My partner reckons I don’t know what to do with myself when I’m not writing. And it’s true, even though I’m loathe to admit it.
The first day after I finish a book is when the withdrawal symptoms kick in.
I wake up thinking of all the things I can do because I don’t have to push myself to write a thousand words or more during the next twelve hours.
I can go shopping, visit a friend, watch a box-set series on television, read someone else’s novel, or just be lazy and stay in bed all day.
I even have a list, updated regularly, of all the jobs I’ve promised to get around to doing when I finally sign off on a manuscript.
The problem is I never get to do any of it, certainly not on the first day and sometimes during the whole of the first week.
And that’s because for me writing a book is like taking a drug that keeps me on a high. I live and breathe it. I agonise over the storyline, the structure, the characters, the dialogue. I think and talk about little else, even while on holiday and on those days when my partner insists I take a break and we go out.
So I find it hard to adjust when the book’s complete. I become anxious and moody and I can’t relax. I also struggle to concentrate because my mind is still swirling with book-related thoughts.
I worry that my agent will tell me that it’s not very good. Or that my publisher will say it’s a load of rubbish.
As a full-time author I don’t have another job to distract me. And neither do I have any hobbies, more’s the pity.
I first experienced ‘the big come down’ after I wrote THE MADAM. Having decided that it was done and dusted it felt like a part of me had been snatched away. I kept wondering if I could improve it if I wrote another draft.
I felt even more bereft after I gave birth to THE MOTHER. I found myself wandering around the house in a right old state of agitation.
I’ve heard people describe this crazy state of mind as ‘post creation depression.’ Others call it ‘post achievement depression.’ I wouldn’t say I ever feel depressed exactly. It’s more like a happy kind of sadness.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. It took me six months to write THE MOTHER. And when I placed that last full stop on the final page it was the end of a journey during which I’d got to know a whole new bunch of characters.
It felt terrific. I wallowed in a wonderful sense of accomplishment all evening because I’d reached my goal. I’d done what I’d set out to do, which was to write a book that stretched to over three hundred pages. I’d been totally focused on it and my head was buzzing.
But the elation faded the next morning when I realised I would have to change my routine, find something else to occupy myself.
You see getting to the end of the book suddenly created a huge empty space in my life that I wasn’t sure how to fill.
And I’ve just experienced the same thing all over again with the completion of my latest novel.
When I dumped a printed copy on the table I suggested to my partner that we open a bottle of wine or champagne to celebrate. After all, I’d obsessed over it for almost seven months.
My partner’s reaction was: ‘So what will you do with yourself tomorrow?’
To which I replied: ‘I’ve thought about that. I’m going to the gym in the morning and then in the afternoon I’ll tidy up the back garden. It desperately needs weeding.’
But in the morning I didn’t go to the gym because when I saw the manuscript on the table I felt compelled to pick it up and flick through it one last time. And, horror of horrors, I spotted a couple of spelling mistakes – which meant it was back to the computer to correct them. And then I started to wonder if I’d made other mistakes, so I spent a couple of hours at my desk by which time it was too late to go to the gym.
In the afternoon I started weeding the garden, but I was so distracted that I didn’t realise until it was too late that I was pulling up perfectly healthy flowers instead. So I gave that up and went back indoors and sat in front of the telly without really watching it.
I was restless and feeling down and I finally did what I always have to do when things get this bad – I pick up a pen and pad and start jotting down ideas for my next book.
Author of The Mother, The Alibi and The Madam