Two months out from the deadline for a novel with more than usual riding on its success, I don’t feel super confident about crafting a post full of wise advice for writing more effectively, or engaging more meaningfully with readers, or bravely addressing big social issues, or achieving a better work/life balance. The last few weeks before the deadline tend to be a time of weariness and anxiety, characterised by too much black coffee, over-consumption of sugary foods, snappish words addressed to the other members of the household (the dogs, in my case), and restless nights visited by repetitive dreams of failure. You know those dreams – they feature scathing reviews, book launches attended only by the author’s family, interviews in which the author is made to look a complete fool, and being constantly late for things. Then there’s another kind of dream, in which your editor sends you a so-called ‘structural report’ which may just as well read: This novel stinks and needs a complete rewrite. You have one month to do it.
Oddly enough, these symptoms visit you even when you’re fairly happy with your manuscript. I know I still have a lot of revision to do, but I’ve budgeted the time so I’ll submit the thing by the required date, barring catastrophes. I’ve been through this twenty-odd times before. I should know what I’m doing. But I’m coming back to it after a couple of years off, and that seems to make a difference. Those unproductive years were a time of personal distress (the death of a beloved dog under violent circumstances) and career setbacks (a mismatch between what I truly wanted to write and what was deemed commercially viable.) So I was derailed from my usual pattern of producing one substantial novel per year – my readers have had two years with no new book. Unsatisfactory. Demoralising. What could be done about it? Was it the end of my writing career?