Friday, August 13, 2010

Writer's Cramp?

My muscles ache, my legs feel heavy, my back hurts, and I am so tired I could almost weep.

Have I been digging the garden? Moving house? Lost my mind and started weight training? Well, actually, none of the above. I've been storylining my new book.

Why is it that such intense brain activity has such a profound physical effect? I mean, it's not as if I am actually doing anything physical. I spend the day sitting at my desk. The most exacting physical activity that I engage in is moving my fingers around the keyboard. And yet I am, for want of a better word, knackered.

I guess it's my own fault. I get up at 6am, I'm at my desk before 7, and apart from a short break for lunch I am there till at least 6pm. I began on Monday and I hope to finish today. So far I have written 39 single-spaced pages - around 18,500 words. I expect that total will exceed 20,000, and that the page count will be well into the forties.

This for me is the white heat of creativity. This is where the book is forged in the furnace of my mind. It is the culmination of several months of thinking, reading, researching and fear. Fear because this is the follow-up to a book which my British publisher described as "brilliant and beautiful", destined to become a "modern Scottish classic in the mould of Kidnapped". A book that the French press has called my "chef d'oeuvre", my masterpiece. I ask you... how the hell do you follow that?

So apart from all the usual stresses and strains involved in writing a book, I find myself having to live up to a whole bunch of expectations I never asked for, the plaudits for a book that hasn't even appeared in English yet.

But that's not why I feel like someone's been kicking me non-stop for the last 96 hours. I feel like this because I always feel like this. It's my process. For me it is the most creative part of writing a book. The core of it. Five days of hell, followed by six weeks of finding the right words to do justice to the idea. I can't say I enjoy it, but in a strangely masochistic sort of way I am addicted to it. I would love it to stop, but wonder what I would do without it. I started doing it because for some reason I was driven to do it, and now I have to do it to pay the bills. I love it, I hate it, and I can't wait to be back at my desk trying to make the dénouement work.

But how in God's name am I going to be able to lift one foot after the other to climb the stairs to go to bed?


Sarah Hilary said...

Your process sounds knackering, Peter, but rewarding. You have close to 20,000 words! This is the spine of the story, yes? Brilliant. I do know what you mean about the physical exhaustion seeming odd, but boy is it there, in every muscle. Just remember to keep squeezing your calf muscles. A writer friend of mine explained it like this: calf muscles are stronger than most other muscles; the heart is fighting gravity all the you're upright, even in a chair; use your calf muscles to help your heart do its job. Oh and lie down when you get the chance. Easier said than done when you're burning with a new story, I know. Looking forward to following you on yourt journey.

peter_may said...

Great advice, Sarah! Actually, exercising my calf muscles is what I always do on long flights. But never thought about doing it when writing. Often, when I embark on a new book, I sign up for the local gymn and head down there for the hour before lunch for a brisk workout. It's hell for the first week, but usually improves after that. Lately I have been lazier, and tend just to go for a half hour walk after lunch. But that works, too. Sadly, this week I have done nothing but glue myself to my seat and focus on the screen.

Donis Casey said...

I'm not as obsessive as you, but I do more or less the same thing when I start - go like the devil is after me. I hate it, too. I wonder sometimes if I really want to do this to myself every time I begin a new novel, But if I can get through that first go-through, the rest feels more like art.

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