Saturday, 9 January 2010

Do writers and artists ever really ... stop?

I recently enjoyed an amazing break away in the South of France and in Paris, over the festive period. There was plenty to keep me inspired: from the drama of the mountains, valleys and rocks in the South, to the legendary bohemia of Montmartre, Paris. But it also was a family holiday - I was there visiting my mum's new home and celebrating Christmas with her and my stepdad, and spending quality time with my other half.

In 2009 I'd maintained a fairly robust daily writing practice, working to get the first draft of a new 'secret writing project' - of around 90,000 words - complete by the end of the year. During the final throes of the year, I'd been averaging around 10,000 words a week and got into a real habit of giving the necessary time to get the work done. It meant whole weekends spent writing - cocktails on one night of the weekend, not two; the odd friend's private view or artshow sacrificed to the cause. Ironically, less time spent in the studios and more time writing at home. And it was working ... very well!

When the holidays began, I suddenly realised that this writing time would now encroach on time that otherwise could be spent with family. When we arrived in France, I explained how important it was for me to keep up the momentum, write for a few hours each day while visiting. Happily, they were extremely tolerant of me hiding myself away; I set to work getting a good few thousand down on paper after three days off over Christmas. This did make the inevitable time spent gazing out of the window pondering over plot, or a particular line, feel more wasteful (I had abandoned a family walk to write, and had to bloody well write!) Which of course, it isn't - you need time to think! But overall, it worked well. My family respected my wishes not to disclose the nature of the project, too.

I ended the year having written around 80,000 words - and felt really happy with this. And while I could have spent the remaining break nudging it up towards 90,000 -Paris wouldn't let me. The language and contrasts of France, the art, the poetry and beauty of Montmartre, taking hundreds of photos. The food. An abundance of free champagne. And love, sweet love inspired a whole new little baby writing project, and some very beautiful poems. I began writing in French again, which I haven't done in years.

I could have fought the tidalwave of inspiration, and continued with my deadline. But as someone commented to me on my impending goal in the run-up to Christmas, 'the very word deadline sounds awful'. Even though this deadline had created the first draft of something special, knowing when to give up and go in a new direction was definitely the best decision to make. At the London School for Social Entrepreneurs Christmas party, someone said to me: 'So you're having a proper holiday? No laptop? No work!' I answered immediately - 'am a writer, am not going to stop writing!' Do writers really ever go 'on holiday' and stop writing? Do artists ever really stop working and fully switch off?

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