The benefits of exhaustion

Blimey, I haven’t written a blog for 3 months. I’m definitely not getting my money’s worth from the £89 per year I’m paying WordPress for the domain name…

I’ve not been blogging because I’m trying to write my third book – but progress is slow. I’d hoped to have finished my first draft by now but I’m nowhere near it. This is depressing.

I’ve been trying to work out where I am going wrong and it’s because I’ve been enjoying myself too much. That might sound like I’ve been out drinking champagne until 2am and dancing on tables, but it’s nothing more than reading a lot, watching TV and not being tired. I’ve reached age 47 and the pinnacle of enjoyment for me is ‘not being tired’.

When I was writing my other books I was tired all the time; gut-wrenchingly, achingly, fearsomely exhausted. For the three years prior to publication of my first novel, I was a pale, hollow-eyed wreck with a permanent headache and throbbing eyeballs. And grumpy. And prone to crying at the slightest provocation. All the fun stuff that comes from sleep deprivation. But I wrote and edited two whole books in that time. My mantra was a lyric from a Bon Jovi song: I’ll live while I’m alive and I’ll sleep when I’m dead. I chanted it in my head as I dragged myself out of bed at 5am over and over again.

Because sleep was one of the many things I gave up to make time for writing. Others were reading, watching TV and socialising, all of which I’ve been doing quite a lot of these last few months. Stephen King has some brilliant advice about writing in his book On Writing (which was hugely inspiration for me), but I don’t agree with part of one much quoted piece of advice:

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.

Perhaps if you have the luxury of being a full time writer this is good advice, and obviously I endorse ‘reading a lot’ as an activity (want to buy a book from me to read?!?) but my own writing advice is the opposite: if you want to write a book, give up doing everything that’s not essential while you’re doing it, and for me that includes reading.

Essential things are looking after my children, doing my 4-day per week day job, the one that pays my mortgage since book selling isn’t showing any signs so far of being able to undertake that task, and the odd bit of housework. I don’t think I read a single book for two years when I was seriously writing, I hardly watched TV, I missed social events and turned down invitations, my house was a tip, my garden a jungle, and I was a wreck. Writing is time-consuming and life is busy; you can’t do everything so you have to prioritise what is important to you. For me, writing the books was more important than the things I gave up.

Books are a little like babies in that respect; they, also, make you extremely, awfully, horribly, terribly, painfully tired (Stephen King also says: The road to hell is paved with adverbs. Ha!). It occurred to me that prior to starting to write seriously, which was when my youngest started playgroup, I had spent three years looking after two babies, fifteen months apart in age, both of whom were dreadful sleepers (here’s a blog about that), so maybe I’d just got into a habit of feeling tired. I don’t think I read any books then either, other than ‘how to get your baby to sleep’ guides (nothing works, but they grow out of it).

So maybe I needed a few months of ‘enjoying myself’ – straight after publishing Glasdrum in April 2017 I had a major life upheaval and house move, which perhaps took its toll on me more than I realised. I’ve watched some great TV programmes and have read some truly outstanding and inspirational books (listed below in case anyone is looking for recommendations), but now I feel I’m fully recharged and ready to go. It’s time to knuckle down and get tired again.

The most outstanding books I’ve read in the last few months (in no particular order):

The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd
The Dry – Jane Harper
The Mountain – Luca D’Andrea
The Darkest Secret – Alex Marwood
Homo Deus – Yuval Harari

On reflection, maybe Stephen King is right (of course he is, he’s a genius!), you do have to read a lot if you want to be a writer, because reading these amazing books has inspired me to try to improve my own writing. But now it’s time to stop reading for a while and get on with the writing.

PS There are eight signed copies of Daughter, Disappeared up for grabs in a Goodreads Giveaway, which is free to enter and open until 25 Jan 2018 (UK only, apologies to anyone overseas but I have to post the books to the winners):

PPS I’m doing a talk in the Highland Bookshop, Fort William, on 23 January at 6pm! This is very exciting, as was the news that Glasdrum was the fourth best-selling novel in the shop in 2017 – now that makes the exhaustion thoroughly worthwhile!

both books

3 thoughts on “The benefits of exhaustion

  1. I wish you a good writing, Fiona. Your body demanded a stop and I think every effort to go against that would have turned out unsuccessful. You’ve been through a lot of work and stress in the last few years, but thank God writers have more lives than cats.


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