writing look crap by comparison. With the novel in the can, that seems largely immaterial.
I have also delved into the world of short story writing, but with a carefree and random, rather than rigorous, approach. I’ve started several short stories at once, dipping in and out of each when I feel like it, starting another on a whim. I’ve even written a poem or two. What a floozie.
And I have finally surrendered myself to the internet. I’ve devoured feeds on Twitter, Facebook and other people’s blogs. I’ve clicked on links to this article and that. Followed links within links, like an endless succession of Russian dolls.
Last, but not least, I am beginning to consider my novel in a fresh light. No, I have not forgotten it. No, I can’t just leave the damn thing alone. I have gained a greater perspective, not just because I’ve had time away from it, but because I’ve spent that time writing other things, thinking other things, responding to other things.
With writing, no one project stands alone: everything feeds into everything else. The short fiction you write influences the long fiction and vice versa. The more I diversify, the more experience I will bring to bear on the most precious item in my repertoire. I couldn’t diversify whilst I was writing it: that felt like betrayal. But now I can stray. I am straying. And, ultimately, I hope this will bring the novel and me to a deeper understanding.